Defense Sets Tone In Spring Game

For the first time in a Longhorn Spring Game culminating the month-long spring drills, a new scoring system allowed the defense to put points on the board without touching the ball. As such, the White (defense) team outdueled the Orange (offense) squad, 17-14 at the Spring Jamboree in front of an announced 36,250 at Royal Memorial Stadium.

The defense, for example, was credited with four points after holding the first team offense to a 22-yard Dusty Mangum FG to cap QB Vince Young's nine-play opening drive. The scoring system notwithstanding, the Texas D had the same sizable advantage Saturday that it will boast every time it steps on the field this season. It comes in the form of Butkus front-runner WLB Derrick Johnson.

"I thought Derrick Johnson turned the scrimmage with three straight plays," head coach Mack Brown said.

These "games" are intended primarily to allow coaches to evaluate inexperienced players, but Johnson made his presence known during the second and third series when Chance Mock was behind center. Mock orchestrated a 12-play march capped by an 8-yard TD toss to WR Billy Pittman. David Pino's PAT made it 12-4, Orange. On the next series, Johnson came hard on a heavy blitz as Mock's hurried attempt fell into the arms of DE Tim Crowder. The defense was awarded seven points for the pick. Johnson, however, was more tickled to have a chance to lay some wood.

"During practice I will always tell Chance that I'm gonna hit him but I really don't," Johnson said. "This time I had the perfect opportunity to hit him. Coach said we would 'thud' him, but that's not grabbing him and taking him down. That's giving him a little nudge, so I gave him a little nudge but he got back up. It was friendly."

It was also a little more fierce than usual for a Spring Game.

"We've never hit full-speed in a scrimmage," Brown said. "You've got the Butkus Award finalist out there knocking people out in a spring scrimmage. That's a new thing for us. Derrick hit Chance a couple of times and then came up to me and asked, 'He wasn't the one I was supposed to hit, was he?' I said, 'I don't think you cared.'"

MLB Aaron Harris was the game's leading tackler with four stops (including one TFL) while DE Chase Pittman was credited with three tackles (two TFL, one sack) and one QB pressure.

"It wasn't about the scheme and we didn't have game plans either way," Brown said. "We were just trying to see guys. We felt like, overall, we got accomplished tonight exactly what we wanted to accomplish."

Like last year's spring game, the TE was the leading receiver. Only this time it was back-up Neale Tweedie who led the pass-catchers with 36 yards on two grabs. Tweedie's first grab was a 23-yarder from Mock in heavy coverage. Tweedie was solidly pummeled but managed to hold on as the Orange team was credited two points for an 'explosive' (a completion of 14-plus yards). Mock was 6-of-8 passing for 66 yards while Young was 4-of-9 passing for 28 yards.

"Right now, the coaches love what they've been seeing from the receivers and the quarterbacks," said Young, who added 27 yards on five carries. "Everybody's been looking good. All the receivers out there have been making great plays. Seeing them young guys out there making plays is a big shot. Ever since the first practice, they started out slow. But they've been growing, growing, growing every day and everybody is proud of them."

Truth be known; Young will be college football's best running QB this year and also Texas' best cheerleader. When he's not waiving his arms to rev up the crowd, he is (understandably yet over-optimistically) talking up the passing game. His first (and only) attempt to go deep (to WR Limas Sweed) was a high-arching moonball that had a hang-time comparable to a punt. Later, Young threw into triple coverage (you've seen his ear-level shotput throwing motion) as safety Marcus Griffin came away with the pick. The play was later discounted due to Brown's inadvertent whistle. The biggest question heading into the fall, for my money, is not the inexperience of the receivers but can Texas win the big ones when Young has to throw? Or do you bring in Mock and basically telegraph to the defense what you're going to do?

"When one phase (of the game) looks good in the spring, as a head coach, you're worried about the other phases," Brown said, "So you usually don't sleep very much."

The running game, however, probably has been the source of pleasant dreams for Brown. The ground game, ranked No. 5 nationally at the end of last season, shows no signs of dropping off.

"We're running the ball really well right now," Brown said. "We're excited about that."

The first team offense ran approximately 20 plays while the second team O was on the field for about 30 snaps. Third team RB Anthony Johnson had the most totes (7 carries for 28 yards) while RS-freshman Erik Hardeman, with his low center of gravity, will be a headache in shoulder pads (15 yards on 3 carries). RB Cedric Benson ran with authority in limited action (22 yards on 3 carries).

"He's probably mad like Ricky (Williams) that we took him out," Brown said, "but he was running well. He wanted to stay out there but I told him 'I've seen you run enough.' We're in good shape."

Sophomore Aaron Ross has emerged in the fiercely contested battle with Tarell Brown for the starting CB spot opposite Cedric Griffin. Ross, whom Brown listed as a co-starter with sophomore Tarell Brown during spring drills, returned Richmond McGee's opening kickoff 44 yards to the 46-yard line. He later added a 13-yard punt return as Selvin Young's special team backup.

"Aaron Ross really jumped out as a returner tonight," Brown said. "He and Selvin Young give us more speed back there in punt and kickoff returns to replace Nathan Vasher)."

RB Selvin Young is the starting PR this season and returned one punt for 17 yards.

At long last, junior-to-be Larry Dibbles has cracked the starting lineup at DT alongside Rodrique Wright. Parade All-American recruit Frank Okam will have a say in the matter when he reports next fall but, for now, this is Dibbles' spot to lose.

"Larry has stepped up and has a starting spot in the defensive line," Brown said. "When you lose (DT) Marcus Tubbs, we really needed him to step up."

Senior SS Phillip Geiggar completed the scoring with his 90-yard punt-return for TD (against the third team).

"That position (punt return) is definitely locked down right now," Geiggar said, "but if I ever get the chance to get back there I'll definitely try to take advantage of it."

Overall, Brown commended the 2004 Longhorns for their sustained and unified effort throughout the spring.

"I think this is the best we've worked together as a team since we've been out here," Brown said. "This wasn't about individuals. Everybody was working. You didn't see anybody loaf tonight. You didn't see anybody take a play off. At the end of spring practice, some could be worried about getting hurt on the last day. I thought they competed really well tonight."

Added Brown, "There's a lot of young guys out there for the first time so we don't know who we are yet," Brown said. "We told them tonight that they hadn't beat anybody but you haven't lost a game yet. This team is new and starting over but I think there's a lot of fun things to watch. I know it's going to be a hard-hitting team. We want to be the best tackling team and the most physical team in the country. It's going to be a hard-running football team. We want to continue to work on the blitz and the disguises on defense. We want to continue to work on the passing game on offense and I saw some big plays on defense tonight."

The season kicks-off in exactly five months with the Sept. 4 home opener against North Texas.

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