Horns Gorge on Heapin' Helpin' of Rice

There was no question that Texas badly needed the 58-14 woodshed licking it laid on out-manned Rice Saturday at Royal-Memorial Stadium. But the season's first blowout also surfaced a number of other questions as Big 12 Conference play now begins for the Longhorns.

Namely...Can mercurial true freshman QB John Chiles polish his passing game and eventually emerge as a factor the remainder of the season? And will coaches trust him, when the game is still on the line, as a viable change of pace to uber-accurate Colt McCoy? Can RS-freshman RB Vondrell McGee, whose 80 yards on just eight carries led all rushers, continue to develop as a downhill slasher and spark a rushing offense that (obviously) will not be the strength of this year's team? Can the backup linebackers, long on talent but short on experience, continue to push the starters and upgrade the level of play at that position?

Heading into the 90th renewal of Texas' fourth-oldest series against the former Southwest Conference foe, Texas coach Mack Brown said he had "one thousand things" that had to be fixed before his team could begin to approach a championship caliber of play.

Concerns about the Red Zone offense? Texas was six-of-six inside the 20s, including four TDs. Worried about poor tackling and that the defense still gives up too big plays? The Horns held Rice to negative-11 yards rushing on 30 attempts, forced nine punts and limited the Owls to 4-of-15 on third-down conversions. Anxious that key backups weren't getting meaningful snaps because of closer-than-expected contests? Texas emptied the bench against the Owls, as QB John Chiles and LT Tray Allen lost their redshirts.

Meanwhile, McCoy was 20-of-29 for 333 yards, two TDs and no INTs; he had 295 passing yards by halftime. ("This was Colt's best game, by far," Brown said. "This looked like the Colt of old"). SE Limas Sweed's 139 yards during the first 30 minutes of play are the third-most by a Texas receiver in a half, trailing only Roy Williams (180 yards at Kansas, 2000) and Mike Adams (141 yards, at Notre Dame, 1995). Texas enjoyed two one-play drives and one two-play drive. All told, Texas generated a season-best 560 yards, averaging 7.9 yards-per-play.

But do those gaudy numbers, compiled against a miserable 0-4 team, suggest that much of what has ailed the 2007 Longhorns has been remedied? Or, are they simply the placebo effect?

In one aspect, it doesn't matter. Several players said Saturday's game, the final tuneup before league play begins against Kansas State, had more to do with raising the team's level of play regardless of the opponent.

Said Mack Brown: "We had not had a complete game as a team so far this year, and we needed that going into next week."

Said McCoy: "This is what we were hoping for going into the game. We wanted to execute and make as few mistakes as possible. We wanted take advantage of what they gave us."

Said Sweed: "The team came out and played to a level that we were capable of playing."

Said DT Frank Okam: "You definitely have to play to a certain standard. We're starting to slowly put it together. Our team is getting close to doing some real good things this year."

There is no question that FL Nate Jones has done 'some real good things', stepping up as nagging injuries slowed three top receivers and emerging as a constant on a team marked by inconsistent play. His 22-yard reception on the deep flag pattern, making the grab in triple coverage, set-up Texas' first score of the the third quarter. Charles' two-yard rush was his third of the mismatch, making it 48-7 in a game that had long since been decided. Jones finished with five receptions for 63 yards while the reliable Quan Cosby enjoyed a comparable night, collecting five passes for 66 yards.

Sweed's 139 first-half yards were also a career-best, breaking his old mark of 119 yards set last year at Nebraska. The Owls doubled down on Sweed, but then left him in one-on-one coverage against the FS among certain blitz packages.

"Limas has been in-and-out with an ankle injury," offensive coordinator Greg Davis said, "so having him back totally healthy allowed us to have some opportunities to spread the field."

The blowout also allowed opportunity for Chiles to make his collegiate debut. He lost his redshirt when he checked into the backfield, alongside McCoy, with 5:42 left in the first quarter. Chiles took the direct snap, faked to RB Chris Ogbonnaya and kept for no gain. The five-play series saw Texas extend its lead, 10-0, with a 43-yard Ryan Bailey FG to cap a 40-yard drive.

Chiles ran his first collegiate series with Texas leading 48-7 and 7:11 remaining in the third quarter. Every Longhorn on the possession was either a true freshman or redshirt freshman. Chiles stepped off 49 yards on four carries. including a 23-yarder in which he rolled right, eluding the blitz and breaking a tackle down the right sideline. He followed with a 13-yard carry on the Zone Read. Vondrell McGee would finish the 80-yard march; his 16-yard run set up his nine-yard TD run up the middle. The kiddie corps made it a 55-7 shellacking following the eight-play drive.

Chiles finished with 72 yards on nine carries. The rub on Chiles, of course, is that his passing game has yet to complement his running attack. The freshman was 0-for-2 passing.

"He's a heckuva athlete, there's no question about that," Davis said. "John has a strong arm. He's learning. The unfortunate thing for John is he didn't have a year to sit. It's hard to describe the importance of that. He's getting better every week. I'm really pleased with his progress."

A few weeks ago, coaches were not entirely certain if LT Tray Allen would lose his 'shirt. The Five-Star recruit made his debut during the Chiles-directed TD drive.

"We decided that, with a number of lineman banged up, we felt like that (a redshirt) was not going to happen," Davis said.

McGee has a chance to really complement Charles, who added 72 yards and three TDs on 14 carries. The RS-freshman McGee has a low center of gravity and prides himself on his ability to get leverage in short-yardage situations. Yet, he also has outstanding field vision and runs like a little bowling ball shot out of a cannon.

"Usually when you put younger guys in for the first time on offense they don't do well," Davis said. "We put them in with four minutes left in the third quarter and we told the older guys to hang on, don't leave, we might need to put you back in if the young guys struggle. But they played very well."

Jamaal Charles' week-long vow to improve ball security was short-lived. The junior fumbled on his first carry, an inside play that picked up seven yards, before the strip. The defense, however, pushed the Owls back to the 33, resulting in a missed 50-yard FG attempt.

Cosby's first TD reception of the season, a 17-yard ladder-climbing grab in front of the south goal post, gave Texas a 7-0 lead with 8:28 remaining in the opening frame. The Horns converted on 4th-and-two from the 42, lining up in the I-formation and Charles churning for three over LT behind FB Antwan Cobb's clearing block.

Luke Juist followed a 55-yard punt with a shank that covered all of one yard. That put Texas in prime real estate at midfield with 2:28 eclipsed from the second quarter. Avoiding a linebacker blitz, McCoy found SE Limas Sweed along the right sideline. The ball was thrown slightly behind the senior, who made a nifty grab and then spun out of a would-be tackle for a 48-yard reception. The Horns went with the jumbo package and, out of the 'I', Charles followed Cobb's clearing block against the MLB and cashed in on first-and-goal from the two.

FS Marcus Griffin's leaping INT at the Texas 29 set up another Texas score. The big play was RB Chris Ogbonnaya 35-yard reception down the left sideline after McCoy faked the Zone Read. The drive stalled with a nine-yard sack of McCoy on second down. Sweed got 11 of those yards back, resulting in Bailey's career-best 52-yard FG (a line drive that would have been good from 60). It was now a 20-0 ballgame with half the second quarter remaining.

But Texas' first-half onslaught was just half finished, Operating from the Owl 48 following a 41-yard Juist punt, McCoy rolled right and went up top to Sweed, hooking up with the senior SE for the first of two one-play scoring drives. Sweed's 48-yard TD grab, his longest of the season, made it 27-0 at the 5:32 mark.

Consecutive sacks of QB Chase Clement (courtesy of DT Frank Okam and DE Lamarr Houston, respectively) resulted in a 4th-and-38 for the Owls.

McCoy connected with Cosby for 19 on 1st-and-10 from the 35 before Charles' rush over right guard, just his second carry of the quarter, netted 10. Jones collected 19 yards on a perfectly-timed bubble screen against a maximum blitz, setting up first-and-goal from the five. Again, the Horns lined-up in the 'I' and cashed-in immediately with Charles' TD run. It was now a 34-0 runaway and, at this juncture, the only suspense was how merciless the Marching Owl Band would treat Texas' recent off-the-field criminal charges during its halftime performance.

Thomas Marshall tipped a Clement pass into WLB Roddrick Muckelroy's mitts, making the pick at the Owl 35 before returning his first career INT nine yards. Again, McCoy went deep to Sweed, wasting little time with the 24-yard flag pass that put Texas up 41-0 with 65 seconds until the break.

The Owls finally got on the scoreboard with Toren Dixon's 18-yard TD reception. The three-play, 45-yard drive was aided by Tyler Smith's 42-yard KO return followed by a roughing penalty against DE Aaron Lewis.

"We were much more consistent on defense tonight," said NT Derek Lokey, "except for that one drive. They had the runback on the kickoff and then we had the 15-yard penalty. That's something we have to stop doing in order for us to get to where we want to be as a team."

INJURIES: CB Brandon Foster aggravated a quad injury during pre-game and did not play. DE Eddie Jones left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return. Then, of all things, SLB Sergio Kindle was helped into the locker room just before half time and was fitted with a brace on his right knee.

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