Texas Longhorns: Wyoming Cowboys

AUSTIN, Texas -- Longhorns and dairy products don’t mix.

Just ask Texas strong safety Adrian Phillips, who thinks the Longhorns defense ate the cheese attached to the complacency trap prior to its mediocre performance against Wyoming in their season opener.

“We might have been feeling ourselves a little bit,” Phillips said. “We had people out and about telling us how good were are. Last week we kind of ate the cheese and Wyoming got after us.”

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireAdrian Phillips and the Texas defense will know turn their attention to Ole Miss' balanced attack.
It led senior All-American safety Kenny Vaccaro to call out the defense for reading too many press clippings about how vaunted Texas’ defense was supposed to be.

“Honestly, we need to get our head out of the magazine and play hard,” he said after the Longhorns beat Wyoming 37-17.

If articles were read this week, the Longhorns defense made sure they were about the 66 points New Mexico scored in its season opener. The focus paid dividends as Texas dominated the Lobos’ triple-option attack in a 45-0 shutout. It was the program’s third shutout in the last 87 games.

“This week we made sure that we were going to go back to the basics and not worry about what anyone says because at the end of the day this is our defense,” Phillips said. “We are going to do what we have to, to come out with the win.”

On Saturday, that largely consisted of being disciplined on reads to try and contain a New Mexico run game that rushed for 347 yards and five touchdowns against Southern last week.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- The grumblings among the 101,142 people in attendance for Texas’ season opener against Wyoming on Saturday were as familiar as, well, the grumblings from those that struggled along with the Longhorns in 2011.

All the hype and newfound expectations for this team were met with one dud of a three-and-out on their first offensive possession, which Wyoming followed with a 10-play drive and a 3-0 lead.

Yes, Texas won the game comfortably, 37-17. But it ended the first quarter behind 9-7, begging the question: What’s with the continuous pounding of the snooze button during the early goings by this program?

[+] EnlargeBrown/Harsin
John Albright/Icon SMIThe Texas offense has shown a trend of struggling early under offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.
“It was the first game jitters thing,” said junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. “A lot of guys were nervous in their first starts. We just need to make sure we get back to working. They have that first game out of their system now. We are playing at home again and we’ve seen that before. It should be exciting and a different story.”

That could be. Several players were making their first starts for Texas, which also played 12 true freshmen.

But this is a trend that presented itself early and often in 2011 when the Longhorns were held scoreless in the first quarter five times and saw their opponent score first in nine contests.

Rice took a 3-0 lead less than five minutes into the season opener and Texas was only able to end the first quarter in a tie.

BYU jumped out to a 13-0 lead in the second game and took a 13-3 lead into halftime. Texas needed a Cody Johnson 4-yard run with 8:46 left in the fourth to squeak out a 17-16 victory.

The Longhorns got off to great starts in consecutive road games against UCLA and Iowa State but lost the Red River Rivalry before the third quarter kicked off.

Texas was in the game against No. 3 Oklahoma after the first quarter. But that 6-3 deficit ballooned into a 34-10 hole by halftime in a game it would lose 55-17.

The Longhorns had a chance to redeem themselves the following week when No. 6 Oklahoma State came to town but fell behind 7-0 after one quarter and were down 21-10 at halftime. They got to within 28-24 in the third but it was too little, too late in a game it would lose 38-26.

Texas demolished Texas Tech, 52-20, but still trailed 3-0 and was tied 3-3 after one.

For only the fourth time to date last season, the Longhorns actually took a first quarter lead against an opponent. But that 3-0 advantage against Missouri turned into a 14-3 deficit over the next 12 minutes in a game it lost 17-5.

The curse of Kansas State continued early the following week in Austin when the Wildcats took a 3-0 lead after the first and a 10-3 lead into halftime. Texas’ comeback bid wasn’t to be as Kansas State won their fourth straight over the Longhorns with a 17-13 victory.

The following week at Texas A&M saw the Aggies take a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter and a 16-7 lead into halftime before Texas used a 17-point third quarter and a last-second 40-yard Justin Tucker field goal to win 27-25.

The trend continued in the regular season finale against Baylor, which jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter lead in a game it would trail in the second quarter but eventually win handily 48-24.

Cal even took a 3-0 lead after the first quarter in the Holiday Bowl.

Luckily, for Texas, it has a knack for winning close games as it did twice last season in games decided by three points or less (BYU and Texas A&M); the Longhorns have won 18 of their last 19 games decided by that margin. Otherwise that 8-5 record could have been much more mediocre.

Texas awards tracker: Week 1

September, 4, 2012
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Each week HornsNation will update how Texas players mentioned on preseason award watch lists fared in their most recent game. Here is what transpired in the opener against Wyoming:

CB Quandre Diggs, So.: Paul Hornung Award, CFPA Special Teams
Diggs had two returns for 35 yards. He finished with one tackle on defense.

DE Alex Okafor, Sr.: Hendricks, Walter camp, Lombardi, Chuck Bednarik Award, CFPA Defensive Award
Okafor had five tackles, including an 8-yard sack.

DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Jr.: Hendricks, Lombardi, Chuck Bednarik Award, CFPA Defensive Award
Jeffcoat had a team-high nine tackles.

RB Malcolm Brown, So.: Maxwell
Brown rushed 14 times for 105 yards and a touchdown. He also had two catches for 15 yards.

S Kenny Vaccaro, Sr.: Thorpe, Chuck Bednarik Award
Vaccaro had one interception and forced another. He finished with six tackles.

OL Mason Walters, Jr.: Outland, Lombardi
Walters was part of an offensive line that helped produce 286 rushing yards.

LB Jordan Hicks, Jr.: Lombardi
Hicks had eight tackles, including one for a 3-yard loss.

CB Carrington Byndom, Jr.: CFPA Defensive Award
Byndom had one interception and four tackles including one for a 1-yard loss.

WR D.J. Monroe, Sr.: CFPA Special Teams
Monroe had five carries for 36 yards and a touchdown. He also had one reception for 15 yards.

TE D.J. Grant, Sr: CFPA Offensive Awards
Grant had one reception for four yards.

WR Mike Davis, Jr: Biletnikoff
Davis had four catches for 40 yards.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Upon further review, David Ash was "solid and winnable."

That was the grade given to the Texas quarterback by the coaching staff.

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas quarterback David Ash played well in the win over Wyoming and had a touchdown pass.
That's not at the top of the grading scale. That rung is called "championship." It's not the bottom, either.

What "solid and winnable" represents is the highest grade Ash has ever been given. It also represents that Ash, while not spectacular, did enough. At least enough to hold off Case McCoy for this week and maybe a few more.

"Now that David is settled and he felt good about his game, we can build with him now," coach Mack Brown said.

So much for a quarterback controversy. Well, so much for there being a quarterback controversy this week.

That doesn't exclude McCoy from playing against New Mexico. In theory, Texas should be able to pad the scoreboard against the Lobos and allow some time for the backups. Of course, that was the predominant thought headed into Wyoming as well.

(Read full post)

AUSTIN, Texas -- Dalton Santos arrived a tad early into the Texas spotlight.

The linebacker wasn't supposed to be the breakout freshman. That was a role for running back Johnathan Gray. Or maybe wide receiver Kendall Sanders. But instead it was Santos making a sudden impact on Wyoming kick returner Shaun Wick and the 101,142 people watching at Darrell K. Royal Stadium on Saturday night.

The play came on a return in the third quarter when Santos, all 250 pounds of him, came screaming down the field, dismissed one would-be blocker and slammed into Wick -- wait, make that steamrolled over Wick -- at the 10-yard line.

It was clearly the most visible play made by a true freshman. But it wasn't the only play. Nor was Santos the only freshman to play.

In keeping with a tradition that is now all of one year old, Texas didn't hesitate in playing its newest players. Last season, a Texas record 18 true freshmen played. There were 12 freshmen and three transfers who saw time Saturday night.

After it was done, Texas head coach Mack Brown lamented the freshmen didn't play larger roles.

"A lot of freshmen played tonight that didn't play prominent roles, but those will expand each week," he said.

[+] EnlargeMack Brown
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMack Brown and the Longhorns played 12 true freshmen in their win over Wyoming.
Gray most likely will be the one freshman whose role expands the most from week to week. A confluence of circumstances prevented Texas from getting him more snaps. First there was the fact the game was closer than expected. Plus Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were doing just fine. And Gray still needs to work on his third-down, pass-protection assignments.

Another freshman who would have played but didn't was hybrid back Daje Johnson. He was suspended for violating teams rules. Instead of getting the ball to Johnson, Texas fed his touches to senior D.J. Monroe, who came through with five carries for 36 yards and a 15-yard catch.

That type of production from Monroe might slightly stifle all the talk that Johnson has to get in the game to give Texas explosive plays.

As for blowing up plays, that was clearly Santos' intent on every kickoff coverage team. He finished with two tackles and clearly showed why the coaching staff and players have raved about his ability through fall camp. Not too bad for a guy who was offered by Texas only at the last minute.

As for the other freshmen, walk-on Nick Rose drew the most praise for his leg on kick offs.

"The kicking game I thought we dominated. I love Nick Rose kicking off," Brown said. "It's the best we have ever covered kickoffs."

A lot of that has to do with the height that Rose gets on the ball. Plus he has the leg to carry the ball into the end zone.

The leg of Nick Jordan was a slight concern. The freshman missed 46- and 44-yard field goals. He made it from 31.

"He didn't miss a field goal for about the first two and a half weeks, and then the last week he pulled a couple, and then tonight I thought he tried a little bit too hard," Brown said.

A couple of freshmen who didn't get in against Wyoming but might against New Mexico include defensive end Shiro Davis and tackle Kennedy Estelle. While Texas has depth on the defensive line and doesn't have to play Davis or Malcom Brown, Estelle could become a part of the rotation at tackle due to depth issues. Since that is a possibility, it could behoove Texas to get him some time now instead of throwing him into the spotlight against a Big 12 opponent.

Good not good enough for Texas defense

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Kenny Vaccaro wasn’t smiling.

The senior safety stared straight ahead during Texas’ postgame press conference late Saturday night, focused not on what happened but what he felt should’ve happened.

Texas’ touted defense gave up 17 points to Wyoming. Good enough to win a game. But not good enough.

“Honestly, we need to get our head out of the magazine and start fast and play hard,” Vaccaro said.

[+] EnlargeKenny Vaccaro's interception in the first half against Wyoming helped Texas surge ahead.
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireKenny Vaccaro's interception in the first half against Wyoming helped Texas surge ahead.
Chalk it up to first-game jitters if you want, but this Longhorns defense got a bit of a wake-up call -- and perhaps a much-needed one, if you ask Vaccaro -- when Wyoming came out firing in the first quarter.

After forcing a quick Texas three-and-out, the Cowboys got to work on a well-scripted opening drive that moved 56 yards on 10 plays.

Though that drive ended with a field goal, it’s exactly what the Cowboys needed to start off. Wyoming’s slippery sophomore quarterback Brett Smith was locked from the get-go, undaunted by the pressure of Texas’ elite defensive line.

His next pass, on Wyoming’s second drive, went along the left sideline to Robert Herron. Carrington Byndom and Adrian Phillips whiffed on a tackle. The wideout made them pay with an 82-yard dash.

Next possession, another bust: Smith, standing in the shadow of his own end zone, fits in a perfect 45-yard pass to Herron.

By the end of the first quarter, Wyoming was sitting pretty with 178 total yards.

And Texas? Well, the defense had learned its first valuable lesson of the 2012 campaign.

(Read full post)

Five thoughts after Texas-Wyoming 

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
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Here are a few thoughts following’s Texas’ 37-17 win over Wyoming.

The mistakes are fixable

The touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter came on a busted coverage and is a teachable moment. Texas also missed a number of tackles throughout the course of the game.

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Notebook: Texas 37, Wyoming 17

September, 2, 2012
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith and the Texas defense altered Johnathan Gray’s day.

Because the latter could not stop the former, Gray had to settle for far less carries than had been planned. The freshman running backs settled for five. Four of those came in the fourth quarter. He finished with nine yards.

"We wanted to get Johnathan in more," said Texas head coach Mack Brown.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Phillips
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAdrian Phillips and the Texas defense gave up 345 total yards to Wyoming.
That will be the plan as Texas moves toward New Mexico. And this week, unlike last, there is more reason to believe it might execute it. New Mexico was 119 out of 120 FBS teams against the run last season. It allowed 246 yards per game and 46 rushing touchdowns.

Texas should have close to or possible more offensive plays than the 75 it had against Wyoming. That means the Longhorns should have another game in which they run the ball 45-plus times. That is right where Brown wants to be.

"Carry it 45 times a game and all of a sudden when you throw it another 25 to 30 times, you're in the 80s and 90s in play selection, and that's where you'd like to be," he said.

Where Texas hopes to be after the New Mexico game is sitting with a more equitable split among the three backs. The duo of Malcolm Brown (14 carries) and Joe Bergeron (15) had just that. D.J. Monroe and quarterback David Ash combined for 10 carries.

Some of those carries could shift to Gray for the New Mexico game.

"Hopefully he'll play more next week," Brown said.

(Read full post)

AUSTIN, Texas – A look at the positives and negatives from Texas’ 37-17 win over Wyoming:

THREE UP

Turnover battle: Texas is now 16-0 when it wins the turnover battle over the past three seasons. The Longhorns defense secured two interceptions. Those picks led to touchdown drives of 44 and 43 yards. Texas did turn the ball over when quarterback David Ash mishandled a snap at the UT 30-yard line. But the Texas defense was able to snuff out a fourth-down conversion inside the 10 to get the ball back.

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It was over when: The Texas defense showed up in the second quarter. After allowing 178 yards in the first quarter and nine points, the defense stiffened and allowed just 26 second-quarter yards and no points. In that quarter Texas also had two interceptions from Kenny Vaccaro and Carrington Byndom. The defense set the offense up with field position at the Wyoming 43 and 44. Texas converted both those opportunities to touchdowns.

Game ball goes to: Texas quarterback David Ash. Maybe not for what Ash did. He had rather pedestrian numbers and was not asked to air the ball out. But it was what Ash didn't do that earned him player of the game. He didn't lose his composure or throw the ball to the other team. Sure, there were some balls that were ill-advised. But not so bad that they went to the other team. And interceptions had been what plagued Ash last season. Ash finished 20-of-27 for 156 yards with a touchdown.

Stat of the game: Texas quarterback David Ash threw 27 passes without an interception. Now while that might not seem like a huge number for the sophomore quarterback, it was the most consecutive attempts he has thrown in his Texas career without a pick. His previous high had been 23 attempts in the Holiday Bowl. So, using some simple math here, Ash has had 50 attempts without a pick.

Unsung hero: Jordan Hicks had a lot of responsibility placed on his shoulders and after a slow start proved to be very effective in his job. The linebacker was able to settle down the defense after a shaky first quarter. He put the defense into the correct blitz packages in the second quarter, shot the gap himself a couple of times and had four tackles in that quarter alone. Hicks also blocked a punt that set Texas up for a field goal to close out the half. He finished with six tackles.

Second guessing: Texas continued to talk about how it had two quarterbacks. But the second of those quarterbacks, Case McCoy, was never thrown into a pressure situation. The problem with that is now Texas doesn't really know if McCoy will be ready when it needs him. And if this season follows the pattern of last season, or the pattern that Texas coach Mack Brown has said it will follow, the Longhorns will need McCoy at some point. With that in mind the prudent move might have been to give McCoy at least one series in the first half. McCoy did enter the game with 2:48 left and Texas leading 37-17. He did not attempt a pass.

What we learned about this team: The Longhorns are exactly what everyone thought they might be -- solid on defense, unspectacular but efficient on offense. But where Texas excelled was on some special teams. Chris Whaley, a converted running back, blocked an extra point attempt. Jordan Hicks, a starting linebacker, blocked a punt. But there were issues as well. Texas had a point-after blocked. True freshman Nick Jordan missed his first collegiate attempt of 44 yards. He missed another 40-plus-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Stat of the half: After allowing 178 yards and nine points in the first quarter, Texas' defense allowed Wyoming just 26 yards in the second quarter.

Player of the half: Kenny Vaccaro had his hand in both of the biggest plays of the first half for the defense. The first of those was an interception by the safety in which he used his speed and cut the angle to grab a ball in the middle of the field. The senior returned the pick for 19 yards. The Texas offense took over from there, going 44 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. Vaccaro was back at it moments later as he was sent on a safety blitz. He was untouched and forced Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith into a quick throw that was picked by Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom.

What’s working for Texas: After a shaky start, the Texas defense started to get pressure up the middle and get to Smith. After Smith passed for 158 yards in the first quarter, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz disguised some blitzes and got to Smith. The result was two picks by the Texas defense over a span of six Wyoming offensive plays.

What is not working for Texas: The passing game has not exactly been sterling. Starting quarterback David Ash has been very efficient but has not at all been explosive. His long touchdown pass in the half for 16 yards to Jaxon Shipley was a much better catch than throw. He has also not thrown a ball for more than 20 yards yet. The lack of downfield throws had been the knock on Ash all of last season. Texas did nothing to change the opinion of many with its play-calling in the first half.

What Texas needs to do to keeping winning: Just maintain composure and Texas should be fine. The running game has started to take over and Wyoming is starting to wear down due to the heat -- 99 degrees at kickoff -- and the depth of the Texas offense. The Longhorns have used four different running backs and run wide receivers, D.J. Monroe as well as Shipley, on runs.

HornsNation preview: Wyoming at Texas

September, 1, 2012
9/01/12
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Carter Strickland and Sean Adams discuss the keys to the Longhorns' Week 1 game against the Cowboys.

Staff predictions: Wyoming at Texas 

August, 30, 2012
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Texas 43, Wyoming 13
This is statement time on a number of fronts for the Texas Longhorns. Will the defense live up to the hype and play up to its potential? Will David Ash be the quarterback that everyone expects he can be leading this team? Wyoming comes into this game with a team that can contend for its conference's crown but is running into Texas at the wrong time.

Texas is good and on its way to great up front on both sides of the ball. Texas will control the line of scrimmage throughout the game. Don't expect a huge passing game from David Ash, but he will test the Cowboys deep on a few occasions. Expect the rushing game to reach 250 yards with 150 in the first half. The Texas defense will play really well but will give up a couple of big plays. Wyoming will move the ball but will struggle in the red zone.

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Number are said to rarely lie. It’s with that thought in mind that each week HornsNation, with a healthy assist from the ESPN Stats and Info crew, will dig into the numbers and pull three stats that could play a significant role in the outcome in Texas’ game. First up is the season opener against Wyoming.

No. 1: 232 Rushing yards per game allowed

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cooper Neill/Icon SMITexas quarterback David Ash's stats from 2011 show that he played better after not starting the game.
It was already clear that Texas, with its stable of running backs, veteran offensive line and still unproven quarterback, wanted to run the ball against the Cowboys. Add to that mix Wyoming’s complete inability to stop the run and you have what could be a game much like Kansas of a year ago. (Texas rushed for 441 yards.) Additionally, the Cowboys gave up more than 300 rushing yards three times. Wyoming does have seven starters back on defense. Chris Tormey, a former head coach at Nevada and Idaho, has been installed as the new defensive coordinator. But he does not yet have the personnel in place to slow down what could be a very steady and successful Texas rushing attack.

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First glance: Breaking down Wyoming 

August, 27, 2012
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Campus location: Laramie, Wyoming
Nickname: Cowboys
Conference: Mountain West
All-time record vs. Texas: 0-4

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