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Texas Longhorns vs. North Texas Mean Green: Observations and notes

Everything that didn't make the game recap.

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns got off to a fast start in the Charlie Strong era against the North Texas Mean Green with a dominant defensive performance that featured four takeaways, a defensive touchdown, and less than 100 yards allowed.

Some thoughts and observations from the season opener.

-- Some of the players who didn't dress for the game included sophomore offensive guard Curtis Riser, junior place-kicker Nick Jordan, redshirt freshman safety Erik Huhn, redshirt freshman linebacker Deoundrei Davis, freshman running back Donald Catalon, and freshman wide receiver Dorian Leonard.

It appeared that Riser was the only scholarship offensive linemen outside of the freshman class who wasn't dressed.

-- The first freshman wide receiver to get on the field was Lorenzo Joe, but he wasn't targeted during the game. Armanti Foreman also played and caught a short screen pass that he turned into a gain of about 10 yards, but there was an offensive penalty and a defensive penalty on the play, so it didn't turn up in the scoresheet. Expect Foreman to see significant action on screens and hitches this season.

-- Sophomore Jacorey Warrick also flashed his speed with two 15-yard gains. One he nearly broke for a much bigger play, but it was brought back when he stepped on the sidelines.

-- Starting place-kicker Nick Rose needs to play better -- his missed field goal was from less than 40 yards and he kicked a ball out of bounds on a kickoff. Will Jordan dress next game? Will the coaches open up the competition a bit?

-- Other than the ball that Rose kicked out of bounds, Texas only had one other kick that was meant to test the coverage unit. The group that featured several starters gave up a return of 28 yards on that play. Having a dedicated special teams coach instead of splitting the duties between different coaches was supposed to improve that unit, but it wasn't apparent from the work of the kickoff coverage team on that particular play.

Is it a bit of an overreaction to make judgements based on one return in the opener? Sure, but the fact that the coaches allowed Rose to kick the ball deep into the end zone on most of the kickoffs wasn't exactly an indication of a lot of confidence in the coverage unit, either.

-- Senior punter Will Russ averaged less than 40 yards per kick -- 38.2 yards per attempt, to be precise, a number that would have ranked in the bottom of the country last year. As head coach Charlie Strong indicated during fall camp, Russ would often boot one ball 60 yards and then come back with a shank.

It was the same way in warm ups before the game and during halftime, so sophomore Michael Davidson may get an opportunity sooner rather than later. The Scottish-born punter doesn't quite have as strong of a leg as Russ, but he was more consistent and appeared to get better hang time on his punts than Russ did during warm ups.

-- Former walk on Dylan Haines, who said after the game that he signed scholarship papers several weeks ago, came onto the field for a number of third downs and was in man coverage at times. And while that was fine against North Texas, if Texas is still using that look against Baylor in a few weeks, know that Art Briles will attack it with a quickness.

-- Senior Mykkele Thompson spent some time at cornerback last night. None of the young cornerbacks played until late in the game, so it's clear that the coaches will there is a big drop-off to the second team. Guys like sophomore cornerback Bryson Echols and redshirt freshman Antwuan Davis need to step up.

-- Sophomore Adrian Colbert earning the starting job at safety was the best-case scenario for Texas -- he's probably the most talented of the three players competing for the job and has the best blend of speed and striking ability. With the North Texas offense struggling to complete passes to players in white jerseys on Saturday evening, Colbert wasn't tested in terms of his ability to make plays in space, but he did have one interception and looked to have a solid game overall.

-- Of the four sacks from the Horns, two of them were by sophomore defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who made his presence felt during the game. On the second, he simply overpowered the North Texas offensive linemen and was quickly in the face of the Mean Green quarterback -- it didn't even really take much of a pass-rushing move, just pure strength and the use of his hands. It's that easy for Ridgeway when he puts things together. Ridgeway also added three other tackles, all of the solo variety.

-- Through three quarters, North Texas had gained only 45 yards, was 0-of-9 on third downs, and had thrown three interceptions.

-- Seeing the Horns able to play some zone defense and keep eyes on the quarterback was an extremely positive development, especially heading into next week's game against an extremely athletic and mobile quarterback in BYU's Taysom Hill. Not only that, but it will have an impact on opposing quarterbacks because they won't have such easy pre-snap reads determining whether Texas will be in man or zone.

-- The linebackers actually looked like they knew what they were doing, a continuation of the improvement from last season. And how nice was it to see senior linebacker Jordan Hicks record the first interception of his career and generally fly around the field again? There has been too little of the latter in the last two seasons.

-- As expected, Charlie Strong was extremely active on the sidelines coaching players up during game. When senior wide receiver John Harris dropped a pass early, Strong was there to challenge him to step up. When Davis and Echols failed to find the football on a punt that bounced into the end zone, Strong was right there in their faces demanding better effort.

-- Texas had trouble getting the field goal unit on the field and took a delay of game penalty on the field goal attempt that Rose eventually missed and had to take another in the first half on the first play of an offensive series when the team wasn't in the right play. Throw in another offensively and the Horns wasted too many timeouts on the game. It's something the coaches will work on this week that needs to improve going forward.

-- Play caller Shawn Watson was aggressive right before the half with the Horns buried deep in their own territory without the benefit of the timeouts that were spent early. Nonetheless, Watson called up two long throws for junior quarterback David Ash.

He also tried a long throw to senior tight end Geoff Swaim on the series that resulted in the fumble in the end zone North Texas recovered for the team's only points of the night. It's hard to criticize Watson too much for being overly aggressive when the concern entering the game was that he might not be aggressive enough, but he may have overthought things on that particular drive -- the Horns needed to create some space and didn't manage to do it, eventually resulting in a turnover and the only touchdown for North Texas.