Pick Your Poison: Benson Or Tight Ends?

Just about the only surprise following Texas' methodical 35-13 win over Rice Saturday was just how surprised the Owls were by the game-breaking presence of tight ends David Thomas and Bo Scaife. It shouldn't have come as too big of a shock, considering UT's inexperience at WR as well as coach Mack Brown's yearlong promise that the TEs would become a mainstay in the Longhorn offense.

The duo accounted for all three of Texas' passing TDs in a game that was essentially over at halftime. Thomas, who also played H-back and fullback, accounted for a career-best 90 yards on four grabs in three quarters of work. Defensively, the Owls sold out to try to stop Texas' NCAA-leading ground game, often stacking the linebackers and safeties in an effort to key on RB Cedric Benson. But with a pair of tight ends like Thomas and Scaife, you pick your poison. Benson responded with a season-best 189 yards on just 20 carries, including a 58-yarder (his fourth longest dash from scrimmage as a Longhorn). Meanwhile, Thomas' determined 49-yard reception to open the third quarter was as fine of a catch-and-run as you'll see all season.

"I thought the catch-and-run by David Thomas was one of the best that I've ever seen a tight end make," Brown said Sunday. "There was a great block by Tony Jeffery and Bo Scaife getting in the way in the end. We're going to continue to throw to the tight ends because when you're running the ball as physical as we are and as well as we are, and Cedric and Vince (Young) both doing such a great job, we were pleased with Will Matthews in the running game as well (career-high seven carries for 50 yards), it's really hard to have the tight ends coming because the linebackers and the safeties are responsible for any runs that break the line of scrimmage."

Young was 11-of-18 passing for 161 yards, including a career-best three passing TDs. Yet the ridiculously talented sophomore, still looking for a deft touch on the deep ball, was picked off twice against one of the smaller and more inexperienced secondaries that Texas will face all year. His second pick of the evening was a red zone turnover when VY tried to find freshman WR Myron Hardy in the right corner of the south end zone.

"The throw wasn't a throw that he shouldn't have made," Brown said, after stating that Young had his best passing game as a Longhorn. "It just should have been on the outside of Myron Hardy instead of on the inside."

WLB Derrick Johnson led all tacklers with eight stops but the Butkus Award favorite is essentially raising the level of the first team D by his mere presence on the field.

"He's dominating the game but he's also showing great leadership ability," Brown said. "He changes the game. I was so proud of the goal line stand last night just before the half, and he had something to do with that. He actually knocked the ball loose from (FB Ed) Bailey. I think he has to be as good of a linebacker as I've ever seen. The standard is set so high for him that if someone ever moves the ball against us, or if someone sees him make less than a phenomenal play, we all want to critique him. He understands that. He also knows that we want him to be more vocal and talk to the younger kids about our standards and ask them to pick it up. He's doing all that."

Backup linebackers Garnet Smith, Scott Derry and Stevie Stigall played the entire fourth quarter.

"Scott even played more than that," Brown said, after the youngster finished with five tackles. "We needed for those guys to get some work, and that was really critical. I thought the (first team) played great through three quarters. If we don't throw the interception in the end zone, we're up in the 40s-to-six. The game was over and we took everyone out. The young ones needed to play, and I thought they played well. I was disappointed in (backup QB Joel Armstrong's) long run (44 yards for TD) but I thought the young quarterback from Rice was really fast, too."

Brown would not elaborate on injuries, notably LDT Rodrique Wright's injured left ankle. However, Brown mentioned Saturday night that the X-rays "came back fine" (i.e., nothing broken or fractured) while Fox Sports reported that the junior DT suffered a high ankle sprain. Backup LDT Frank Okam registered Texas' first sack of the season late in the game in Wright's place.

"We've played three (offensive) systems that do not allow you for an easy rush or an easy sack because they're running football teams," Brown said. "They use play-action pass or option. We think we're making good progress there."

Baylor becomes the first passing team the Horns face this season when Big 12 play opens for Texas, 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The game will be televised on a Pay Per View basis.

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