Texas' run defense shaky in opener

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Senior defensive tackle Kheeston Randall fights off a Rice offensive lineman while trying to swat a pass away in Saturday’s 34-9 Texas win over the Owls. The Longhorns will look to improve their run defense before their game against BYU.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

With the first weekend of the college football season in the books, the Longhorns still have plenty of question marks surrounding the team.

Texas beat Rice 34-9 on Saturday in the season-opener for both schools, but the heavily-favored Longhorns did little to erase many of the doubts that followed them into this year.

The defense was repeatedly gashed up the middle as the Owls ran for 130 yards on 30 carries. The Longhorns looked hesitant at times throughout the game, though it was their first in new defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s system.

“I don’t think we played near as well as we could have on defense,” said senior safety Blake Gideon. “There was a little bit of just being unsure in our reads. We were reading the plays quickly and then we kind of stopped.”

Diaz, however, remained confident on Monday that his defense would correct the errors that lead to some big runs for Rice. Texas will need to take a big step forwards in terms of playing the run this week against a BYU team that is known for controlling the line of scrimmage.

“I expect us to make improvements on our run-fits,” Diaz said. “What I saw last weekend was not a giant surprise. With the new scheme, and especially the movement and the stunting that we do up front, our run fits change a lot. It just takes a while for everyone to trust it. That’s what this week is all about: the confidence to let it go, trust the run-fits and make it happen.”

Texas didn’t get out to the hot start offensively that it would have liked, but the Longhorns settled in after the first half and put up 21 points in the second.

“This week that will be a focus for us: starting fast and coming out of the gate and not really feeling it out but just going out there with confidence,” said quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who threw for 239 yards.

Gilbert connected with Mike Davis on a 56-yard pass and a 55-yard bomb, each of which set up a score. Still, he struggled to find receivers on some of the shorter routes and completed 13 of 23 passes.

“I thought Garrett did a good job of throwing the ball with authority,” said offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “Some of the deep throws, he got back there and let it fly and was right on target.”

Gilbert, who beat out three others in fall camp for the starting job, didn’t turn the ball over and made a several plays with his feet — two things the coaches stressed heading into the game.

“[Gilbert] comes out of the game with what he needed, and that’s confidence,” said head coach Mack Brown. “And the team came out of the game with what they needed, and that’s confidence in him.”

The Longhorns’ young secondary fared well, though the corners were not tested much as the Owls elected to play conservatively on offense.

Texas kept Rice at bay for most of the game, but the Owls did move the ball some and drove inside the Longhorns’ 25-yard line three times, including one trip to the red zone. The defense, though, tightened up when they needed to.

“They got in the red zone but we stopped them, they got down to the three-yard line but we stopped them, that’s really big for us,” said senior linebacker Keenan Robinson. “We talked about, ‘don’t bend and definitely don’t break,’ and we bent a little bit but we didn’t break.”

Printed on September 6, 2011 as: Texas has plenty to work on after Week 1 win