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No. 11 Texas 37, Rice 10: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Assessing Saturday’s season-opening win.

Syndication: Austin American-Statesman Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman / USA TODAY NETWORK

Was it hot enough on Saturday to “fry an egg on a sidewalk” in Austin when the No. 11 Texas Longhorns took on the Rice Owls at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium? Because of its concrete composition, a sidewalk likely tops out at about 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The cooking temperature of most egg proteins is at least 150 degrees (yolk proteins begin to condense near 150, while the albumen proteins ovotransferrin and ovalbumin thicken near 142 and 184 degrees, respectively…to which the Rice readers all replied: “duh”).

So while the answer is pretty definitively NO on the egg fry, we know three things for sure:

  1. It was significantly hotter than 145 in DKR
  2. “Why does Texas play at 2:30 in September” is the new “Why does Rice play Texas?”
  3. The question of whether the Horns played hot enough to fry Rice to open the 2023 season is dividing the Texas fan base

On that last item, let’s try to break this game down in the most tried-and-true way possible: evoking the structure of 1966’s Spaghetti Western: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

The Good

  • The Texas defensive line: Texas’ defense appears to be talented all over and about 25 deep, but depth of quality was most evident along the defensive line. T’Vondre Sweat was arguably the best player on the field with five tackles, two quarterback hits, and a big fourth-down stop — his 37-percent pass rush win rate led all interior DLs in the nation in Week 1. Byron Murphy influenced plays far more than the stat sheet might suggest (how was he not credited for a half sack on David Gbenda’s second-quarter harassment of JT Daniels?). Vernon Broughton had his best game as a Longhorn, playing big against the run. Big Alfred Collins showed the talent level we’ve known was there all along, playing along the edge in multiple fronts and getting a decisive pass break up. Ethan Burke proved that high motor can sometimes be more than lazy commentator speak for “Caucasian” as he notched four tackles and 1.5 sacks — the one coming after getting cut down, then popping back up immediately to finish the sack. Kris Ross flashed late, showing that when it comes to rice, all the big boys are ready to eat.
  • Though a lot of the run defense is encapsulated in the defensive line section above, it’s worth highlighting from an entire team perspective here. Texas allowed 1.1 YPC against the run, their best performance since allowing -5 yards against USC in 2018.
  • The defense’s turnover-to-penalty ratio. Three turnovers forced vs. zero penalties on the unit is effectively perfection.
  • Texas’ All-Americans played like it. Jaylan Ford (Sporting News), Xavier Worthy (AP), and Kelvin Banks (AP) were pre-season All-Americans. Ford was PFF’s highest-graded LB in Week 1 and is now tied for fourth among linebackers for career interceptions. The craziest stat of the week is that he has caused a turnover in seven of his last eight games. Xavier Worthy looked like the best player on the field while the offense had the ball with 90 yards on seven catches out of 10 targets; a.k.a. 104 yards with eight catches on 10 targets if they want to retroactively review the official’s baffling call in the first quarter. What can’t be disputed was that Worthy was dangerous with the ball in his hands with 50 percent of his yards coming after the catch (though that percentage may’ve changed had Worthy been given a chance on either of the deep shots that he had his man beat on). He blocked hard, adjusted well to balls that weren’t perfectly thrown, and provided a reliable and smart fielder on special teams. Banks’ pass blocking was graded at 89.2 to lead the team.
  • Once he identified and eradicated the first drive’s Turf Monster, Quinn Ewers’ legs and RPO execution were exactly where we’d hoped they would be after the offseason. He extended some plays and accounted for a touchdown on the ground, while playing perfect pitch and catch on quick and intermediate throws.

The Bad

  • WR blocking is 80 percent desire and 20 percent technique. Outside of Jordan Whittington, Worthy, and Johntay Cook, the Texas unit didn’t look like that desire was on display in Week 1. Most of the blame falls to Adonai Mitchell, who let a nickel run across his face untouched on a failed 4th and 1 attempt and showed very little on a screen where he was the lead blocker for Whittington. Savion Red had a lapse early on in this regard, which is just unacceptable to a player who is down the depth chart, but typically earns his time through effort plays.
  • The deep ball simply didn’t show the improvement over the offseason that we hoped. The eye test tells you that some of it is the same bad footwork and mechanics from Ewers: unnecessary hopping, back-foot throws that don’t allow downfield zip, a long wind-up that starts from his waist — but Sarkisian commented that it was compounded by some was bad routes (he also joked that he told Ewers that “there has never been a completion on a ball thrown out of bounds”). Ewers was 0-for-7 on routes longer than 15 yards compared to completing 90 percent of routes between 5-14 yards for 179 yards. The giant 850-pound caveat here is that footwork and deep balls are both infinitely easier if you don’t have an unblocked player screaming downhill towards you, especially if that pressure is coming up the middle. Which brings me to The Ugly…

The Ugly

  • This was not a good game for the interior offenive line. I have heard a bit of fan justification begin to trickle out that it was “just the vanilla gameplan,” but I assure you that there is no rope-a-dope strategy where you simply pretend you can’t block a twist stunt and allow your star quarterback to take shots and allow the defense free runners to the backfield. DJ Campbell apparently still hasn’t fixed his eyes and there were evident pass pro issues, but even in the run game he missed on a few blocks and was slow on a pull that jammed up a play. Sark said part of the problem was not “trusting our preparation” and blocking how they practiced, but they simply didn’t seize a chance to manhandle. Expect Cole Hutson and Neto Umeozulu to get more run in the rotation if this doesn’t get fixed. Sark said everyone outside of Christian Jones took turns making errors which will need to be cleaned up in a major way before Texas takes their first trip to Tuscaloosa since 1902, when Christian Jones was just a freshman.

The overall takeaway was that there was far more Good than Ugly and Sark usually has a great script for big games that could negate the Bad. The truth is that I could’ve probably listed a handful more under Good (running back depth, a lack of serious injuries in Week 1, Special Teams), but this is a team that wants to be held to a Top 10 standard and they weren’t complete enough to achieve those goals. On a scorching day when Texas hoped to make a statement by frying Rice (egg or not), the end product was just a tad undercooked.