Horns Put Depth on Display Against Ags

In my mind, there is a simple reason that talk of a Texas National Championship this season is more than just so much empty "we’re back" rhetoric: the team is loaded with seasoned play-makers at virtually every position.

Forget the "easy" schedule -- OU proved last year that a team with heart and talent can plow through even the most vicious slate and KO all comers. And in my judgment, the Horns’ sked last season was about as lacking in degree-of-difficulty as this one. No, the thing that struck me most watching Texas toy with the Aggies Saturday, and that makes me continue to believe that this might be the year, is how the fruits of Mack Brown’s recruiting successes the last four years are now plainly evident on the field. The Horns look different to me this season. They look deeper. They look faster. They look saltier. To continue the metaphor, the fruit appears to have ripened.

Look at the athletes Texas threw at the Aggies in the 41-7 win. On special teams, Tony Jeffery and Phillip Geiggar came like lightning from a thunderhead when NMSU dropped back to punt. When they could get the punt off, Nate Vasher, who spurned Nebraska and Arkansas among others to play at Texas, stood waiting to bring it back. Vasher returned two punts, one for 16 yards and another for 13. You just know this guy is going to shake loose more than once this season. In kick coverage, Michael Ungar, last year’s pesky gunner, got help from Reed Boyd who laid a Sports Center hit on the Ags’ Tony Lukins on the game’s first play, separating him from the ball and maybe his bicuspids. Beau Trahan, as always, stalked the return men like John Hinkley after Jodie Foster. And while not spectacular, the kicking game, a potentially huge Achilles’ heel for this team, held its own. True frosh walk-on Dusty Mangum hit all his FGs and PATs, and Brian Bradford averaged 38.2 yards on four punts, nailing one for 46 yards.

Offensively, Victor Ike, who had an excellent summer camp and turned in a decent opening game, was spelled by Ivan Williams, who turned in an even better one. Williams bludgeoned the Ag D for 64 yards on 15 carries. Then, after the NMSU defense had spent three quarters at war with the Horns’ mammoth OL and the 235-pound I-Train, on came Cedric Benson, who slashed them to ribbons for an identical 15 for 64. That is what you call attacking a defense in waves. "Texas is more of a smashmouth team (compared to Louisville)," said Ag LB D’Wayne Taylor. "Louisville never ran two-back and Texas ran a lot of two-back to try and pound the football." It’s been a while since "smash-mouth and "Texas" were uttered in the same sentence. It has a nice ring to it.

Through the air, the Big Three -- Roy Williams (five catches), BJ Johnson (four) and Sloan Thomas (two) -- produced, catching 11 balls between them, but it was almost-forgotten senior Montrell Flowers who punished the Ags, grabbing four passes for 54 yards and two TDs. And of course, the guy throwing most of the passes, national golden boy Chris Simms, got spelled late by none other than the leading thrower in Texas football history, Major Applewhite. Leaving the Simms-Applewhite-as-starter debate aside for the moment, is there any doubt that regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season, the Texas offense is going to be lethal?

Surprisingly, the only position that didn’t didn’t produce Saturday was TE, where Bo Scaife and Brock Edwards got shut out of the stat column. But that is no real concern, because with Scaife backed by Edwards and Mike Jones, that pantry is as well-stocked as any in the country when Greg Davis sees a seam in a defense he wants to exploit. And against NMSU, the TE task appeared to be more blocking than catching.

Defensively, all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over the DT position may prove to have been so much wasted energy. If there is a better example of Carl Reese’s spin-down philosophy than Maurice Gordon on the interior DL, I haven’t seen it. The idea, as you recall, is to get speed at every position -- DB speed at LB, LB speed at DE, and DE speed at tackle. Gordon gives the Horns LB speed at tackle and a Michael Johnson-like burst out of the blocks. Gordon often seemed to shoot the gap into the Aggie backfield faster than QB KC Emzminger could turn to hand it off or take a step into the pocket. It appeared the NMSU coaches may have caught on by trapping Gordon a few times, but the Mesquite senior still managed to lead the team with 1.5 sacks on the night for minus-13 yards. Adam Doiron and Stevie Lee both got some PT under their belts and should inprove with each game, with Doiron notching a tackle. Surprisingly, the "mainstay" at the other DT, Marcus Tubbs, did not make the defensive stat sheet.

At linebacker, veterans Tyrone Jones (team-leading 6 tackles) and Everick Rawls (second with 5 tackles) led a Texas charge that virtually nullified NMSU’s potent ground attack. The Ags got some yards, 169 on 34 carries, but these guys are used to racking up ground-stats in the 250-300 yard range. The Texas D stuffed ‘em. And when the front-liners needed a blow, Reese inserted senior Marcus Wilkins and true-frosh Derrick Johnson. Johnson, in his first game, showed why the likes of FSU and Oklahoma coveted his signature: he has wheels and a nose for the ball, logging three tackles in limited minutes, two unassisted. When injured Lee Jackson returns, the LB corps will take on another dimension.

In the secondary, Rod Babers, Quentin Jammer, Dakarai Pearson, Ahmad Brooks, Vasher and Geiggar swarmed like wasps. This unit is deep in experience, speed and swagger. NMSU managed only 63 yards through the air on 8-16 passing.

"I have to give it up to their defense," said Emzminger post-game. "I thought we could run on everybody, but they stopped us. They played a good ballgame." Added coach Tony Samuels: "They have great speed on defense. They have great lateral movement. We tried to run at them and they did a good job at that as well. Obviously we weren't at full strength offensively, but they are a good football team."

It was just one win, against a team nobody is confusing with its name-sake in College Station or its coach’s alma mater in Lincoln. But in dismantling New Mexico State, a team that has proved it can move the football and score points, Texas got off to as strong a start as could have been hoped for. The Horns did it by tapping into as deep a depth chart as I can remember seeing for an opener. And that depth, more than the ease of the victory, has kept me believing that this season just might have a chance of being the one.

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