A new era began in Austin Saturday night.
For the first time in 17 years, a new coach led the Longhorns out of the tunnel at Darrell K. Royal- Texas Memorial Stadium. Charlie Strong replaced Mack Brown on the sidelines, leading the Longhorns to a dominant 38-7 win over North Texas.
“It’s great,” Strong said. “I mean its my first one of the year, which is really good, just to get it in and get out a win.”
Early on, Texas showed many glimpses of the change that was anticipated in the offseason, and in contrast to the ugly start on both sides of the ball in last year’s season opener against New Mexico State, the Texas defense set the tone early.
In an omen of what was to come, the Longhorns forced a three-and-out on the Mean Green’s first drive. On their next drive, sophomore safety Dylan Haines, a former walk-on, intercepted North Texas’ pass and returned it for 22 yards to start the momentum swing for Texas.
The Longhorns would intercept two more passes in the first half, including the first interceptions of senior linebacker Jordan Hicks’ and sophomore safety Adrian Colberts’ careers. Senior linebacker Demarco Cobbs added Texas’ last interception in the second half, which resulted in a pick-six.
The Texas defense didn’t allow a touchdown in the contest and didn’t allow the Mean Green to produce a play over eight yards.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “We talked about getting four takeaways, one take away a quarter. And to come away with four interceptions, that’s outstanding by those guys. Good pass rush, and guys can make plays if the ball is in the air.”
Texas struggled on offense in its first two drives, only moving the ball a combined 17 yards. But after a personal foul penalty and multiple pass drops, junior quarterback David Ash hit senior wide receiver John Harris for a 27-yard breakout. A few plays later, senior running back Malcolm Brown punched the ball into the end zone for Texas’ first score of the season.
Brown, who finished the game with 13 carries for 65 yards, scored his second touchdown early in the second quarter to give Texas a 14-0 lead. Junior running back Johnathan Gray, in his first game back from his Achilles tear, finished with 16 carries for 82 yards, including a spurt of 42 yards to set up an Ash touchdown late in the first half.
Harris, who finished the game with a career-high seven receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown, led Texas’ receivers after nearly doubling his career receiving totals in yards and receptions.
“Once he dropped those two, then he was able to bounce back and then just start playing,” Strong said of Harris. “And just relaxing, and make the big third down and score on the touchdown where he outran everybody, it was just fun to see him come out.”
The Longhorns lost senior center Dominic Espinosa in the third quarter. While the extent of his injury is unknown, Texas struggled with snaps for the rest of the game, including fumbling twice.