Texas beat Rice handily, 34-17, in their season opener a year ago. The Longhorns scored 24 second-quarter points, Tre Newton found the end zone three times and Texas won the turnover battle. But even in the Longhorns’ first game, there were warning signs.
Texas was down by three at the end of the first quarter, led by only 14 at halftime and Garrett Gilbert failed to throw a touchdown pass in his first career start. It would be the first of only five victories last season. It also proved that games against the lowliest of opponents, especially your first opponent, are a good indication of how the rest of the season will go.
“I have not slept much since Thanksgiving,” said head coach Mack Brown. “We were maintaining here for a long time and probably got a little full of ourselves and thought it was going to be OK. I didn’t see it coming. I didn’t see it happening.”
In 2004, Texas blanked North Texas, 65-0, in their season opener as they jumped out to a 44-0 half-time lead. The Longhorns went on to win their first ever BCS bowl game after beating Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The next season, the Longhorns began the year by pounding Louisiana-Lafayette, 60-3, en route to winning their first national championship since 1970. Colt McCoy led Texas to a 39-point drubbing of Louisiana-Monroe four season openers later before taking Texas back to the national title game.
Last year, however, was a completely different story. But now the Longhorns are eager to write on a clean slate and get this season started the right way.
“It’s been way too long,” said sophomore linebacker Jordan Hicks. “We’ve had that 5-7 hanging over our head for too long. We’re all ready to go out and there
Texas lost seven games in 2010, more than any season under Mack Brown. To make matters worse, five of those defeats came under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Coming into last season, the Longhorns went 66-6 (.917) at home with Brown as head coach. But they went on to lose more home games in 2010 than they did all last decade. The Longhorns fittingly kick this season off with a home game.
“It’s unacceptable for us to lose at home,” said junior defensive end Alex Okafor. “We don’t plan on that happening again.”
Even with that home opener drawing near, Brown and his coaching staff did not release a depth chart until Monday. This offseason, there was a great deal of uncertainty as to how the coaching staff would fill out the depth chart. Brown claimed throughout spring and fall camp that every spot was open. Names on the depth chart would be shuffled after every practice and scrimmage. Brown even claimed that the depth chart “changed hourly.” As senior center David Snow said, “Nothing is set in stone.”
“There’s been more changes in this depth chart than any I’ve ever seen,” Brown said.
“We’re going to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win. Period. After the season we had last year, it’s about winning. It’s not about you. It’s not about an individual. It’s not about what your feelings. It’s totally about who the best player is. Period. End of discussion.”
Texas almost never puts a perennial powerhouse program on the first game of the schedule. Fans don’t often take that first opponent seriously. The Longhorns should win Saturday and win by double digits. But how will they win? The answer to that question might provide valuable insight as to how the rest of this season will go.
“I want them to start the season right,” Brown said. “I want our guys to truly start over and play with confidence and have fun.”