The Texas Longhorns were heavy favorites in the season opener against the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks, but things got rolling early and continued to roll en route to the lopsided win. With the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide looming, there are still many questions to answer, but getting a significant confidence-builder in the season opener can hopefully mean a bit of momentum heading into the marquee non-conference matchup.
Barryn Sorrell: 6 tackles, 2 TFL, 1.5 sacks
One of the biggest questions coming into the year was how the defense would improve in the trenches from a year ago and who would be the playmakers for the Longhorns when they needed them. In his first career start, sophomore Jack end Barryn Sorrell may have started to answer the question. Notching 1.5 sacks in a game shouldn’t seem like that big of an accomplishment, but a year ago Texas finished seven games with either one or no sacks in the contest.
His one-game total would have tied him for sixth on the team a year ago and he would have been one sack away from the team high.
“He’s a guy who played some as a true freshman that we all thought had the potential, which is not a great word in sports. Potential means that you’re not playing the way you’re probably capable of,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “I thought Sorrell has worked on his craft and he cut it loose tonight and was able to generate some pressures on the quarterback.”
As a team, Texas had three sacks in the contest, thanks to the contributions of Moro Ojomo and Keondre Coburn, a single-game total they didn’t reach all a year ago.
Ja’Tavion Sanders: 6 receptions, 85 yards, TD
All eyes were on redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers in his first start and while many assumed that roommate Xavier Worthy, the sophomore wide receiver, would be his favorite target, another player making his first start became the focal receiver, especially as Ewers gained comfort in the passing game. Sophomore tight end JaTavion Sanders’ first-career reception was a five-yard check down to convert on fourth down before seeing his name called on a designed wheel route for a touchdown two plays later.
“We had some things called down the field that I thought he did a nice job of finding his check downs on,” Sarkisian said. “I thought that again, some guys made some nice plays around him. I thought there were some really cool fourth-down conversions.”
Ewers called his name early and often, and Sanders finished with the highest reception total by a tight end since DJ Grant in 2011 and the highest yardage total since Jermichael Finley in 2007. His 85 yards, surprisingly, would have been No. 8 on the team a year ago.
D’Shawn Jamison: 2 tackles, INT, Punt Block
The most versatile player on the field made his name known in two phases of the game and may have turned the corner to becoming the consistent X-factor we’ve seen flashes of in recent years. And it started on the first possession of the game.
“Throughout his career, he’s thought of on special teams as a returner, right? And that’s been kind of his role. We’ve been kind of banging the drum with him, Coach Banks and myself, Coach Joseph about, there’s more of his games and just being a returner,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve never seen him block a punt rushing upon because he’s always been the guy back returning and saw tonight the impact that he could have.”
When he jumped and blocked the first-quarter ULM punt, Jamison etched his name into Longhorn history, becoming the first player in school history with both a punt return touchdown and a blocked punt. But the history making didn’t end there.
In the third quarter, Jamison jumped a pass from ULM quarterback Chandler Rodgers and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown. That pick-six makes Jamison the first player in school history to return an interception, a kickoff, and a punt for a touchdown. That marked the fourth non-offensive touchdown of his career, tying Aaron Ross and Jordan Shipley for second in school history. If he can manage one more this season, he will tie Longhorn Legend Michael Huff for the school record.
Texas will need big games from these three lynchpin players, not just against Alabama but through the gauntlet of Big 12 play. Texas has a chance to prove that they not only can compete for in the conference, but as they prepare for a conference change, that may happen sooner rather than later.