The No. 11 Texas Longhorns are back to playing on Saturdays, so if you have been hanging out around these parts you know that means my observations and Sunday chat are back.
If you are new to Burnt Orange Nation, just know that every Sunday after a Texas football game you can expect a little column from me with my thoughts on some things that stood out to my me. Once I have wrapped up my thoughts, I will be down in the comments replying to questions, comments, and even criticisms, so feel free to hop in with us.
Now that the introductions are out of the way, let’s start discussing Saturday’s 37-10 win by Texas over the Rice Owls at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The Longhorns started a little slower than expected, but ultimately they took a stranglehold of the game in the second half and pulled away. As I usually do, I am going to note the good, the bad, and things that fall in between. I try to give a well-balanced look in my observations, so that it doesn’t look like I am sunshine pumping or just going out of my way to rail on the team.
The Texas defense earned a game ball
Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense showed up to the yard ready to go in Week 1. They held Rice to an early field goal after Steve Sarkisian got uber-aggressive on the first drive of the game on 4th and 2, but then proceeded to keep the Owl offense from sniffing the end zone until deep into garbage time in the fourth quarter. Rice quarterback JT Daniels had himself a LONG day at the office, as he was constantly under pressure by the Texas front and never truly able to get comfortable and get into sync with his receivers.
Daniels finished the game 14-of-26 passing for 149 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. The bulk of those passing yards were buoyed by the late drive by the Owls where they were finally able to string something together a find the end zone late — Daniels threw for 55 of his 149 yards on that drive.
On top of victimizing Daniels twice, the Longhorns also recovered a fumble to make it three forced turnovers on the afternoon. The Texas defense ultimately held Rice to 176 yards of total offense — 62 of those yards came on the late touchdown drive — and completely shut down the run game, as the Owls only gained 27 yards on the ground at 1.1 yards per carry.
Even when things were not going according to plan offensively, the Texas defense held up their end of the bargain and gave the offense chances to get themselves together. I’m sure the staff (and players) wanted to keep the Owls out of the end zone at the end of the game, but they still had a nice showing to open the year.
The offensive line had a less than stellar Week One
There is no way of sugarcoating this — I was pretty disappointed with how the Texas offensive line handled the Rice defensive front across the board. For a group that returned all of its starters from 2023, they really seemed to struggle with picking up Rice’s line stunts. Ewers was hit, sacked, and pressured several times in the first half and it contributed considerably to the offense struggling to sustain drives or success in the first half.
The trenches on both sides of the ball are places where Texas should have and do have a clear size and talent advantage over teams like Rice and it didn’t feel like that from an offensive standpoint at times, a concerning development since the competition gets much stiffer next week walking into Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
I’m continuing to monitor the interior offensive line intently as we move forward in the season. Particularly first-time starter DJ Campbell, as it still feels like the game is moving a little fast for him at times from a mental processing standpoint.
The special teams were solid across the board
The third phase of the game for the Longhorns got the job done on Saturday. There weren’t any glaring breakdowns that led to points for Rice and the operations ran pretty smoothly for the most part. Bert Auburn ended the day 3-for-4 on field goals with his only miss coming from 56 yards, which is probably stretching it a little bit for him and his range. He was also perfect on extra points.
Senior punter Ryan Sanborn was only called upon twice and averaged 44.5 yards per punt and downed one of them inside the 20-yard line. Texas did have one kickoff go out of bounds, which was a bit of an unforced error, but otherwise Rice didn’t really have much success returning kicks with two returns for 26 yards and no punt returns.
Solid, but not spectacular day for Quinn Ewers
There was both good and not good for the Longhorn signal caller on Saturday in Austin. On the positive side of the ledger, Ewers accounted for four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) and should have had five, while also playing turnover-free football. Despite not getting the greatest day of protection and taking some hits, he took care of the football and also showed he can use his wheels to pick yardage conceded to him by the defense.
On the negative side of things, we once again saw Ewers unable to get in sync with his receivers on deep balls, something we saw a lot last year during his freshman campaign. I could already tell that Texas fans were having flashbacks seeing that on Saturday and I can’t really blame them when you see the lower-half mechanics of Ewers break down, which then leads to some of these deep shots being unsuccessful.
It wasn’t a terrible day at the office for Ewers, but there is definitely plenty of room for improvement moving forward this season.
CJ Baxter getting banged up is a big bummer
I was very anxious to see what the true freshman running back was going to do with his first college touches. Unfortunately, right after Baxter’s best run of the day (and Texas’ longest of the day), he fell awkwardly and ended up missing the rest of the game. The way he fell worried me that he may have impacted his arm or shoulder given the way he grabbed at himself afterwards, but according to Sarkisian after the game it was some kind of rib issue.
Texas HC Steve Sarkisian says CJ Baxter left the game after he "landed on the ball and kind of had a rib issue that we just wanted to make sure we get checked out."— Joe Cook (@josephcook89) September 2, 2023
"I'm hopeful it's not serious but we don't know for sure yet."
I am really hoping that the injury ends up not being serious and nature, because Baxter is likely going to see plenty of touches along with Jonathon Brooks. If Baxter has to miss an extended amount of time then the ceiling of the running back room lowers a good bit in my opinion. Jaydon Blue chipped in fine today when Baxter exited and he would be the next man up if Baxter has to go on the shelf for a bit.
Texas is 1-0. They didn’t do it with a ton of style points, but they were in control of the game from start to finish. Time it to put this one in the rearview, because come Monday it’s all about the Crimson Tide.