Monroe provides spark for offense. It didn't take long for D.J. Monroe to make an impact on the Longhorn football team. A little less than ten seconds, to be exact. That's roughly the amount of time it took the former high school track star to find the end zone after receiving monster blocks from Tre' Newton and Malcolm Wiliams on his first kick off return in college. His first touch in college, even. The coaches want to limit Shipley's work in the kicking game and Monroe's first effort cemented, at the very least, a few more chances for the dynamic speedster to return kicks.
Monroe was equally impressive running the football. His second touch only minutes of game time later resulted in a nine-yard run and guaranteed that the Texas coaching staff would receive approximately one million questions how they plan to use Monroe going forward. The excitement about Monroe running the football stems not only from his insane speed (best 100m time: 10.08), but also from his incredibly quick feet. After two years of complaining about Texas running backs not fitting into the zone-blocking scheme, Monroe's ability to plant and cut and take the corner against virtually any defender screams, "Savior!"
In only 12 plays on the field, Monroe had nine carries for 64 yards, an average of 7.1 yards per carry. At roughly 170 pounds, Monroe also showed a little bit of toughness, taking on several defenders on one run instead of meekly heading out of bounds. The coaches are still concerned about his ability in pass protection and that is certainly warranted, but Greg Davis said after the game that they would continue to expand the number of plays in Monroe's package as he becomes more acclimated to the running game. More, please.
So much for the redshirt. Marquise Goodwin wasn't supposed to see the field for the Longhorns this season. After all, the coaches didn't even know how committed he would be to football in college. It's not that they thought he wasn't a football player or didn't like the game, it's just that he has a shot at the 2012 Olympic team as a world-class athlete in the triple jump and long jump. He didn't participate in spring practice or in summer workouts, showing up to fall practice well behind every other receiver on the team, even fellow freshman Greg Timmons.
Well, it didn't take long for Goodwin to lose his redshirt and make a difference on the field for the Longhorns. Entering the game as part of the second-team unit with Garrett Gilbert, Goodwin quickly established himself as Gilbert's favorite target, catching three passes for 39 yards on the drive, including a 29-yard screen pass that he almost broke down the sideline for a touchdown, and, judging by his expression of frustration afterwards, felt like he should have.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Goodwin played in the first game, considering how much receivers coach Bobby Kennedy raved about him during an interview last week:
Marquise is a doing good job. Obviously, he's real fast, and he catches the ball very naturally. That's what is exciting for me because you do see him snatch the ball. The speed coupled with pretty good hands, he's by no means a finished product, but I see good improvement out of him. He's been a pleasant surprise. He was a good high school player, obviously an outstanding track athlete, a world-class track athlete. I see him getting better every day.
If Brandon Collins loses his appeal to regain his eligibility this fall, Goodwin could be one of the players who steps up and earns a larger than expected role on the football team. His debut on Saturday certainly looked like a preview of a lot of good things to come.
Tracking: 'Horns continue third-down success. Part of the reason the Longhorn offense was so successful last season was the uncanny ability to convert not only third-down situations, but also third-and-long situations. Overall, Texas converted 55% of all third downs and 48% of third-and-longs, defined as needing seven or more yards. Championship level, according to Greg Davis ($), is converting 33% of third-and-longs, leading Davis to call the performance by Colt McCoy and company in those situations last year "off the chart."
It's difficult to say whether Texas can continue to convert at that insanely high rate throughout the 2009 season, but the early returns look promising. Against Louisiana-Monroe, the Longhorns went 9 of 14 on third downs, good for a conversion rate of 64%, nearly ten percent better than last year's strong numbers. On Saturday, McCoy and the first team converted 7 of 12, including 2 of 4 on third-and-long, once completing a pass to James Kirkendoll and once completing a pass to John Chiles to set up Jordan Shipley's long touchdown catch the following play.
One of the major questions surrounding Texas this season is whether or not McCoy can continue to convert third downs at such a high rate without Quan Cosby, who was second on the team in converting 14 third downs (seven third-and-long) on 17 passes thrown in his direction. Jordan Shipley lead the team in that category, catching 19 passes on third down (all for first downs) on 24 passes thrown to him. The bad news is that Brandon Collins became an increasingly reliable option for McCoy as the season wore on, including three in the last two games.
Saturday night indicated that McCoy has developed a better connection with James Kirkendoll, who caught both of his passes on third down and moved the chains both times. John Chiles is another candidate to step up and use his size and strength to muscle defenders after catching one third-down pass to move the chains. But will a running back step up to become a reliable target on third down? Chris Ogbonnaya converted six third downs last season and Vondrell McGeeisn't known as being even close to Ogbonnaya as a receiver out of the backfield.
The verdict: the Longhorns should continue to convert third downs at a high rate this season with the return of Shipley and a greater level of comfort between McCoy and Kirkendoll and McCoy and Chiles. However, one major area of concern from the first game is that two of the three turnovers came on third down. Were the Longhorns pressing?
Tracking: Defensive tackles. Lamarr Houston had an excellent game as a disruptive force, posting four tackles, with one made behind the line of scrimmage. On the first touchdown run by Cody Johnson, Houston made a big-league block on a poor ULM player to spring Johnson into the end zone. Good start to the season for the senior who should be much more active this season as long as he stays healthy, something he wasn't able to do last season.
The rest of the defensive tackles were a little bit more of a mixed bag. Kheeston Randall made two tackles, but struggled once again at times with losing his leverage and also had a roughing the passer penalty. There are going to be some growing pains early in the season, but improved performances from him are going to be necessary for the Longhorns to make it to Pasadena.
Ben Alexander looked exactly like the player everyone thinks he is -- a run stuffer and little more. Will Muschamp isn't going to ask him to do much more than hold the point of attack and take up blockers to keep the linebackers free to make plays. So far so good.
Calvin Howell. Well, he's certainly aggressive. The true freshman committed two penalties in limited action, hitting the quarterback late once and grabbing a facemask on the other. He made one tackle but also struggled with his leverage times. Like Randall, improvement from Howell will help dictate how well the interior of the defense plays this season and whether or not the Longhorns can go undefeated.
Buckner elevates game. It's a good thing the Longhorn roster is practically overflowing with receivers. After DJ Grant went down early in fall practice, the team had to find a replacement at the flex tight end position. Even with the weight loss by Greg Smith, it's been clear for some time that Texas won't have traditional options at the position this season.
Enter Dan Buckner. Buried at the wide receiver position ever since he lost Colt McCoy's trust early last season by not fighting off the line of scrimmage, a play that resulted in McCoy's first interception of the season against UTEP, Buckner's switch to the flex tight end position has reinvigorated his young career at UT. The returns against Louisiana-Monroe were almost immediate -- Buckner caught McCoy's second pass attempt of the season and was targeted on two of McCoy's first five attempts. His five catches for 62 yards (including a 30-yard catch) were good enough to finish second on the team in receptions on the day.
Of course, playing in the flex position requires more than just earning the quarterback's trust and catching passes. To truly benefit the offense, Buckner needs to block well at the position as well, part of the reason Shipley likely won't see much time there this season. In his first live action there, Buckner blocked well and showed that he will not be a liability blocking there, no real surprise considering his size and improved strength, but heartening given that he struggled with physical cornerbacks last season and will be blocking larger players at the position this season.
All things considered, Dan Buckner's debut at the flex tight end position was an unmitigated success and means that the Longhorns can continue to use Greg Smith primarily in short-yardage and goalline situations this seasons -- the position at whih he can most positively impact the team. Maybe the tight end position isn't such a concern after all.