First teams dominate, few questions remain

It took just one play in tonight's 100-play scrimmage for the first-team offense to exert the dominance that earlier this week <B>Mack Brown</B> said he hoped to see from both his first-team units.

Out of a five-wide, empty backfield set, QB Chris Simms found a wide-open Roy Williams in stride up the right side for a first-play-from-scrimmage 58-yard touchdown toss. Defender Ervis Hill had fallen down, leaving Williams roaming free in defensive backfield where Simms found him for the easy six. Aside from Roy, Chris and Ervis, the offensive formation also deserves a bit of the credit for the success of the play. The five-wide formation -- Williams, B.J. Johnson, Sloan Thomas, Tony Jeffery and Montrell Flowers -- drew the safeties into pass coverage, creating a favorable man-to-man match-up (in this case, Hill on Williams), just as the formation is meant to do. In a game, Texas will take that type of match-up any day, tripped up corner or no.

On it's next series, the first offense, with a little help from the No. 1 D, continued its quick-scoring barrage on the second-team defense. At the end of a 11-yard Brett Robin run (not exactly what you want to see from your No. 1 run stop unit), the D forced the normally sure-handed Robin into a fumble which Everick Rawls scooped up for the TO (exactly what the coaches want to see a lot of this fall from the Texas D). That play set up the first O just 26 yards from the end zone, a distance covered in five-plays by the still five-wide starting offensive group. After Flowers couldn't hang on to a fingertips pass from Simms, B.J. hauled in two for 18 yards and Roy made the catch Montrell could not, making a fingertips grab on a quick slant (as I've said before, the play is virtually unstoppable) to the three. For the TD attempt, the Horns shifted to their short yardage offense -- a two tight end, three RB set -- and let Ivan Williams bull his way into the end zone from three out.

The first offense wrapped up its three-for-three, defense-dominating performance on its next series with a Victor Ike- and Ivan-heavy 75-yard drive. Ike totaled 17 yards on four carries and three yards on one catch on the possession while Ivan managed 20 yards on three carries, including a five-yard TD plunge, plus a five-yard reception. Jeffery grabbed the only downfield pass of the possession, hauling in a 25-yarder from Simms.

The second defense finally stopped the first O on its fourth (and final) possession of the scrimmage. On the series, a facemask call nullified a Simms-to-Sloan14-yard gainer on third and seven, forcing the offense into a third-and-long that it did not convert.

Simms looked sharp in the passing game, completing seven of his nine attempts for 114 yards and the one TD to Roy.

Cedric Benson didn't see the field until about halfway through the scrimmage, starting slow (gaining just 10 yards on his first four carries) before busting loose for 13. After a couple more short gainers (one a two-yard TD tote), the true freshman ripped off runs of 16, (-1), six, five, 17 and five yards. Again, more impressive than his yardage totals (13 totes for 75 yards) were his vision, his quickness and his decision-making. And you can add intelligence to that list as well. On his 13-yard run from the 15 down to the two, Cedric accelerated to the left corner and as he turned upfield and headed for the goalline, he switched the ball from his right hand to his left, protecting the ball from the onrushing defender.

Statistically (in yards per carry and TDs, at least), Ivan outdueled Benson, averaging 6.7 yards on his seven carries and totaling two TDs to Cedric's one. Ike finished with four carries for 17 yards, all on the one series I described above.

"Right now we'd play four backs in the first ball game if we were playing today," Brown said post-scrimmage. "Victor Ike would start, (Cedric and Ivan) would play when we're in two backs and when we're in four-wides and one back it would be Brett Robin." The head coach said the final starting decision will come next week, but regardless of who starts, all four will rotate against New Mexico State.

The first defense, along with creating a turnover on its first possession, held the second O scoreless on the day. Maurice Gordon got the start at the tackle spot beside Marcus Tubbs, but Adam Doiron rotated in with the first team. I asked Brown after the scrimmage if any of the DTs had stepped up and won the second starting job. "No," he said. "Right now we'd play Marcus Tubbs and we're still looking for somebody to step up. There's five guys that we're rotating there right now and this film will help us. We told the freshmen they have till midseason to step up and we told the varsity they had till six o'clock. Hopefully we can separate a few in (the film room) in a few minutes."

That coaches' analysis will be forthcoming tomorrow, but from my vantagepoint in the pressbox, DT Stevie Lee seemed to have one of his better performances. I judge that pretty simply: he made plays, something that hasn't happened consistently this August. The redshirt freshman, playing with the second-team D against the No. 1 O, smothered Ike for no gain on one series, and tripped up Benson (not an easy task) in the backfield on another. On the official stat sheet, Lee led the team in tackles with five, including one TFL, and registered a QB hurry.

DT, of course, is one of the few spots left with a question mark beside it. And with 17 two-a-day practices down and just one to go, and with the opening kickoff less than 10 days away, the answer at DT is about as likely to fall from the Austin sky as rain. For those of you not in drought-stricken Central Texas, that chance is minimal. So the Horns, despite a largely successful and healthy August, will probably head into the season with a rotation at tackle and some well-founded worries on special teams.

But no team, not Florida State, not Miami, not Oklahoma, not any of the other national title contenders, is set and spectacular at all 22 spots (plus special teams) going into game one. The test will be, as the season progresses, can Texas mask those problems with outstanding play in other areas and can the Longhorn coaches coax the guys at tackle and on special teams and elsewhere to achieve a level of play that they were unable to achieve in August? That we may not know until early October in Dallas.

Quick scrimmage notes: Dusty Mangum made three 42-yard attempts and a 37-yarder but missed from 37 and 38. Mangum handled his kickoff duty well, knocking a directional kick into the end zone just beyond the left front pylon. Brian Bradford punted for 28, 43, 43 and 25 yards, with all four attempts (even the 43-yarders) relatively low in the hang time department. Justin Smith had a bit more success, hitting one high and 39 yards and another high and 46 yards, but his third attempt of the night was blocked by Rod Babers. The block came with the second punt protection unit vs. the first-team punt block unit. . . . Neither Bo Scaife nor Brock Edwards caught a pass. In Sciafe's case, it was because the ball never came his way. Edwards, well, let's just say that the three that came his way came and went (through his hands and onto the DKR grass). Brown said the coaches know what Scaife can do as a pass-catcher so they're working on the sophomore's blocking. "That's where he needs to improve," the head coach said. . . . Major Applewhite, mainly squaring off with the first-team D behind a struggling second-team OL, had a tough time Wednesday night, connecting on just three of 12 attempts for 25 yards. Chance Mock had one completion for two yards, but he was victimized by two of Edwards' drops. . . . Lee Jackson is still wearing the boot. And in his place, Tyrone Jones continues to get the start at SAM 'backer. True freshman Braden Johnson worked with the second-team at strong-side LB. Aside from Jackson's turf toe injury, the Horns' projected contributors are relatively healthy. The only other injured players are true freshman RB Anthony Johnson (who was a probable redshirt anyway) and OL Roman Reeves (another likely redshirt). . . .Nathan Vasher and Dakarai Pearson split time at strong safety with the first-team D. Dakarai is also backing up Ahmad Brooks at free safety.

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