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September 3, 2012Is the glass half-full or half-empty?
That seems to be the prevailing question for the Longhorns following a sometimes impressive and sometimes concerning 20-point win to open the season. The answer to the question will likely determine the likelihood of you enjoying this season as a fan because no matter what was going to happen on the field Saturday night, the narrative for this team remains unchanged.
It doesn't matter that the offensive line isn't comprised of five players ready to earn all-Big 12 status. It doesn't matter that the defense didn't tackle as well as it needed to. It didn't matter that the Longhorns had two 100-yard rushers and it wouldn't have mattered if the number had been twice that.
While all of those issues are important, they only serve as subplots to the reality that is the elephant in the room for the 2012 Texas Longhorns. The elephant in question?
This team is going to go as far as young David Ash is capable of taking it. Period.
One of the toughest aspects of breaking down last night's game was trying to decipher what was going on in the passing game because it was a mixed bag and then some. On one hand, David Ash seemed clearly ahead of where he was at all stages last year, as he limited his mistakes and executed what was asked of him by the coaches for the most part. On the other hand, the Longhorn passing game is still running on training wheels and lags far, far behind Texas' chief contemporaries in the Big 12.
Are you half-full or half-empty?
Progress is going to arrive this season as the games continue, but how much and how soon is impossible to call. Two things seemed fairly certain heading into week two.
1. The coaches don't look completely comfortable and turning Ash loose, as evidenced by the fact that they seemed to appear more comfortable with a reverse pass from Jaxon Shipley in the red-zone rather than simply dropping Ash back in the pocket.
2. The intermediate and deep layers of the passing game were all but non-existent and until that changes, the Longhorns are going to see a lot of boxes full of defenders.
Want that offensive line to look better? Let it block a front seven that isn't doing the equivalent of pinning its ears back against the run. Just as Colt McCoy made the 2008-09 lines look better than they were, the opposite can take place when the quarterback play is in an infancy stage of development.
It's why the No. 1 storyline in every game this season will be Ash's play no matter how much the coaches try to wish it away. When games against the likes of Geno Smith, Landry Jones and Collin Klein are played, you can't expect to win if the quarterback match-up is grossly one-sided. Expecting as much goes against every piece of conventional thinking.
All we can do now is wait and watch. If there's more under the engine than we witnessed on Saturday, the sky can become the limit for this team. If not, eight or nine wins is likely going to be the high mark.
That's the reality for the 2012 Texas Longhorns and there's no getting around it.
So, I ask the question one final time ?
Is your glass half-full or half-empty?
No. 2 - Scattershooting on the Longhorns ?
? For those wondering, here's a look at how all 10 of the Big 12's starting quarterbacks fared in week one (listed from greatest quarterback rating to worst)
209.50 rating: Nick Florence (Baylor): 21 of 40 for 341 yards and 4 TD
200.92 rating: Geno Smith (West Virginia): 32 of 36 for 323 yards and 4 TD (65 yards rushing)
185.73 rating: Wes Lunt (Oklahoma State): 11 of 11 for 129 yards
142.13 rating: Collin Klein (Kansas State): 19 of 28 for 169 yards and 2 TD (54 yards rushing)
134. 83 rating: David Ash (Texas): 20 of 27 for 156 yards and 1 TD
133.79 rating: Steele Jantz (Iowa State): 32 of 45 for 281 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT
128.47 rating: Landry Jones (Oklahoma): 21 of 36 for 222 yards and 2 TD
120. 64 rating: Seth Doege (Texas Tech): 23 of 34 for 199 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
97. 27 rating: Dayne Crist (Kansas): 17 of 36 for 169 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT
? It's the kind of thing everyone might be losing his or her mind over if it had gone the other way, but I can't say enough about the first game discipline of this Longhorn team in terms of playing a clean game. Outside of one botched snap, the ball didn't touch the ground, passes weren't tipped or touched, and there were only three penalties. If you're going to be a team that wins with a running game, great defense and above average special teams, you better play clean ? and this group did on Saturday.
? Shame on me for not giving Alex King some love in my initial round of thoughts on the game. He wasn't a major factor in the game because he wasn't called on much, but he averaged 53.3 yards and had a net of 52.3 yards on the night.
? Wyoming averaged 11.0 yards per return on four kickoff returns. That was easily the best coverage play I can ever remember seeing in an opener under Mack Brown. Usually, there's a few busted coverages early in the season, but the Longhorns were pretty much flawless on night one.
? Both of Texas' young safeties (Mykkele Thompson and Josh Turner) learned lessons the hard way in their first taste of plays that matter on the defensive side of the ball. As ugly as the Carrington Byndom/Adrian Phillips disaster was on the long touchdown, the truth is that Turner was right there to make the play and tentativeness killed him on the play. As for Thompson, he was on the field for about five seconds before he was being tested down the field, forcing him to take a smart pass interference penalty. Those two will learn.
? New starters Brandon Moore, Steve Edmond and Adrian Phillips had quiet debuts, which probably shouldn't be shocking. As they get comfortable, their talent will blossom in live game settings. I would bet we see that Saturday against New Mexico.
? Joe Bergeron, Malcolm Brown and D.J. Monroe each averaged more than seven yards per carry on Saturday. Do with that what you may.
? Top 9 reasons why you should feel positive about the offensive line play
1. Donald Hawkins is significantly better at left tackle than game one starter Tray Allen was at this time last year. The fact that nobody has really even mentioned his name in the aftermath of his opening performance is a major plus. His play-in and play-out opponent recorded zero solo tackles and zero quarterback pressures.
2. Josh Cochran is significantly better at right tackle than Trey Hopkins was at the same position as the day one starter last year. I didn't think Cochran played his best game, but the guy he faced off with on almost every play didn't record a single tackle of any kind behind the line of scrimmage and only registered one quarterback pressure.
3. There were times when Mason Walters looked as good as he ever has in a Longhorn uniform, even if that level of play wasn't always consistent.
4. In a season-opening game in which three starters were making their debut in new positions for the Longhorns, the group was charged with a single false start penalty.
5. Against Rice last season, the Longhorns averaged 4.8 yards per carry, gave up two sacks and allowed three tackles for loss on the day. Against Wyoming on Sunday, the Longhorns averaged 6.0 yards per carry, gave up zero sacks and allowed only one tackle for loss.
6. This is the most athletic Longhorn line since 2006 and possibly even further back. That's not to say that they are better than the 2006 group (not by a long shot), but the athleticism across the board represents an upgrade in that area.
7. I think every guy on the line made at least one really nice play in space into the second level of the defense or beyond. The counter-game and screen game has a chance to be very good before the season is over.
8. Despite the fact that it was 105-degrees on the field with the heat index and there was very little rotation amongst the players, the starting group got stronger as the game went on and wore down the Wyoming front line in the second half.
9. To that point, the Longhorns had eight explosive runs (gains of more than 12 yards) in the opener this year. It took the Longhorns nearly two quarters to record a single explosive run in last year's opener and that didn't happen until Garrett Gilbert made it happen on a scramble. The second was a Jaxon Shipley reverse. They didn't get an explosive run from a running back until DJ Monroe picked up one in the fourth quarter.
No. 3 - Opening impressions from the first weekend of action in the Big 12 ?
BAYLOR: The Big 12's new Texas Tech? The Bears are very questionable on the defensive side of the ball, but they have athletes for days at the skill positions. How could you not be impressed with their explosiveness?
Learn the name:He's no RGIII, but Nick Florence was pretty good in the opener to say the least, completing 21 of 30 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns.
IOWA STATE: There was good news and bad news for the Cyclones on Saturday. Let's start with the latter, which surrounded the boys from Ames falling behind 16-7 at the end of the first quarter, but you have to chalk up the contest as a solid opening win when you consider that they responded with 24 straight points in the second and third quarters.
Learn the name: Junior running back Shontrelle Johnson hasn't broken 300 yards in any season, but he was extremely good in the opener, as he rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
KANSAS: The Charlie Weiss era starts off with a fairly commanding win over South Dakota State.
Learn the name: Senior safety Bradley McDougald has been one of the better Jayhawk defenders the last few seasons, but he was the best player on the field against the Aztecs, recording six tackles, two interceptions, a tackle for loss and another pass break-up.
KANSAS STATE: Somehow their fame vs Missouri State is a game that was tied 9-9 in the middle of the third quarter and somehow the Wildcats scored 35 fourth quarter points to eventually run away in a 51-9 win.
Learn the name: Junior Tramaine Thompson averaged less than two catches and 26 yards per game last season ? oh and he scored one touchdown all season. In the opener, he caught five passes for 51 yards and a touchdown, while adding an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown.
OKLAHOMA: What in the world care we supposed to make of that? If UTEP wasn't absolutely awful at quarterback, it might have beaten the Sooners. The good news for OU is that Kenny Stills played like a No. 1 receiver, the bad news is that Justin Brown and Trey Metoyer were just kind of okay. Frankly, they just looked like they didn't have a lot of speed and playmakers on Saturday. Maybe the most concerning news of all for the Sooners was that they were gashed in the running game by Nathan Jeffery, who averaged 8.4 yards per carry.
Learn the name: Damien Williams is a JUCO transfer that saved what was a running game in shambles for a lot of the night. Williams finished with 104 yards and a touchdown on nine carries, with six of the carries coming in the decisive fourth quarter.
OKLAHOMA STATE: Why did they even play that game against Savannah State? What am I to make of an 84-0 win that could have been 150-0? I guess they might be really good, I don't know what to say.
Learn the name: True freshman Austin Hays from San Antonio Reagan led the Cowboys with eight receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown.
TEXAS TECH: Believe it or not, the most exciting element of this game for the Red Raiders was their defense, which limited Northwestern State to 13 yards rushing and 71 yards passing. The offense didn't exactly dominate, but the Mike Leach days are over and we all knew that.
Learn the name: Former Lake Travis quarterback Michael Brewer might have been better than Seth Doege, as he completed 10 of 13 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in his debut.
WEST VIRGINIA: Wow, talk about making a first impression. I can't tell you if Marshall is worth a damn, but I can tell you that West Virginia is the closest thing to Oregon that you'll find east of the Grand Canyon. Geno Smith looked like a legit Heisman contender and it seemed like they had playmakers everywhere. That defense is going to be troublesome all season, but they might be able to outscore anyone they play.
Learn the name: If you don't know Stedman Bailey, you better learn it fast because he's the most underrated receiver in the country because of the buzz that goes deservingly to Tavon Austin. His nine receptions for 104 yards and two touchdowns suggest he'll be the best No. 2 receiver in the Big 12.
Post-Week 1 Big 12 Power Poll
1. West Virginia
2. Oklahoma State