At first, Rice used an unbalanced set and let their quarterback keep the ball behind load blocking, which means the defender taking the quarterback got blocked by a halfback or slot back. The Owls moved the football fairly effectively on their first series until coach Greg Robinson and his defensive staff adjusted to Rice's early load blocking success. Notice these adjustments were made on the field by the men who coach the players all week. No messages lost in translation from the press box.
(An aside: All the talk about the struggles of Greg Robinson's Kansas City defense last season should be looked upon in a new light. The 2004 Chiefs can't stop a stiff breeze and they might just be missin' Robinson about now.)
Make no mistake, Robinson is the equal of Mike Stoops of Oklahoma in intensity on the sideline, before, during and after the game. He is a consummate teacher. Watch him in pre-game warmups as the defensive subs form a hull (linebackers and secondary) for the Texas offense to practice passing combinations: he makes every practice snap count as far as showing a player fundamentals, such as correct pursuit angles (which paid dividends against the Owls' option attack).
There is no doubt in my mind that Robinson has taken tremendous pressure off of Mack Brown. Not that Coach Brown doesn't show concern for his defenders, but he has a man at his side on the sideline that refuses to let his defenders get their heads down or play confused football.
One of those defenders, Larry Dibbles, absolutely knocked Rice's offensive guards into their own backfield, making the Owl quarterback's triple option path impossible. The Rice fullback was taken away and the defensive line charge allowed the Longhorns' linebackers -- particularly Derrick Johnson and Aaron Harris -- to slide down the line and dart through to nail the QB.
And this is to be highlighted: the Longhorn secondary has transitioned from a group of coverage players into vicious hitters. Michael Huff, Tarell Brown, Phillip Geiggar, Michael Griffin, Cedric Griffin and Aaron Ross will light you up in a flash. No more emphasis on multiple coverages or how a player resembles an NFL cornerback -- this group simply comes to play and will unload.
From a defensive perspective, the biggest concern coming out of the Rice game is Rodrique Wright's health. The junior DT will have a nip-and-tuck time making it back for Oklahoma. A leg or ankle injury to large athletes like Wright can take time to heal, and time is not on his side with the Oct. 9 less than two weeks away. Wright is a warrior, though, and will do his best to make it back for the showdown in Dallas.
On the offensive side of the ball, my favorite Longhorn might just be Tony Jeffery. At 6-1, 175, he gives up his body for Texas every football game. Against the Owls, that included a fake field goal dive for a touchdown and a crunching block that allowed David Thomas to score the Horns' last touchdown. He hustles every play. He is a throwback player that is unselfish.
The Texas tight ends are getting open because of Vince Young fakes to Cedric Benson, holding the linebackers so David Thomas and Bo Scaife can run choice routes beneath whatever safety coverage is available. And the tight ends are finding room to roam partly because Jeffery and his wideout partners are springing them downfield.
Speaking of springin', the left side of the Texas offensive line must have missed the pre-game meal -- they came out hungry to get some Owl meat. Benson broke free several times behind Jonathan Scott, Kasey Studdard and center Jason Glynn.
This is all good stuff.
But Baylor is coming to Austin at a bad time. (For the Bears, that is.) Mack Brown is finding Texas fans appreciate his new-look Longhorns with their pounding running game, setting up play action passes, and relentless defense. It is not so much a factor of Brown reinventing himself; it is what has always been beneath the exterior of the man. Nobody but nobody can look at this Longhorn football team right now and use the word "soft". Baylor will not enjoy the Longhorns lack of finesse. Texas 45, Baylor 0.
Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary will appear regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.