"The main focus we wanted to do this year was to start strong, and I really don't think we did that," said Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro. "Honestly, we need to get our heads out of the magazines and start faster and play stronger."
"It can get better," said offensive guard Mason Walters. "We had a couple more drives where we should have gone and gotten points, and we didn't. But you can't just overlook the fact that we did that one drive there at the end that kind of put them away. That was encouraging to see. We just need to see more of it."
Those don't sound like the words of a team that won its season opener 37-17, over a Wyoming team that won eight games just a year ago. Texas quarterback David Ash had a more positive take.
"Sometimes things don't go perfect," Ash said. "But we had a great attitude, a great mentality, a winning mentality. I think that's something we need to have week in and week out."
That mentality was displayed both in the way the Longhorns responded to adversity.
One of those adverse plays occurred in the first quarter, when Wyoming quarterback Brett Smith connected on a short throw to wide receiver Robert Herron. Cornerback Carrington Byndom and safety Adrian Phillips came in to make the tackle, but collided and slid off, opening space for Herron to outrun the rest of the Longhorn defenders, 82 yards to the end zone. Defensive tackle Chris Whaley burst through to block the extra point, but the Cowboys led 9-7.
They wouldn't score again until the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the defense, led by Vaccaro, turned the tide for the 'Horns. Vaccaro undercut a deep throw, picking off Smith and returning it 19 yards to the Wyoming 43. Texas capitalized when Jaxon Shipley broke free on a corner-post route and Ash found him for a 16-yard touchdown.
"I feel like David was confident in himself today," Shipley said. "They finally named him the starter, and that's good for him. So I think he kind of got a lot of weight off his shoulders now."
Vaccaro also created the second turnover, continuing to build the Longhorns' momentum. He blitzed up the middle and came clean on Smith, forcing Smith to lob a pass that Byndom intercepted at the Wyoming 44. Malcolm Brown took the ball deeper into Cowboy territory with a 31-yard dash off a Statue of Liberty play. And on a third-and-goal from the seven, D.J. Monroe got the edge, absorbed a big hit and fell into the end zone for another touchdown.
Just like that, Texas led by multiple scores. And the Longhorns led by a 31-9 margin heading into the fourth quarter.
"I thought [the Vaccaro plays] probably made the difference, and give the offense credit for turning both of them into touchdowns," said Texas coach Mack Brown. "Kenny Vaccaro is a great player, he's not a good player. He can do some really good things to help us."
But Smith, who Brown later credited for his fight, wasn't finished. He hit Herron for the duo's second touchdown, then connected with Dominic Rufran for the two-point conversion. The Cowboys now trailed 31-17, and when Ash fumbled the shotgun snap on Texas's next play, and Wyoming defensive end Miraldo Michel fell on the ball, the Longhorns appeared to be in trouble.
Once again, the defense rose to the occasion, and once again, the offense followed up with another score.
Wyoming pushed the ball inside the 10, to a second-and-two at the nine-yard line. Then the defense forced an incomplete pass and stuffed Smith twice on runs for no gain, and the Longhorns had the ball back. On the very next play, Joe Bergeron ran through one tackle, shook off another with a stiff arm, and ran 54 yards before he was dragged to the turf. A 17-yard Bergeron touchdown run sealed the game and provided the game's final score.
"I thought our team played well together, meaning that we forced the two turnovers, got the ball back at plus-40 yard line, and scored two touchdowns off the two turnovers," Brown said. "[We] came back and had a fourth down stop, which is like a turnover. When we needed it late in the game, the offense takes it 91 yards for a touchdown. So we got 21 points off of what would be three different turnovers. So I thought those things worked really well."
"Both the offense and defense went out there and shut the door," said Manny Diaz, Texas defensive coordinator. "So I think you can start to see, as a coach, is how the mindset of the team and the mentality of the team."
Texas rolled up 436 yards of total offense, including 280 rushing yards at six yards per attempt. Bergeron (110 yards and two touchdowns) and Malcolm Brown (105, one touchdown) each topped the century mark. And Ash was 20-of-27 for 156 yards and a touchdown, and (most importantly) no interceptions.
Wyoming was paced by an outstanding effort from Smith and top receiver Herron. Smith passed for 276 yards and two touchdowns, though he did throw two interceptions. Herron finished with 173 yards on five catches and two touchdowns.
"I think it's the best Wyoming team we have seen out of the three times that we played," Brown said.
Yet Texas was dominant in certain phases, not allowing any quarterback pressure and no sacks, while holding Wyoming to 1-of-11 on third downs.
"I did think that there were enough good things for us to build on," Mack Brown said. "If we had won the game 45-9 we would have walked out here feeling to good about ourselves. Now we've got things that we can still work on, but I think we'll be good."
Wyoming — Stuart Williams 33 FG, 9:14 1Q
TEXAS — Joe Bergeron 1 run (Nick Jordan kick), 5:05 1Q
Wyoming — Robert Herron 82 pass from Brett Smith (kick blocked), 3:37 1Q
TEXAS — Jaxon Shipley 16 pass from David Ash (Jordan kick), 7:20 2Q
TEXAS — D.J. Monroe 7 run (Jordan kick), 3:44 2Q
TEXAS — Jordan 31 FG, 0:03 2Q
TEXAS — Malcolm Brown 1 run (Jordan kick), 3:30 3Q
Wyoming — Herron 22 pass from Smith (Dominic Rufran pass from Smith), 14:54 4Q
TEXAS — Bergeron 17 run (kick blocked), 8:48 4Q