The Texas coaches went on and on during the offseason about the new "attitude" that their team was showing in practice and how different this season is going to be.
Turns out, they were right and it portends good things for the Longhorns. But there were a few concerns as well. Make no mistake, there was way more good than bad going on for Texas Saturday as the Longhorns stomped Florida Atlantic, but those few concerns could haunt the Horns throughout the entire season.
Amongst the few problems, the greatest concern is the youth in the secondary. With Ishie Oduegwu out, every Texas safety on the depth chart is a freshman.
That's dangerous when facing the passers the Horns will this season. Texas kept FAU's Rusty Smith contained in the second half, but in the first the junior QB completed big passes of 22, 33, 62, 33, 19 and 20 yards, often to receivers who were wide open.
The Texas safeties will improve as the season progresses, but opponents could put up some big plays on the Horns in the mean time.
Yet, even with this, the Texas pass defense will be greatly improved in 2008. Last season the pass defense was consistently bad because quarterbacks could sit back and pick the Horns apart. No matter how talented a secondary is, it's going to consistently give up big time yardage if no one is getting through the offensive line (case and point, Michael Griffin, Aaron Ross and Tarell Brown are all playing in the NFL right now...but the 2006 secondary they made up was ranked 98th nationally).
Even without registering a sack, the Horns showed on Saturday that they can pressure the quarterback, which does bode well for the rest of the season. The Horns also tackled well and showed a great deal of speed as groups of defenders were flying to the football on a much more consistent basis than last season.
But even with these positives, Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp knows he's got his work cut out for him.
"We've got to make a lot of improvement from game one to game two," said Muschamp. "We're not satisfied."
Secondary concerns aside, there was plenty of good on Saturday. One was the offensive line's performance, and not just their physical performance but the attitude they carry with them this year.
Inside Texas spoke with offensive tackle Adam Ulatoski, who said that making sure there's no dirt on his QB's shirt is important to the Longhorn line.
"We love Colt. We want to keep him clean the whole time and there were no sacks tonight. We're proud of that," said Ulatoski.
And it's not just protecting him during the play. McCoy may not have been sacked on Saturday, but he did get taken down twice on late hits. The Longhorns' attitude was brought into question two years ago when McCoy was injured on a cheap shot against Texas A&M and there was little to no reaction.
On Saturday, there was real anger, but not stupidity.
"We take (late hits on McCoy) personally. It makes us mad, but we try to focus that into playing and keeping it between the lines. We're not going to do something dirty outside the lines. We try to focus that energy, that anger towards them between the whistles. I feel we did that tonight," said Ulatoski.
And there were plenty more good signs.
Three of the top four tacklers for Texas on Saturday were linebackers, a welcome change from last year when the top three tacklers were defensive backs, which is an indication of where the tackles were occurring last season (i.e. way past the line of scrimmage). Vondrell McGee was solid as Texas' starting running back, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and showing he's not afraid of contact. Blaine Irby is ready to take over at tight end.
But the big one, above everything else, is Colt McCoy. Texas' hopes for the 2008 season will rise and fall with McCoy and right now hopes are very high. Whether or not last season was a "sophomore slump", 2007 seems to have had little negative affect on McCoy, who on Saturday was as accurate as he's ever been.
How many games the Horns will win is yet to be seen, but the kind of season Texas will have is already taking shape. The pass defense will be better overall but give up big plays, the linebackers will play a huge role, the offensive line will be massively improved and Colt McCoy is in for a big, big season.