Benson dazzles in debut

Facing a third down at the three yard line with just 31 seconds to play in Saturday night's opener, <B>Major Applewhite</B> called the Horns' final timeout. The miked referee, signaling the stoppage of play, announced to the crowd, "Timeout, Nebraska." The official, after realizing his microphoned mistake, sheepishly corrected, "Timeout, Texas. Sorry." Forgive the man his confusion.

The Texas offense, recently known more for its wide open air attack than for its ground game success, resembled the Cornhusker O in the fourth quarter vs. New Mexico State, relying mainly on the rushing of Cedric Benson to mount two long scoring drives. In the quarter, the Horns rushed the ball 17 times in 24 plays. At one point, true freshman Benson carried the ball on seven consecutive plays, electrifying the crowd by gaining 45 yards before taking a one-play breather. "They said they were gonna run me till I dropped," the personable tailback said with a grin. Listening to Benson talk, you get the feeling he'd do just that if the coaches asked it of him.

As it was, the smooth-running freshman finished the game with 64 rushing yards on 15 fourth quarter carries, matching Ivan Williams' team-high totals. Benson's final carry resulted in a four-yard trip into the end zone for his first TD in the Orange and White and the punctuation mark on the Horns' 41-7 season opening W. The Midland Lee product added a 17-yard reception in his dazzling debut.

Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said he wanted to get Benson in the game a little bit earlier, and the freshman's performance from the first play of the fourth quarter on virtually ensures that he will see the field far earlier, and surely more often, next Saturday vs. North Carolina than he did vs. New Mexico State.

"He ran hard, he broke tackles and he was very productive," Davis said post-game.

Rod Babers, who watched Benson's exploits from the sideline, could only shake his head at the accomplishments of his teammate, before offering: "The kid can run. He gained a lot of respect from his teammates today. He doesn't look like a freshman to me."

Mack Brown, after complimenting Benson's great effort, took care to praise his other backs and remind folks that Benson gained his yards against a worn out New Mexico State defense while Victor Ike (14 carries for 53 yards) and Williams gained similar yardage against a more fresh Aggie D. Regardless, Benson turned in a rookie performance not surpassed since a guy named Ricky burst onto the scene in '95.

Matter of fact, senior right tackle Mike Williams has already dubbed Benson Little Ricky minus two (Benson wears No. 32, two less than Ricky's No. 34).

Benson shrugs off the comparisons and the fan adulation (evidenced by the chant of "Cedric" echoing through DKR Saturday and the roar each time he headed into or out of the Texas huddle) in an aw-shucks kind of way, but at the same time, he likes the fact that some of his peers liken him to a proven great and that, after just three days as a student at The University of Texas, he is exalted by thousands of Orangebloods. Yet he does not come across as cocky. The kid has what to me seems an unassuming confidence. If bothered one bit by the pressure of playing in front of 82,000 people or of facing a throng of media members post-game, Benson did not show it.

"Truly, I was ready to start," he said.

Cedric, that day is not far off.

[Editor's note: More game notes, analysis and commentary will be available throughout the day on Sunday.]

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