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FROM THE STANDS: UNT Review

The Charlie Strong era is off and running and the Longhorns got a defensively dominant performance in his first game. Some notes on from the first game day of 2014:

  • The fluff was gone. I didn’t see any swirling Bevos, any former Heisman winner/Bevo hybrid shooting lasers at other Bevos… I saw a simple intro and the team come out of the tunnel. I liked it.
  • The jackerassery was at a minimum. I didn’t hear anyone yelling for the backup quarterback, anyone booing the OC… In fact I didn’t hear anyone booing at all. Don’t take that for granted, coach, because I doubt that happens again.
  • Charlie Strong was wearing a long sleeve shirt. How did he not melt?
  • The energy at kickoff was palpable. The stands were not completely full, but the people there and the team on the sideline was ready to go.
  • Pre-game at Scholz there was one near-fight. A group of Wisconsin guys talking trash. Yes, Wisconsin guys dressed for their game. Maybe the took a wrong turn on the way to Reliant.
  • Why did the jumbotron give the moron in the half North Texas/half ou hat so much attention? Treat people like that as if they were Skip Bayless. Ignore them.
  • There was a guy in front of me walking out wearing a Johnny Manziel jersey. An A&M Johnny Manziel jersey. That’s so last year, passive aggressive Aggie fan. If you were a real Ag you’d have your Kenny HIll jersey on.
  • So, so, so many guys wearing Toms.
  • Anyone see the beer at Bevo Blvd? The cups fill up from the bottom. It’s nuts.

So one down and one win, and a win is always the goal. Let’s take a look at what happened on Saturday.

GAME ONE
North Texas Mean Green 7 No.24 TEXAS 38

Initial Reactions
Each week we will break down the good, the bad and the in between from the game.

The Good
The defense was as good as everyone wanted it to be. Jonathan Gray was healthy and looked good. David Ash took some licks and came out fine. Jordan Hicks played well and stayed injury-free. John Harris. A dominant win for Texas.

The Bad
Dominic Espinosa injured his ankle. Quarterback/center exchange issues handed North Texas a touchdown and contributed to other woes. Nick Rose missed his first field goal, in part because Texas couldn’t get the right personnel on the field for the FIRST field goal of the season. That late hit call on North Texas in the first quarter that kickstarted the Texas offense was a garbage call.

The In Between
The offensive line’s performance. The running game. John Harris.

What did I miss? I told you about Manziel, right? Let’s take a look at the individual units. Here’s what I saw on Saturday night:

Offensive Line: We will start here. The North Texas front seven was all new and the wish was for Texas to run them out onto Red River while the running backs all went for 200 each. That didn’t happen. At times they struggled with stunts and twists and at times they didn’t get the push in the running game they wanted. And that’s okay.

With no Desmond Harrison (suspended) Marcus Hutchins got the start at tackle. The same Marcus Hutchins that was a backup defensive tackle this summer. They looked like a unit still learning the offense, their assignments and responsibilities. The o-line is the hardest unit in all of football to bring together, because it has to gel under fire against other teams, and Texas took a nice first step towards geling. It’s going to be better with Harrison returning outside next week, but there are issues now with Dominic Espinosa out with an ankle injury. I’ve heard it’s broken and I’ve heard it’s sprained, and honestly you should hope it’s a break as it heals a lot faster than a sprain (but if Monday morning reports are true, he’s done for the season). Either way, he’s out for a while and Jake Raulerson will step in (again, look for Raulerson to be the starter for the rest of the year). His center/qb exchanges must get better, but I expect they will with more reps this week.

It certainly could have been better, but it wasn’t the end of the world. The loss of Espinosa is going to be a challenge to overcome. There were 13 penalties in the game and guess how many were holding? Zero. Guess how many were false starts? Zero. There was a late hit as the o-line was driving John Harris down the field on a tackle, but I’ll take that sometimes because it means the ol is downfield fighting.

A solid if not spectacular first game, but Espinosa’s loss must be dealt with this week.

Wide Outs/Tight Ends: Looking at John Harris he reminds me of Malcolm Williams. He wears that No.9, he’s big and athletic and a physical mismatch for cornerbacks. And like Malcolm Williams, he’ll make a great play and then drop one that he should have caught. He had seven catches for 110 yards and a score, but if he catches two passes that go through his hands he has nine catches for close to 150. If the turf monster doesn’t rise up and grab him on that long catch he has a second touchdown (actually the turf monster got him twice- he might have scored on the pass after the Jordan Hicks interception if he doesn’t trip). The senior has flashed some talent and playmaking ability in the past (at Iowa State last year), but has been a bit inconsistent. Saturday night he was David Ash’s go-to guy and despite a few drops looked very, very good.

Jaxon Shipley had six catches for 43 yards and looked healthy (he missed time with a hamstring) and moved the chains with two really nice catches and Marcus Johnson had only one catch, but both blocked well downfield as Harris was the man outside. It was nice to see someone step in as the defense focused on MJ and Shipley.

Did you see MJ McFarland catch a pass? Me, too! Two of them!

I thought all things considered- “all things considered” meaning half the unit was either kicked off or suspended- the unit looked solid in their first game.

 Running Backs: Not as sexy as we hoped, but both Malcolm Brown and Jonathan Gray had a monster yards-per-carry average, going 5.0 and 5.1 respectively. The Horns just couldn’t get it unleashed, either a block was missed or something happened. Had they kept feeding Gray/Brown, I have no doubt that one or both eclipse the 100-yard mark. Gray led the team with 84 yards rushing on 16 carries and Brown had two touchdowns on 13 carries, totalling 65 yards.

A healthy Gray and a rocked-up Brown ran with power, speed and anger and while it wasn’t the monster day I hoped for, it was a good for both. And how about D’onta Foreman? The true freshman came in late and looked quick and showed great burst, rushing twice for 37 yards.

All in all, they looked very good and stayed healthy.

Quarterbacks: David Ash hasn’t played in over year and he looked like it at times. He was a bit reckless with the ball, fumbling a snap and giving up the lone touchdown and putting it down again, but got it back. He was 19-34 with a touchdown and he was sacked twice. The really good news is he was sacked very hard twice and bounced right back up.

I thought it was a solid night for Ash, who showed some great athleticism escaping pressure on the play where he hit John Harris on the big gain to set up the first touchdown, but he was rusty. Some of the timing was off, but that will come with game experience now.

Good start for Ash, who looked like the 2011 Alamo Bowl Ash on that touchdown run.

Defensive Line: 79 rushing yards on 43 attempts. That’s a 1.8 yard average. Cedric Reed led the team with six tackles and Hassan Ridgeway had five and two sacks, announcing his massive presence with authority. Alex Norman added a sack, Paul Boyette had three tackles and the Texas dl completely owned the experienced offensive line of North Texas from start to finish.

Linebackers: WOW. What a turnaround. Two picks from the unit, one for a touchdown, and 20 total tackles from the lbs. Demarco Cobbs was left for dead after a knee injury cost him the entire 2013 season, but he stormed back in game one with a sack and tip drill interception returned for a touchdown.

Amazing what a spring and summer will do for you, eh? Jordan Hicks looked very good in his return ( a nice interception to set up a score) and everyone was where they were supposed to be and doing their job. What a great idea!

Great day from the lbs, Cobbs in particular.

Secondary: Zero first downs passing. 15 yards passing. Three completions and three interceptions. Dylan Haines with the interception in the first quarter, and the scholarship in the post-game. That happened.

Special Teams: Nick Rose’s miss aside, solid day. His kickoffs were tremendous, the coverage was terrific and Will Russ was solid in his debut. North Texas is excellent at kicker and their punter pinned Texas deep and directly led to their only touchdown of the day. But Texas didn’t allow any North Carolina State-type things, and that was the goal for me.

Mission accomplished, but Russ needs to add some distance to those punts and Texas cannot miss field goals against teams that will likely score points.

 SO…

That went as I thought. At no point in the game did it look like Texas was ever going to lose or North Texas was ever going to win. The defense was as dominant as I’ve seen in five years, and if they can maintain that effort against better teams, the Texas offense will find its sea legs.

The goal in week one is to get everything on film and see what needs work. Texas won the game and did that, and now they need to address some ol issues, both in personnel and adjustments, and work on some timing in the passing game. The suspended should be back this week (Harrison, Daje Johnson and Josh Turner) and on offense that should infuse some talent. Moving forward without Espinosa will be tough, but that’s what has to happen. Jake from State Farm, you are up.

I liked what I saw. Time for BYU, who looked physical and big last week in their win.

THIS WEEK IN THE BIG 12

Saturday, August 30th

North Dakota State 34 IOWA STATE  14

Samford 14 TCU 48

Central Arkansas 35 TEXAS TECH 42

Stephen F. Austin 16 No.20 KANSAS STATE  55

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs 16 No.3 oklahoma  48
You know who the defensive coordinator is at La Tech? Manny Diaz. You know what the score was at halftime? 31-3. Sounds right.

No.2 Alabama Crimson Tide 33 WEST VIRGINIA  23
So Nick Saban struggles to defend the spread. That is a thing everyone sees, right?  Well done, Neers. I expected Bama to blow them out, but they were right there for the entire game. I imagine Nick Saban is mad. Expect to see someone hit with a hammer in film this week. But maybe you should turn that hammer on yourself, coach… No, don’t hit yourself with a hammer. Or do. Whatever.

If I was a West Virginia fan, I’d be happy with the effort and the outcome.

No.1 Florida State Seminoles 37 OKLAHOMA STATE   31
Likewise, I’d be happy as an Oklahoma State fan. Expected to be blown out, the Pokes had a chance to take the lead late in the game trailing 30-24. Credit to the Seminoles, who out-talented Oklahoma State, but they looked far better than I expected them to be.

There are no moral victories in football, but I like how the Big 12 showed up against the big boys this weekend.

Sunday, August 31st

SMU Mustangs 0  No.10 BAYLOR  45
Baylor opened McLane Stadium Sunday with a fired up crowd and an electric sideline. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more emotion from non-suited up players than I see in the Baylor kids on the sideline. It feeds into the stands as well. Baylor jumped all over a terrible SMU team, 31-0, before Bryce Petty hurt his back and left the game. They didn’t need him Sunday because, as I said, SMU is terrible, but losing the All Big 12 qb in game one seems like a problem.
OK, that’s it for today. We will talk BYU and Big 12, week two on Thursday.

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