Now that the quarterback issue appears settled, the only question following the season-opening matinee at Royal-Memorial Stadium is if Texas is ready for prime time.
This we know: Texas has the defense to dominate all comers and Colt McCoy will not be a liability. The defense held the Mean Green to 95 yards while McCoy was 12-of-19 passing for 178 yards, including three TDs and no INTs.
"I've been dreaming about this my entire life," McCoy said. "I was ready. I was just ready to play against somebody other than our defense."
In fact, the longest run of the day belonged to McCoy. His 27-yard scamper on 2nd-and-10 from the 42 came as he orchestrated the two-minute offense on Texas' final possession of the first half.
"Limas (Sweed), Jamaal (Charles) and the offensive line threw great blocks," McCoy said. "That's the reason why I got up-field. I found a little crease in the defense. I tried to get the first-down, and it turned out that I got a little more."
The 10-play, 63-yard march concluded with a five-yard shovel pass to RB Selvin Young who danced and darted his way into the end zone with 16 seconds remaining. It gave the Horns a 28-0 halftime advantage, but the tempo was set during the opening series. That's when Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis went with a no-huddle offense, opening in the shotgun with three-wides. North Texas typically put seven in the box on first downs and blitzed from the opening snap.
"The biggest question mark was how (McCoy) would handle disguises, blitzes and whether he could run," head coach Mack Brown said.
McCoy answered that question by the end of the first half. It was imperative that the freshman get off to a quick start, and you couldn't have scripted a better opening series than a three-play, 75-yard TD drive. McCoy's 60-yard quick-strike to Sweed capped a drive that took all of 68-seconds off the game clock.
"Limas made it exciting," Davis said. "I think he bobbled it for 15 yards before he corralled it."
North Texas' freshmen CBs gave Sweed a comfortable cushion as the junior led all receivers with 111 yards and two TDs on five receptions.
Inquiring minds also wanted to know how Brown would opt to play two quarterbacks. Unlike previous season when Texas either rotated QBs or scripted one to play on a specific series, "We didn't make that decision before the game," Brown said. "We wanted Jevan (Snead) to get some work but we'll make the decision depending on how the game goes."
Snead managed the huddle on three series and finished the day with 3-of-7 passing for 20 yards and one INT. The pick came on his first possession as Snead checked into the game on Texas' opening series of the second quarter. It was a safe scenario for Snead, as the Horns took over on their own 35 following a 16-yard punt. Snead's first collegiate pass resulted in FL Jordan Shipley's first collegiate reception, a quick sideline pass good for five yards. Following a delay-of-game penalty, LCB Antoine Bush intercepted a tipped ball that glanced off Shipley's fingertips (the ball was thrown slightly behind Shipley) at the North Texas eight-yard line.
"We thought Jevan did a good job," Brown added. "He led us to a touchdown and we'll need both of them throughout the year."
RB Henry Melton plowed for 17 yards on five carries on Snead's final series that began at the UNT 29. Snead collected nine yards on two keepers, including a third-down conversion at the NorthTexas five, as Texas crossed the goal line for the seventh time on the afternoon.
Snead clearly has the most zip on his tosses, but a softer touch likely results in Myron Hardy making that grab on first-and-15 in the second quarter. McCoy has a tendency to throw across his body, sometimes forcing the issue into double-coverage. But he also shows good escape-ability and, just as important, showed RB Selvin Young something else just before kickoff.
"Just the look in his eyes gave us confidence in him," Young said. "He went out and performed today. There was no stutter in his calling the plays. Colt McCoy started the legacy he's going to have at Texas."
Teammates applauded McCoy for learning to change his cadence and the snap count during the pre-season. That translated into four offside penalties, including a pair on Texas' fourth series (the Horns accepted an incidental facemask penalty on the second infraction because it was tacked-on to the end of a six-yard Selvin Young run). Derek Lokey checked-in at FB when Texas broke huddle in the jumbo-set on third-and-two from the four. Young rushed over right guard for three yards before McCoy carried over from the one for his first collegiate TD carry. The eight-play drive spotted Texas a 14-0 lead with 64 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Texas may still be looking for its featured running play. The Horns clearly did not rely on zone reads, which had become a staple in the game plan during the Vince Young era. (In addition, no TE caught a pass Saturday). Yet, Brown was pleased with how effectively the team executed the counter-plays. RB Jamaal Charles led all rushers with 77 yards on 14 carries (5.5 ypc), including a TD. Young added 44 yards on 12 totes (3.7 ypc). The Horns ran for 212 yards en route to 410 yards of total offense.
The O-line did not give up a single sack, although C Lyle Sendlein left the game early with an apparent ankle injury. Brown said coaches had not received the trainer's report but added that Sendlein "was walking around in the locker room."
Defensively, Texas held UNT to 3 yards and a cloud of dust. North Texas RB Jamario Thomas, who led the nation with 180.3 ypg in 2004, was held to 38 yards on 14 totes. Yet, the Mean Green was stuffed virtually all of the afternoon, netting just eight yards on 28 rushing attempts. Two North Texas QBs (Matt Phillips, Woody Wilson) combined for 9-of-19 passing for 87 yards. They were sacked four times.
"When you talk about defense, the first thing that needs to come out of your mouth is the word 'physical,'" Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "I want our defense to come up, dominate the line-of-scrimmage and play physical. We saw our safeties come up and be physical. We think of our safeties as being part of the defensive front."
SS Marcus Griffin logged his first start at SS and tied LCB Aaron Ross as the team's leading tackler with seven. Chizik began dotting the front seven with backups (DT Thomas Marshall, DE Aaron Lewis, SLB Scott Derry, DE Brian Orakpo) late in the second quarter. The only defensive hiccup was when the Mean Green opened the second half with a nine-play, 80-yard drive. WR Brandon Jackson's 33-yard grab was the key play, but Thomas stepped off 38 yards on five carries, including a 16-yard run on 3rd-and-13 from the 29 when Texas went with a dime package for the first time and then brought pressure from the outside. Wilson's 12-yard TD completion to Jackson marked North Texas' first score against Texas in three meetings.
"Any time they score it upsets you," Chizik said. "The great thing we got out of that is you're not going to go out there and dominate every drive. It's not about what happens when they drive the ball and score. It's what happens after that."
Texas responded with a nine-play 70-yard scoring drive highlighted by a successful fake punt on 4th-and-1 from the North Texas 46. Rashad Bobino took the direct snap and bulled his way up the middle for five yards. Sweed capped the series, courtesy of a wicked stiff-arm, with a 29-yard right sideline pass to give Texas a 35-7 lead with 7:44 remaining in the quarter.
"I give a lot of credit to Colt McCoy," Chizik said, "A lot of people were wondering if he would be able to step up to the plate. I've been telling people all along: he's a great guy and he's smart. He's learned the game very well and very quickly. When I think back to my redshirt-freshman year, I missed hot routes, I missed reads and I ran some routes incorrectly. For him to come out there and hit those hot routes and make the accurate reads lets me know he's ready."
You figured that whatever adversity Texas would face Saturday against an outmatched opponent would be self-inflicted. It came early, as PR Aaron Ross mishandled a 41-yard Truman Spencer punt following the Mean Green's opening series. SLB Robert Killebrew drew a personal foul when he hit RB Jamario Thomas out of bounds. It was the kind of mindless penalty that coaches have been trying to eliminate from Killebrew's repertoire because it's the kind that gets you beat if it comes just at the wrong time against Ohio State. That gave the visitors first-and-goal from the eight. But Brian Robison, with the vertical leap of Spiderman, blocked Denis Hopovac's 27-yard FG attempt, and is now tied with Michael Griffin with a school-record six blocked kicks.
Coming into this one, you just knew that the defense would score. It came near the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Aaron Lewis threw Phillips for a 20-yard loss, forcing the fumble and recovering in the end zone for the final score of the 56-7 tune-up for Ohio State.
In addition to Snead, five freshmen lost their redshirts: MLB Jared Norton (forced a fumble in fourth quarter), DT Ben Alexander, RT J'Marcus Webb (the first Longhorn "true" true freshman offensive linemen to play since Derrick Dockery in 1999), DE Lamarr Houston and SS Robert Joseph.
Senior Greg Johnson continued to handle KO and punting duties, Brown said.
Texas extended its NCAA-leading winning streak to 21 games and set the stage for, arguably, the biggest home game in Longhorn history. When top-ranked Ohio State and No. 2 Texas (coaches poll) collide on September 9, it marks the first time that college football's top two teams will meet in Austin.
"Everybody's talked about Ohio State since February," Brown said, "but we played today like we thought the (North Texas) game was important."