Taking Stock: Who's Up, Who's Down

This is the first in a series of post-game reports throughout the season that will evaluate players, positions, units, coaches, and any other thing that is worthy of scrutiny. No, it’s not your typical player X did well, so his stock is up. We will touch on some of those, but we want to provide a closer look at some of the less obvious and explain why the subject received a certain grade. Check back each week for the latest report. You might be surprised.

Stock Up

Derrick Johnson — Can this guy’s stock get any higher? The answer is a resounding YES! D.J.’s penchant for forcing turnovers as he’s done with regularity during his first three years resurfaced against North Texas to the tune of three forced fumbles–all recovered by Texas–one of which changed the complexion of the game (see Turning Point). In addition, D.J. led the defense with seven tackles including five unassisted. Let’s just say with his performance against the Mean Green, they might start etching his name in the Butkus award, the honor given annually to the nation’s top linebacker. After being a semifinalist his sophomore year and a finalist last year (the first time ever for a Longhorn), Johnson’s campaign to become the first-ever Longhorn to win the award got off to a rousing start.

Texas Defense — While D.J. can be credited with three forced fumbles in the game, the rest of the defense was more than equal to the task as it totally overwhelmed what looked like a helpless North Texas offense. Texas defenders were flying to the ball and on almost every play four or more Longhorns were there to greet the ball carrier. The stats don’t lie. North Texas reached the Texas side of the 50 only once. That’s right–once. UNT managed to gain a paltry 130 yards of total offense, 75 of which came after Texas was up 44-0 at the break. And what about that stellar running attack featuring the nation’s returning leading yards per game rusher in Patrick Cobbs? Non-existent. Cobbs carried eight times for an unbelievable -1 yard, or 153 yards below his per game average a year ago. Due to Cobbs’ ineffectiveness and a sore hand, he left in the second quarter and North Texas was forced to pass where they were equally unsuccessful, gaining only 92 yards through the air. Yes, it was North Texas, but the retooled Texas defense looked very impressive.

Texas Offensive Line — When you see the stat of an astounding 513 yards rushing and you have two running backs surpass the century mark with a third only four yards from it, you know something was going right in the trenches. Sure, Cedric Benson, Selvin Young and true frosh Ramonce Taylor broke numerous tackles, but the gaping holes up front were abundant, which allowed the backs to break through the secondary for huge chunks at a time. The offensive line took the fight to North Texas and did so with a passion. That was very encouraging. Again, this performance was against North Texas, but there were too many positives from the offensive line in the form of huge holes and pancake blocks to believe this was just an aberration.

Stock Down

Michael Huff — Let’s be perfectly clear, Huff did not remotely have a bad game. He was aggressive and swarmed to the ball in the new attacking defense. He did, however, have several lapses that could have resulted in big plays and added to the turnover margin for Texas. It’s those types of plays that make good players into great players–see D.J. above. The first occurred early in the first quarter when North Texas quarterback Scott Hall threw a pass to Huff’s zone. The pass had interception written all over it. Granted, Huff had to rapidly change direction and dive, but the ball hit him squarely in the hands and fell harmlessly to the turf. In baseball, that would be considered an error. In a big game, it could be the difference between an undefeated season or another trip to the Holiday or Cotton Bowl. Less than halfway through the second quarter Huff had a chance for redemption. Hall rocketed a pass to his receiver. Huff made a great move to undercut the receiver and get in position for the pick. Unfortunately, it eluded him yet again. Not to worry, though. Huff has had four interceptions in his first two seasons at Texas including two last year, all of which he has returned for touchdowns. Maybe he realized he couldn’t score on either opportunity. Let’s just hope those first two near misses against North Texas knocked the rust off his fingertips.

Richmond McGee (punting) — The one opportunity starting punter Richmond McGee had to show the spring and August form that allowed him he earn the starting spot ahead of heralded transfer Greg Johnson, he cranked an underwhelming 27-yarder. Yes, he was trying to place it inside the 20, but it didn’t make it that far (23-yard-line) and looked bad–no other way to put it. Conversely, on Johnson’s two kicks, he hit a 43-yarder that was downed on the 15 and a directional 34-yarder that went out at the 10. Perhaps Mack Brown will reconsider McGee's double duty and instead have him focus solely on kickoff duty.

Equipment Manager — When Ahmard Hall, a non-scholarship player, scored the final touchdown of the game, there was mass confusion among television watchers and those in the broadcast booth. Why? Hall wore 46 on his jersey with no name and 31 on his helmet. In this day of using the same number for multiple players, it would be nice if the helmet and jersey numbers actually matched.

Kyle Dalton is an Austin-based freelance journalist. He has been a contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, Avid Golfer Magazine, and several other golf magazines and Web publications. He also authored "Burned Orange: Tom Penders and 10 Years at the University of Texas."

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