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September 16, 2012

MY TAKE and endless nuggets from the Ole Miss post-game

1. My overall impressions of the game.

With the exception of a few false start penalties, the Texas offense played one of the best games the Longhorns have had on offense since guys named Vince Young and Colt McCoy were wearing burnt orange.

The 66 points Saturday night were the most since a victory over Kansas in 2005. David Ash threw as many TD passes against Ole Miss as he threw all of last season. Let that sink in for a second.

I don't want to overcook it, but let's start with the mere fact the offense did not turn the ball over on the road, at night, in SEC country, in front of Archie Manning and the biggest Ole Miss crowd ever to see a non-conference game at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Then add that Texas wanted to establish the run and did so - to the tune of 350 yards on the ground and 6.5 yards per carry.

Joe Bergeron had a slight shoulder injury after 11 carries for 48 yards, so he sat for the rest of the night as a precaution (UT staff said he'll be fine).

And Malcolm Brown took over (21 carries for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns, 6.1 ypc).

WR Marquise Goodwin, who missed practice on Thursday to go to the White House with the U.S. Olympic team and didn't get into Memphis until 10:20 pm Friday night, ran twice for 80 yards, including a 69-yard TD on a speed sweep.

Freshman RB Johnathan Gray even got some more work in the fourth quarter (9 carries for 50 yards, 5.6 ypc).

The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage against an undersized Ole Miss defensive line. Guys like Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins were mashing people.

So you take all of that and then add in David Ash's best performance in a Texas uniform, going 19 of 23 passing for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns without a turnover, and you couldn't have drawn it up any better if you're Mack Brown.

"I think it will help the defense feel good about the offense to know the offense can hold its own," Mack said. "It's the first time we've done that in a while in a good setting like this and against an undefeated team. And I think it will give the offense a whole bunch of confidence."

The defense recorded five sacks as well as the first touchdown of the game on a 22-yard interception return by sophomore linebacker Steve Edmond.

Quandre Diggs recorded two more interceptions, both of which set up TD drives by the offense.

And Mykkele Thompson blocked a punt. Texas is starting to make that a habit.

Now, for the bad news: the defense gave up big plays for touchdowns and big plays period.

Kenny Vaccaro, who knocked Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace out of the game for a couple plays with a killshot to the ribs, wasn't happy.

"We had a lot of good plays, but I think a lot of it gets canceled out by giving up the big touchdowns," Vaccaro said. "I stressed that to the team that no matter how many turnovers you get, you still can't give up big plays, because the good teams we face will put their foot on your throat."

And freshman kicker Nick Jordan made a 31-yard field goal but missed from 37 yards. He's now 3-of-7 on the season. The 37-yarder was the first he'd missed from inside 40 yards this year.

"He kicked a whole bunch of extra points perfectly, moved back 10 yards and missed the field goal," Mack said of Nick Jordan. "So we're going to tell him they're all extra points."

Mack said he didn't know if Penn State transfer K Anthony Fera (groin) would be ready for UT's next game: at Oklahoma State on Sept. 29.

"It's on the trainers completely," Mack said. "He was improved this week, but he could not have traveled and could not have played."

FINAL ANALYSIS: All in all, the offensive performance was so resounding, you have to walk away from this one feeling like the team took the step it needed to take this week. But now you have to see this offense continue to progress and build from this performance.

The players seem to know that, too, when you look at some of their comments after the game.


2. David Ash had the night the Texas coaches had been waiting for.

He became a vertical passing machine after not showing that in the first two games. He had TD passes of 69, 46 and 55 yards, finishing 19 of 23 passing for 326 yards and 4 TDs.

"It was a lot of fun," Ash said. "I wasn't the one really doing the work. I was just directing guys, and they were making plays. I think I mastered the underthrow, and they were making plays for me.

"We're a physical football team. We are going to establish the run and from there, we'll see what opens up.

"We finally took advantage of the opportunities that were there for us the previous two games. And I had guys who made plays for me, so it was a lot of fun."
Ash knows he and the offense can't relax.

"We wanted to make a statement about who we were," Ash said. "We've come a long way. We've worked really hard. There have been signs of how good we can be. Tonight, we made a step forward for sure. But we have a long way to go.

"I believe in God, and I believe he puts us in different trials. In times of hard times, the Israelites would turn to God and then as soon as it got easy, they would forget God and worship their own idols.

"And we can't do that with football. We've got to remember how hard it was to put up 66 on Ole Miss and keep working hard and trying to get better for conference play."
When I asked Ash if this game would boost his confidence, he said, "I have the same amount of confidence all the time."

MY TAKE: Ash made every Texas fan in Vaught-Hemingway forget Saturday night that UT coaches talked to Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace during recruiting last year.

Ash totally upstaged Wallace, who finished 13 of 24 passing for 178 yards with 1 TD and 3 INTs and was sacked 5 times.

That was no small accomplishment after Ash faced questions this week about Wallace getting some attention from UT coaches.

That was a big-time performance under pressure by Ash.


3. But the players around Ash probably have more confidence in him, and the offense.

"It gives us so much confidence," said WR Marquise Goodwin, who had two carries for 80 yards, including a 69-yard TD run on a speed sweep, as well as a 55-yard TD reception.

"Nothing can compare to the night we had tonight. It's one of the best nights I've experienced since being a Longhorn as far as getting the offense going and getting the respect we really needed from everybody. It was a wonderful night."

Added Jackson Jeffcoat, "We know our offense can score and that if the defense is having a bad night, they can pick us up."


4. One week after being named the offensive player of the game against New Mexico for his blocking, Marquise Goodwin showed everyone he can fill the role of deep threat. So did Mike Davis (5 catches for 124 yards and 1 TD).

Goodwin caught the 55-yard TD pass, caught another pass for 47 yards, finishing with two catches for 102 yards.

Goodwin's big night came after missing practice on Thursday to go to the White House with the U.S. Olympic team. He was supposed to return to the team on Friday at 5 p.m., but travel snafus delayed his arrival into Memphis until nearly 10:30 pm Friday night.

"Gosh, did he look good tonight," Mack Brown said. "That's what we've been trying to get out of him. And he didn't get in last night until 10:21 pm and he was supposed to get in at 5. But he's becoming an impact player for us and we've needed that."

Added David Ash on Goodwin, "He's a tremendous leader on this football team. He doesn't ever complain about not getting the ball.

"I haven't done a good job of getting the ball down the field to the receivers in the first couple games. And he's been blocking really hard. He might have missed a day of practice, but he's not going to lose a lot because of how hard he works."


5. Goodwin said his trip to the White House was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and shared a few trip details as well as his thoughts on David Ash as master of the "underthrow."

"Nothing compares to going to the White House to meet your president," Goodwin said. "I thank God for the opportunity. I had a lot of fun, getting to meet President Obama. I got a picture with him. I tried to get him to do the Hook Em Horns."

Goodwin said he wasn't tired from his travels.

"I feel great. I think of myself as a machine. All I need is a few hours of rest, and I'm ready to go," he said.

Goodwin was asked if the bigger highlight was going to the White House or beating Ole Miss. He didn't hesitate.

"Obviously getting a win with my team," he said.

Last week, Goodwin was named the offensive player of the game against New Mexico for his blocking.

"It's really humbling to be the offensive player of the game just off of blocking," Goodwin said. "As a receiver, you want the touches and you want the catches.

"But any way I can help the team out, I will will myself to do whatever it takes. I blocked today, but I got the opportunity to catch the ball, too, and I'm thankful for that."

When Goodwin was told David Ash said he had "mastered the underthrow," Goodwin defended Ash.

"David did a wonderful job," Goodwin said. "Don't let him downplay himself. That's just something we need to work on in practice.

"He had a wonderful day throwing the ball, and he'll get better down the road, and we'll get better as a team. Deep throw or underthrow, it doesn't matter as long as we catch the ball and do our job, then we're good to go.

"I like to think David can throw farther. I trust in his arm a lot."


6. Malcolm Brown (21 carries for 128 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Joe Bergeron (11 carries for 48 yards) did some serious damage.

Bergeron suffered a sore shoulder in the game, so Brown got most of the work as the game went on.

Texas overpowered an undersized Ole Miss defensive line for a 350-yard rushing night (6.5 ypc).

"In the first two quarters, I didn't see Joe (Bergeron) or Malcolm Brown go down after the first hit," Ash said. "They were breaking tackles, and the offensive line was being physical. I just handed the ball off and watched."

Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins had big nights, just mashing people. But Walters was measured about the victory after the game.

"It was great to see the offense do what it did," Walters said. "Early drives and explosive plays like that build momentum and help you get up on people. But we have to continue to do it.

"Winning big is always a good thing but it's also a little dangerous because it's never as good as you think. We'll see on film that we didn't always win the technical battle.

"We won the physical battle and that's why we were able to run the ball so well. And David hitting big plays over the top didn't let them crowd the box."

I asked Walters how much confidence the O-line can gain from a night like Saturday.

"We just have to keep improving," he said. "Confidence is part of that improvement. We're coming along as an offensive line and getting better. We deserve to be confident.

"We should go into games with the idea that we're going to win. And once we start doing that and preparing like that, we'll continue to roll, and we'll get Texas back on top."


7. And what about taking down the SEC?

Walters didn't get carried away on that, either.

"It's a big deal," he said. "The SEC talk, we played Ole Miss tonight. That's one team in the SEC. We didn't beat them all. But we beat a good team, and we won the physical battle up front. Now, we have to make sure we're winning the technical battle as well."


8. In a scene very reminiscent of last year's UCLA game in which the Texas defense dominated in the first quarter in route to a big win, Texas linebacker Steve Edmond set the tone for the game by intercepting Bo Wallace and returning it 22 yards for the game's first score.

"My first two games, I was just nervous and trying not to mess up, trying to do everything right," Edmond said. "Now, I know what I'm doing, so I'm just trying to make plays when I'm in the game.

"I've always been blessed with good hands."

Manny Diaz had big praise for Edmond's interception.

"When you're on the road at a place that is going crazy, it's a matter of who is going to step up and make a play to answer, and Steve did that tonight in a big way," Diaz said.


MY TAKE: That could end up being a big moment in Edmond's development. He finished tied for the team lead for tackles with Kenny Vaccaro and Adrian Phillips with five.


9. The Texas defense gave up TDs on a 75-yard pass and 48-yard run in addition to pass plays of 36 and 30 yards and runs of 18, 15 and 10 yards.

Mack Brown gave credit to Ole Miss receiver Donte Moncrief as an all-SEC type performer. Moncrief finished with 7 catches for 144 yards and a 75-yard TD.

"Our defense was in the right position," Mack said. "Donte Moncrief is just a good player, and we knew that coming in. Moncrief, Bo Wallace and (running back) Jeff Scott are all great athletes."

Manny Diaz said the defense has to start changing its reputation.

"It's on our resume that we'll give up a big play for a touchdown, and you can't be a great defense if you're doing that," Diaz said.

Mack Brown thought some of the missed tackles may have been because it was more hot and humid than anticipated.

But the missed tackles were a big problem, and LB Demarco Cobbs, who failed to block for Diggs on Diggs' first interception or that return might have been a lot longer, also had a missed tackle on the 48-yard TD run by Jeff Scott.

Cobbs needs to make a play like Edmond made some time soon. He seems to be lacking confidence, and needs to get his season going in the right direction because he's got too much physical talent not to do that.


10. The biggest concern for the defense may be the left hip injury to Jordan Hicks. His prognosis wasn't immediately known. But it helps that Texas doesn't play again until Sept. 29.

Jackson Jeffcoat said it was very different not having Hicks in the huddle from the point in the second quarter when Hicks left the game. But Jeffcoat praised Kendall Thompson for coming in and making some plays, including applying pressure on one of Texas' 5 sacks.

Two of those sacks came from Alex Okafor on back-to-back plays on second-and-goal from the Texas 10 and on third-and-goal from the Texas 20. The sacks forced Ole Miss to settle for a 39-yard field goal that cut Texas' lead to 17-10 with 8:50 left in the first half.

"It was a pivotal point in the game (when Jordan Hicks went out)," senior DE Alex Okafor. It kind of reminded me of when Demarco Cobbs got that late hit penalty against Wyoming, and we didn't handle that very well. So I wanted to make sure we responded well."

Okafor had two sacks. Jeffcoat, Brandon Moore and Reggie Wilson each had one.


ONE MORE THING: I can't say enough about the atmosphere at Ole Miss, and the tailgating in The Grove.

Honestly, I thought it would be some tents lined up in an open area of the campus. But it was a sea of thousands of tents stretching across the entire middle of campus. Ole Miss officials estimated that 200,000 people were tailgating at The Grove.

The Ole Miss fans were incredibly welcoming. At one point, the group of guys I was with said they ran out of beer at their tent. So they went to some Ole Miss fans and asked if they could buy some of their beer. The Ole Miss fans offered to give them 16 beers for free. My buddies were incredulous. (They ended up taking 8 of those beers.)

I've tailgated at Michigan and seen it at Ohio State and LSU and Alabama. I've never seen anything like what I saw at Ole Miss Saturday. It was tent packed next to tent, some with chandeliers inside. It is an event. Like a cattle baron's ball in some parts of the south. The tailgating in The Grove is a major event. I underestimated it.

Ole Miss fans were great, and they did sense the moment because the 61,797 at the game was the largest ever for a non-conference game at Vaught-Hemingway.

And credit to the Texas fans. There were probably 10,000 to 12,000 fans in burnt orange in the stadium. And I'm sure each and every one had a memorable weekend. I know I'll never forget seeing what tailgating is really supposed to look like.



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