Vasher Cruises, Defense Bruises, Offense Snoozes

If it's true that defense wins games and offense sells tickets, then it's good that Texas' season opening 27-0 thumping of North Texas came with a ‘No Refund' stipulation.

After all, you won't get defensive coordinator Carl Reese to trade-in Saturday's shutout.

"It's great to start the season with a ‘zero'," said Reese, whose unit held the Mean Green to 90 yards rushing (38 attempts) and 55 yards passing (six completions in 20 attempts).

Nor will you find many complaints about CB Nathan Vasher's 123 yards in just four punt returns (see Hot News). In fact, UT's special teams excelled in every category except kickoff returns, only because the return unit never made it onto the field (Texas won the coin toss and deferred to the second-half, choosing then to kick off and defend the north end zone).

The Longhorn offense, meanwhile, couldn't sell a Bible to a preacher (at least not in the second half, a scoreless stalemate for both teams).

The much ballyhooed offensive unit managed just 28 net yards rushing on 35 attempts, and the stat would have been a lot uglier had it not been for SE Roy Williams 17-yard scamper on a reverse in the first quarter. The offensive line, replacing its entire right side and center, gave up eight quarterback sacks for 51 yards in losses.

Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust would have been an improvement to RB Cedric Benson's rushing stats. Although Benson's pass protection is considerably improved in his sophomore season, the Dreaded One eked out but 49 yards on 18 carries, an average of 2.7 yards. Following whatever motivational speeches and adjustments that were made at halftime, the offense stormed the field and netted two (count 'em, two!) yards rushing and went 0-5 in third down conversions during the entire third quarter (despite the fact that its first two possessions started at midfield and at the North Texas 29 yard line).

Texas also had 13 penalties totaling 100 yards.

And what was head coach Mack Brown's reaction to the outcome, played before a home-opening record attendance of 83,051?

Well, the fifth-year Texas coach doesn't want a refund, either.

"I am damn excited," he said. "If we can be 1-0, and have two weeks before we play again, I am so excited. I know we've got some stuff to work on, and everybody knows we're not ready to win the national championship yet. So, expectations will get back down to earth around here and we can go back to work."

Offensively, the contest started well (very, very well, as a matter of fact). Chris Simms connected on his first nine passes, en route to a solid 16-of-26 passing performance, a stat that would have been enhanced had the senior QB not had the misfortune of hitting WR B.J. Johnson twice in the numbers (SE Tony Jeffery also had a similar drop). Still, Johnson had two receptions for 25 yards and Jeffery added another for six yards. Coaches also praised Simms for throwing the ball away and for committing no turnovers under pressure.

"At no point did I feel that the game wasn't under our control," Simms said. "I just tried not to do anything stupid. Sometimes you have to swallow your pride and take a sack."

Williams, who led all receivers with 81 yards on 5 receptions (including a 21-yarder), empathized with his field general.

"I'm impressed with Chris for keeping his poise when he's back there running for his life," Williams said.

Simms ran the offense to near perfection in the early going, opening with a six-play, 39-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a 19-yard strike over the middle to TE Brock Edwards. Four Benson carries, including his longest of the night at 14-yards, would push the pigskin across the goal line. Dusty Mangum's PAT gave Texas a 7-0 advantage and, given the defenses' suffocating performance, all the points it would need with 9:31 remaining in the first quarter.

North Texas reached midfield on its next possession, only to have DT Marcus Tubbs strip RB Patrick Cobbs of the ball. DE Cory Redding pounced on the loose ball, spotting the offense at midfield.

From there, it was the Roy Williams show. His 17-yard run on a reverse came four plays after the junior All-American candidate made a diving, one-handed 18-yard grab of a Simms' post pass. Simms would later score on a one-yard sneak.

After Magnum was wide-right on a 38-yard attempt on the following offensive series, Texas lit the scoreboard again with Simms' play-action, 15-yard TD strike on a flag pattern in the corner of the end zone.

Superlative special teams play would set up two more Mangum field goals: Vasher's 41-yard punt return to the North Texas 28, and Beau Trahan's first career punt block that Michael Ungar recovered on the North Texas 20.

Texas trotted off the field at halftime with a workmanlike 27-0 advantage. The offense, however, left its game face in the locker room.

"We had a great first half and then came back and stood around and didn't get anything accomplished," Brown said. "It looked like we were pleased with our first half performance. I was really disappointed in our third quarter production. I don't know why we didn't run the ball better, but I didn't like it."

In the post-game Q&A, Reese was hard-pressed to name a defensive MVP, although he put his arm around Redding and kissed him after responding, "I'd be fool not to pick Cory Redding because he's a big ol' guy."

Reese, however, singled out WLB Derrick Johnson, who was the game's leading tackler with 12 (seven unassisted). He also credited the play of his defensive-end-by committee (Austin Sendlein, O.J. McClintock, Bryan Pickryl, Kaelen Jakes) subbing for Kalen Thornton (who did not play) and Redding (who missed part of the third, and all of the fourth, quarter with a dislocated rib. Redding later returned, giving a ‘thumbs up' to the relieved home crowd). Redding finished with four tackles.

Reese frequently used a nickel back to get more speed on the field, but rarely used the zone defense that he said would become more a fixture this season. Reese also lauded the play of Texas' relatively young secondary. Meanwhile, the two veteran DBs summed up opening night.

"I'm satisfied with the win, but I'm not satisfied with the way we played," Vasher said, who started at cornerback after 13 starts last season at free safety.

CB Rod Babers seconded that emotion.

"Tonight I saw flashes of a national championship contender," said Babers. "We have a long way to go. But it's not how you start the season, it's how you finish it."

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