First, there's the optimistic person, the one who notes that, with a few different plays, the Longhorns could have won the game 55-3. The Longhorns dropped a pair of likely pick-sixes, and were stuffed on a fourth-and-goal from the one because of a poor playcall (which Greg Davis himself admitted as such after the game). Add in a muffed punt that led to one touchdown and a tipped ball that led to another, and Texas easily could have blown the game open.
Then there's the pessimistic view, the one where a person points to the fact that the Longhorns didn't make any of the above plays. Texas was stopped on a drive where the Longhorns had four snaps inside the Rice five. Another drive halted when Texas couldn't convert a third-and-two. Texas rushed for nearly 200 yards, sure, but only put up 369 yards against a defense that ranked as one of the nation's worst a year ago.
As with most, the actual result is probably somewhere in the middle. Yes, the Longhorns made multiple poor plays that, against a better opponent, could have cost Texas a game. And no, Texas wasn't far away from blowing the game wide open, producing a result that most people expect.
Texas Coach Mack Brown represented that point of view following the game Saturday, both in speaking to the players and in speaking with the media. He told the players that wins are hard to come by in college football, and that they should be excited about heading back to Austin with a 'W'. But he also told them that Texas had a long way to go.
"I told the guys congratulations, I was excited that we were 1-0, but that they needed to quit talking about the end and maybe quit talking about how good they're going to be, and they better get a bunch better before Wyoming, or we'll have trouble winning next week," Brown said.
The Owl offense started quickly, moving the ball 72 yards to the Texas 13. But the Longhorns held, thanks to back-to-back tackles for loss by Kheeston Randall and Keenan Robinson. Chris Boswell booted a 42-yard field goal to put Rice on the board first.
The Longhorns had their own chance to score on their first possession, but Texas was stonewalled on four plays inside the five-yard line, all runs. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the one, Texas ran a toss sweep to Cody Johnson, who was cut down at the five.
Texas won the ball back just two plays later when Keenan Robinson leapt to snare a Taylor McHargue pass at the 30. Texas lost four yards on three plays, but evened the score with a 51-yard Justin Tucker field goal.
After Boswell missed his second field goal attempt, Texas drove the length of the field, ending a nine-play, 69-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown run from Tre' Newton. Texas scored again less than two minutes later when defensive end Sam Acho sacked McHargue, forcing a fumble that was scooped up and returned 10 yards for a touchdown by Robinson. Newton followed that score with his second touchdown run, this one from two yards out, giving the Longhorns a 24-10 lead.
But Rice scored just before halftime when Taylor McHargue threw a pass into a crowd. The ball was tipped and ended up in the hands of receiver Randy Kitchens, who dragged safety Christian Scott for a few yards before reaching the ball across the goal-line. The 47-yard score cut the Texas lead to 24-10 at the half.
Neither team scored until nearly a full quarter later, when Newton fell in from the one, upping the advantage to 31-10. Justin Tucker added a 26-yard field goal eight minutes later, taking the lead to 34-10. Rice added a late two-yard touchdown run after Aaron Williams muffed a catch on a punt return.
The emphasis on the running game was apparent from the start. Texas ran the ball 46 times (66 percent), compared to 24 passes (34 percent). Texas rushed for 197 yards on 46 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per carry. Following the game, Texas senior guard Michael Huey graded the line as an A+.
"I thought we ran the ball really well," Huey said. "We rushed for almost 200 yards."
Huey also had compliments for Gilbert, stating that the quarterback "looked great." Defensively, it was hard to complain. Texas allowed just 219 yards, made nine tackles for loss, had three sacks and scored a touchdown. But defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said afterward that the defense needed to score the two other times Longhorn defensive backs had their hands on the ball.
"It's a stepping stone," Acho said after the game. "We just need to go back to work and get better."
That was also the point that Brown said the staff tried to make with the players.
"They had an atta' boy and then were gotten on. In fact, I think they had an atta boy and a got on, got on, got on, got on," Brown said. "You've got to be really careful about sending a message that winning isn't enough. Because that's a bad message."
RICE-- Chris Boswell 42 FG, 8:04 1Q
TEXAS -- Justin Tucker 51 FG, 14:55 2Q
TEXAS -- Tre' Newton 1 run (Tucker kick), 8:02 2Q
TEXAS -- Keenan Robinson 10 fumble return (Turner kick), 6:24 2Q
TEXAS -- Newton 2 run (Tucker kick), 1:28 2Q
RICE -- Randy Kitchens 47 pass from Taylor McHargue (Boswell kick), 0:04 2Q
TEXAS -- Newton 1 run (Tucker kick), 0:53 3Q
TEXAS -- Tucker 26 FG, 7:33 4Q
RICE -- Charles Ross 2 run (Boswell kick), 0:24 4Q
* Special teams miscues
In addition to Williams's gaffe, Brown said he wasn't happy with another return where Rice punter Kyle Martens booted a 71-yard kick, with the Longhorns providing a zero-yard return.
Kicker Justin Tucker was 2-4 on his field goals, nailing them from 51 and 26 yards away. He missed a 54-yard field goal and a 44-yard kick.
Tucker dedicated the game to former Austin Westlake teammate Kendrick Cutsinger, who died in a car crash.
* Praise for Sam McGuffie
McGuffie impressed most viewers at the stadium Saturday with his quick feet, vision and cut-back ability. He was held to 47 yards on 14 carries, but only because the Longhorns held him to -1 yards on his final four carries. In the first quarter, McGuffie rushed 10 times for 48 yards.
"Sam McGuffie is going to help them," Brown said. "He is a good back and made some yards against us."
* Influx of freshmen
As expected several true freshmen made their debuts on Saturday. Defensive ends Reggie Wilson and Jackson Jeffcoat combined for seven tackles and half a sack. Cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and A.J. White, linebacker Jordan Hicks and safety Adrian Phillips also wound up on the tackling chart.