Texas' Hogwild Win Leaves Room For Growth

The bottom line: Texas won. And that's all that mattered on a hoot'n, hollerin' Saturday night at Arkansas. But we also knew coming into Texas' 22-20 nailbiter that this contest could expose some gaping holes in the Longhorn armor, as well as confirm its strengths. Here's what we saw:

First of all, when you've spent 48 hours in the belly of the beast (or, in this case, in the hog's belly) you'll take a two-point win about as quick as it took Larry Dibbles to punch the pigskin out of QB Matt Jones' mitts with 2:54 remaining. But upon further review, my thoughts turn not only from last night's hoe-down but also from the Pea Ridge Mule Jump (No kidding; the annual Ozark event was in full swing under those Friday Night Lights just a few miles from my Comfort Inn), and now toward that key October stretch beginning with OU that includes road trips to Texas Tech and Colorado. What does Texas' showing Saturday indicate about its chances during those upcoming tilts?

We knew that Texas would be sorely tested (if not exposed) at both SLB and RDE. The biggest concern right now (for me) is getting pressure on the QB. Arkansas did not have a single returning O-lineman, but the Pig uglies up front gave Jones ample protection most of the evening. He was able to pick his spots, dissecting the Texas defense for 283 yards on 14-of-29 passing. Texas was always running, chasing, flailing, in hot pursuit but still could not consistently get to an athletic QB and pound him into submission. (It reminded me of a scene from "Rocky" where Sly Stallone was trying to catch that chicken. When you spend 48 hours in Tyson country, you tend to get poultry on the brain.) We can credit Jones for much of that. He is excruciatingly elusive for a man his size, he excels at throwing on the run, and you flat-out have to respect his refuse-to-lose persona. He's just a gamer. Thing is, this wasn't Oklahoma (and its Heisman winner) or Texas Tech (and its freak show offense) that Texas was playing. It was a blue-collar QB, sufficiently protected by green (and greener) O-linemen, who damn near broke Texas' heart again. Right now, OU is looking like a three-TD favorite and the Horns will have their hands full in Lubbock.

Texas has two solid safeties in SS Michael Huff and FS Phillip Geiggar. Cornerbacks Tarell Brown and Cedric Griffin, however, were toasted more often than an english muffin at Waffle House (which, by the way, qualifies as a four-star restaurant in Fayetteville). True, Griffin came up with the key, falling down pick with 7:48 left in the game. But the pass was underthrown and the receiver had multiple steps on Griffin. After that, Jones was able to pass, and scramble down field (reaching the seven, of course) before Dibbles came up with what may be the key defensive play of the season. In time, Brown (a prep Parade All-American) will be fine. For now, Texas does not have a true lockdown CB for the first time in Mack Brown's seven-year tenure.

One of those areas we didn't know about was RDT. Frankly, the jury is still out but there is no question that Dibbles' forcing a Jones' fumble with 2:54 remaining has forever etched himself in the psyche of those who actually live and die by this series (and that's basically limited to people who live east of Texarkana)

WLB Derrick Johnson was all over the field. He is a man among boys. (Ohio State can brag about their linebackers all they want; give me D.J. any day) Never thought I'd say it but SLB Eric Hall makes me long for the days of Reed Boyd. If I'm Mack Brown, I'm telling sophomore Eric Foreman (formerly Garnet Smith's backup), "Look, you can waste your season on the bench as the No. 4 quarterback. You might get to hand off, or take a knee, in the final two minutes against Baylor. Otherwise, you'd be starting right now at SAM linebacker. What's it gonna be?"

Texas' run defense was generally sound (surrendering 175 yards on 45 attempts), considering about half of that were Jones improvising and/or scrambling for his life. Arkansas could not run between the tackles but found room to roam (four yards here, six yards there) at the edges.

Depth is suddenly a concern at tailback. The unofficial word is that No. 2 RB Selvin Young suffered a high ankle injury in the first quarter Saturday and that No. 3 RB Erik Hardeman is done for the season (academics). That leaves true freshman Ramonce Taylor as Cedric Benson's chief backup. Taylor was a Texas 5A first-teamer (who showed a burst with his 94 yards on four totes in the home opener) but he's without the level of experience that Brown trusts in these heated, high profile matchups. Hence, Taylor stayed on the bench against the Hogs.

Texas must use tune-up games against Rice and Baylor to develop some semblance of a threat at wide receiver. There is still reason to question if Vince Young and the untested receivers can carry this team if (make that, when) Texas absolutely has to pass to win. I loved that 30-yard play-action pass to FL Tony Jeffery to open the second half. It ignited a nine-play, 72-yard drive and regained the lead after the offense sputtered, stalled and barely gave the D a breather during an inept second quarter.

QB Young's 11-of-22 passing for 150 yards were more clutch than consistent, and nearly half of those totals came courtesy of two completions to TE David Thomas (70 yards). Thomas can flat-out fly. Brown referenced "miscommunication" between Young and new pass catchers (translated: running wrong routes) but Thomas and fellow TE Bo Scaife are seasoned and strong. OC Greg Davis needs to dial his TEs' number for more than just three grabs per outing, especially in the type of blue-collar contest that was waged in the Ozarks. And let's see standout freshman SE Nate Jones in the mix (as well as Taylor at RB), starting September 26 against the Owls. OU coach Bob Stoops has never shied from using his biggest fish in his biggest game of the year.

The Hogs were clearly keying on VY, limiting him to a mortal 56 yards on 14 carries. But with Texas' two-headed monster in the backfield, Benson rumbled for 188 yards on 29 attempts (that's 6.5 yards-per-tote). That hissing sound you heard yesterday was the air going out of the Heisman balloon for both Kansas State RB Darren Sproles and Missouri QB Brad Smith. At this rate, Cedric will be one of the Top Five finalists invited to the Downtown Athletic Club in December.

After the game, Brown looked absolutely spent (and like he needed a hug) while Benson looked like he was good for 29 more carries.

"I was born and bred for this," Benson smiled.

Texas' O-line was a glaring weakness last year against the Hogs. Despite some untimely false starts (due to crowd noise), the group protected well and made Benson's life a heckuva lot easier this time around.

"The offensive line was just firing out," Benson said. "I can't say enough about those guys."

You gotta admire how hard PK/P Richmond McGee has worked to improve his game, considering this was the kid who got the 2003 Arkansas game off on the wrong foot (literally) with those 13- and 17-yard kicks. He out-kicked his coverage on his first (of eight) punts but, after that, some of his rockets were launched so high that they could have shown up on the radar screen at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport. Any FG attempt from more than 40 yards out is a coin toss for senior Dusty Mangum. His 41-yard miss almost proved fatal Saturday. A missed FG has the momentum swing of a turnover for the opposing defense.

Overall, it was a gutcheck for the Horns, who could have cratered when they squandered two leads of nine points, and then could have puckered up when Arkansas reached their own 13 yardline and needing just a FG to grab the lead in the final 2:54. At this point, I'm standing on the five yard line and the ground is shaking from the deafening full-throated, hoof-stomping record crowd of 75,671. My only thought was: playmakers make big plays at a time like this. I honestly thought the play would somehow come from D.J., recalling an August drill where he sacked the QB on third-and-long and then blocked the punt. Instead, the big play came from a big player: Dibbles.

"It's just a big relief to get this one over with and come out of here with a win," said Benson.

Nuff 'Ced.

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