True, giving up only 17 rushing yards is a nice improvement and it wasn't just because Rice runs a spread passing attack. The Owls officially had 24 attempts in the game (that's right, more rushes than rushing yards). But 301 yards through the air is not an improvement. Rice receiver Jarett Dillard racked up 158 of those yards on his own and was consistently able to find space in the Texas secondary to do his damage.
Yet the Owls only scored 10 points, just as UTEP only scored 13, just as Florida Atlantic only scored 10. So the bad omen that the yardage totals tell remains just that, only an omen. It has yet to hurt the Horns on the scoreboard, but it will against tougher opponents...right?
Perhaps not. After another game where the Texas D took a "bend, don't break" path, I'm beginning to wonder if the situation on defense may not be as dire as many are making it out to be...
-I've said multiple times that the yardage Texas is giving up now will turn into points against tougher competition. I was even quoted on the subject as a "reporter" in an Austin American-Statesman article because of a question I asked defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.
But the performance of the front-seven, be it pressure from the D-line or sure tackling from the linebackers, is causing the offenses the Longhorns are facing, which are prolific between the 20s, to suddenly sputter out in the red zone.
Nowhere was this more clear than Texas' amazing 11-play goal line stand against Rice. It wasn't luck or good fortune or coincidence that kept the Owls out of the end zone. It was a hard-nosed defense that flew to the football, controlled the line of scrimmage and didn't give an inch.
Despite all of the yards, despite all of the success the Owls had through the air against Texas, the Horns only gave up 10 points and probably would have only given up 3 if John Chiles hadn't of set the ball on the ground. As the season continues, maybe Texas won't give up tons of points. Maybe when opponents have a shorter field to work with they suddenly won't be able to move the football, just as FAU, UTEP and Rice haven't. Maybe it will actually work as a bend but don't break defense.
But boy those yards do make you nervous.
-I happened to be standing on the sideline when tight end Blaine Irby suffered his knee injury and got a good look at it, though I kinda wish I hadn't because it still gives me shivers thinking about it. Curiously, I think it's actually possible that he wouldn't have been hurt if he caught the football because he was in the act of planting his foot to slow down when the defender struck his knee. His foot dug into the ground, causing his knee to go the way knees aren't supposed to go.
On Sunday, Texas officially announced that Irby's 2008 season is done, but anyone who saw the hit when it happened knew it then. It had to have been incredibly painful and I give Irby a lot of credit for sitting up in the cart and giving a "Hook 'em Horns" to the fans and his teammates as he was taken off of the field.
As for what Texas should do in light of Irby's absence, well, I've made my opinion known on that.
-Texas will not be upset this season. The Longhorns may lose to an opponent that's heavily favored (Oklahoma) or to one that'll be near even-money (Missouri), but this team will not fall to an low-ranked opponent.
That's a bold prediction given how the last two seasons have gone, but this is a different team. Specifically, this team does not make mistakes. Ball security means everything to running backs coach Major Applewhite and no running back has put the ball on the turf this season (a welcome change from last year). Quarterback Colt McCoy is especially careful and doesn't throw interceptions (yet another welcome change from last year), with his only pick coming on a wide receiver's mistake, when true freshman Dan Buckner got jammed at the line and didn't get to his spot in the end zone against UTEP.
Turnovers are how upsets happen. This year, the Horns have been much more vigilant about keeping possession of the ball, meaning it will be much, much more difficult for an also-ran, lower level opponent to unexpectedly grab a hold of momentum.
-By the way, have you noticed? It seems Colt McCoy is good. I mean really good. Yeah, there are plenty on wonderful statistics to point out, like a 77.8 completion percentage this season, 11 TDs to only one INT, a 206.51 efficiency rating (to put that in perspective, the single season D-I/FBS record is 186.0), etc., etc., but it's just worth saying that he is playing lights-out this season and, as a result, so are the Longhorns. Because there's not a singular, clearly dominant weapon on offense but rather a group of good ones for McCoy to get the ball to, that synchronism will continue. As McCoy goes, so go the Longhorns, and right now that's very good news for Texas.
-Jordan Shipley is steadily becoming the deep threat the Horns have wanted him to be. He's still got a bit more to go, but his 155 yards and two touchdowns against Rice are a very good sign of things to come. His best play was actually one he didn't score on, when late in the first half he caught a short pass across the middle and then cut back, sending a DB sliding to the ground in the process, and picked up 30 yards. But as impressive as his moves were on that play, he still doesn't quite have his lateral quickness and agility back to what it used to be (keep in mind, he used to be able to do things like THIS), but his straight-line speed is there and if his quickness continues to improve as it has over the past two seasons, Texas could be seeing some good things from Shipley.
-There was no MOB. I was quite disappointed. I enjoy any opportunity to see them play and lampoon their opponent. It's also good for them to come to Texas and do their thing because the MOB serves to remind us all not to take ourselves so damn seriously, lest we spiral into the myopic abyss of Aggiedom.
I'm not entirely clear on the details of why the MOB wasn't there. As I gathered, I believe Texas wanted the MOB to once again march an hour before kick and they decided to stay home because of it.
Whatever the reason, there needs to be an official inquiry as to why they were not there. We must know! This aggression will not stand, man. This aggression will not stand.