Mack: Best opener in four years at UT

Late last week, <B>Mack Brown</B> pointed to two things that are worrisome to every coach, but particularly the coaches of heavily favored teams, heading into an opener: turnovers and kicking game mistakes.

Saturday night vs. New Mexico State, Brown's Horns forced two fumbles and did not lose a turnover. And Texas also played a near solid game on special teams, including blocking an Aggie punt early to begin the Longhorns' scoring barrage. That, combined with a strong defensive effort and a resilient one from the UT offense, led Brown Sunday to call the Horns' 41-7 win over NMSU "the best opener" in his four years on the Forty Acres.

Brown said he's also pleased with the total plays figure (UT 83, NMSU 50) and the resulting time of possession advantage (40:18 for the Horns to just 19:42 for the Aggies). "Keeping the defense off the field was really important," the Texas coach said, particularly given the swamp-like conditions in Austin Saturday afternoon. Brown said his players kept "fresh legs," partly because of conditioning and partly because of the team's growing (and ever more evident) depth.

Defensively, Texas held NMSU to just 232 yards, and about half of those yards came on a handful of plays (a zone play, a couple of draws and a couple of play action passes). Brown said he felt like the defensive tackles, one of the big question marks heading into the season, played "really, really well" overall but must shore up some on the inside run. The LB's also have a bit of work to do avoiding getting burned on cut-back plays, according to the coach.

Offensively, after struggling through a quarter-and-a-half, the Horns picked it up and consistently moved the ball in the second quarter and throughout the second half. "I was disappointed that we didn't give (Chris Simms) better opportunities to get started because we didn't protect very well," Brown said Sunday. "To the offense's credit, though, they didn't get frustrated and they ended up playing really, really well." New Mexico State "showed things we hadn't seen out of them before," according to the head coach, like the free safety blitz, which led to some miscommunications among the OLs and running backs and thus some missed protections early, but as the game went on, Simms (by design) released more quickly on some plays and had far more time in the pocket on others.

Brown also liked what he saw from the ground game. "I'm pleased with the way we ended up in the running game because we stayed with it," he said. "I felt like going in we were going to make a point of being more physical, hitting more and working on the running game." The coach said he was going to be "stubborn" about the running game and not give in to the temptation to rack up 100 points by lining up in the five-wide set and throwing every down, like in last year's opener, and run the risk of another Stanford situation where the team couldn't gain yards on the ground when needed. Aside from the first series of the game, the series coming off the goalline and the series going into the goalline ("I was really disappointed we didn't stick it in," Brown said), the coach deemed the offensive effort physical and worthy of praise, although he said he wants to see more consistency.

According to Brown, the Horns "didn't use a lot of our offense last night," working instead on "two or three" runs and pass protections. That is part of the reason you didn't see more of the tight ends, who the coach said did a good job of blocking, in the passing game.

Finally, the Texas head coach said that the emphasis placed on being physical may have hurt Victor Ike and Ivan Williams a bit. Both backs got tripped up a couple of times when it looked like they were about to break free into the open field, and Brown said with a little more patience, both backs may have picked their spots a little better. Brown, as he did Saturday night post-game, reminded folks that Cedric Benson, playing in the fourth quarter, had the benefit of facing a worn out NMSU defense, but he also praised the true freshman's eyes and his feet and said, "We'll talk about getting him in that rotation earlier (against UNC)."

Injury notes: Texas suffered no significant injuries vs. New Mexico State. WR Kyle Shanahan (quad) has been cleared to return to practice on Tuesday and is expected to be available to play this weekend. LB Lee Jackson (turf toe), who missed the NMSU game, will be evaluated on Monday to determine if he can return to practice on Tuesday.

For multiple commentary and analysis articles on Saturday night's 41-7 win over the Aggies of New Mexico State, see our currently posted subscriber articles Benson dazzles in debut and Game notes and analysis: offense. Coming later today and tomorrow: Game notes and analysis: defense, Game notes and analysis: special teams and Horns Put Depth on Display Against Ags. For subscription information and to learn about our five day free trial, please go to Premium Services.

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