For various reasons, one could argue that Saturday night’s meeting between the Texas Longhorns and UTEP Miners didn’t play out exactly as expected, regardless of the fact that it ultimately became a blowout victory.
Texas having only a 20-7 lead at intermission after leaving 11 points on the field made things a bit more interesting, but the night’s action provided three things we’ve learned about these new and exciting Longhorns after two outings.
The injury bug stung Texas early
After only a week of action, the Longhorns entered Saturday night’s meeting with UTEP down numerous starters, most notably on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Connor Williams was replaced by sophomore Elijah Rodriguez. Starting right guard Kent Perkins was replaced by sophomore Alex Anderson and starting right tackle Tristan Nickelson was sideline, giving junior Brandon Hodges the start.
Things only got worse from the kickoff.
Anderson would go down with an injury in the second quarter and be replaced by sophomore Terrell Cuney, while starting center Zach Shackelford also re-injured his ankle in the second quarter, giving snapping duties to sophomore Jake McMillion.
There was a point in the second quarter in which Texas only starting offensive lineman on the field was Patrick Vahe. In fact, the game ended that way, too.
As a result, a offensive front that didn’t give way to a single sack against Notre Dame allowed three Saturday night. So yeah, sometimes you don’t know what you got until it’s gone, and in this case, it was Texas’ starting offensive line. The ‘Horns are undeniably a much stronger team in the trenches when not being forced to rely upon backups and third-team players.
Starting running back D’Onta Foreman and starting tight end Caleb Bluiett were sidelined, as well, along with starting safety Dylan Haines.
But all in all, though the injuries are certainly a concern for Texas’ upcoming matchup against Cal, there’s encouragement in the reps many reserves received, which can only be beneficial moving forward. Fortunately, the injuries Texas is dealing with at the moment don’t appear — initially, at least — to be too serious.
Special teams looks like a difference maker for Texas
First things first — sophomore punter Michael Dickson’s leg is a game-changer.
The Aussie has already earned a reputation for flipping the field and UTEP was no exception. Dickson’s five punts for 252 yards — a 50.4-yard average — included a 55-yarder and a 57-yarder, and the kid has a knack for pinning the ball in positions for the punt coverage to make plays, as was the case with Kris Boyd reacting just in time to pin UTEP on its own 1-yard-line.
True freshman Brandon Jones deserves his fair share of praise, as well. The Nacogdoches native was all over the field tonight, blocking one punt and nearly blocking another, which was later complimented by a tackle in kickoff coverage.
It also helps that Trent Domingue looks to be the answer Texas needed in the kicking game, as he knocked in both field goal attempts against UTEP — he’s hit on all three attempts on the season.
Costly penalties plagued the ‘Horns
In a game where injuries already posed an issue for the Longhorns, Texas didn’t make life any easier with numerous penalties, many of which were costly.
For instance, cornerback Kris Boyd was called for holding on the first two punt returns by Texas.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive tackle Gerald Wilbon moved the chains for UTEP on what was set to be a 3rd and 11.
Later in the game, Texas had sealed the win, but discipline issues kept UTEP on the field when Poona Ford was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for bowing after a sack on third and long.
A few stops later in the same drive, Boyd was called for a facemask penalty on a third and long that provided UTEP with a fresh set of downs.
In total, Texas cost itself 115 yards by way of 10 penalties. That’s something the staff would certainly like to see polished up quite a bit entering Week Three after committing 11 penalties for 104 yards against Notre Dame in the opener — the team must be more disciplined.