Sunday, September 13, 2015

Rice at Texas Home Opener - UT wins 42-28

After last week's disastrous performance against Notre Dame in South Bend, Texas fans were wondering how Charlie Strong would answer the challenges facing the team with the tools he's got on hand.  The reality of it is that, once that first game starts, it's not like he can go get new players or coaches until the end of the season.  It's a sane situation made crazy by the magical thinking of the sports press who still act as if coaches are grown ups, we're all kids and they will somehow produce magical results to kiss away our fears.

Jerrod Heard freaks us all out by actually adjusting to the situation on the field

Look, UT won this game 42-28.  But, as much of an academic and scholarly powerhouse as Rice University might be, no one has ever accused Rice of being in contention of a national football title.  They're on the schedule out of habit on both sides, because UT needs a team to play to work out some kinks, and because Rice gets some TV dollars out of the deal.

For once, I really do think UT was able to use the Rice game to sort some things out and to get a better feel for where we need to do some work.  The Notre Dame game was only a chance to witness the obvious lesson of "you need to work on looking like a Division I team."

Early in the week Coach Charlie Strong announced Shawn Watson would no longer be in charge of calling plays, that would now go to Jay Norvell (a guy I couldn't place until someone mentioned he'd been at Oklahoma).  We also put freshman Jerrod Heard in as QB, something that we should have done in the second quarter in Notre Dame (because, really, why the hell not?).

There are so many new players and so few standouts on the UT team that, short a few names, I've kind of lost track of who anyone is these days.  I wish that weren't so.  During the VY-era and Colt McCoy days, I felt like I knew at least 75% of the names of the starters at UT and a good number of the coaches.  Now I'm sort of cheering for a UT that's organizationally UT, but aside from Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford, I'm not terribly invested in the actual players.

I'll tell you the moment that gave me some hope, and it makes no sense at first blush.  If you expect me to say "when Heard passed a 60-odd-yard pass to Burt", well...  that could have been it.  But Heard had a 17-yard run, and at the conclusion, he turned over and did a few push-ups.  Sure, I was cringing, afraid he'd earn himself a penalty, but ever since Colt McCoy graduated, it's hard to point to anyone on the Texas team with personality.  At least beyond a "this jerk is getting kicked off the team" personality.  Heard is about 19 or 20, I guess.  He's a red-shirt freshman.  He played well.  he was excited.  He put that back into his play on the field, yes, but it doesn't hurt to be a smidge showy and remind your team this can be fun.  If he can get fired up, he'll get his teammates to get fired up, and these guys need someone on the field to believe in.

The defense could certainly use some of that reason to celebrate and have even a blip of swagger.  Defensive Coordinator Vance Bedford was rightfully and righteously taking his players to task right there on the sideline, and I'd argue that's part of what this team needs.  Immediate feedback.  No pats on the back with constructive criticism 2 hours later.  Fix it now, fix it on the field.  And, for god's sake, the tackling is still as iffy - but maybe not quite as theatrically so - as when Manny Diaz was telling his guys to sort of wave their arms around their opponents and hope for the best.

Last year we said "this is a building season", but that isn't entirely accurate.  Last year was the demolition season.  Charlie Strong didn't get a fixer-upper, he got a tear-down.  It's a great location, a swell bit of acreage, but it made more sense to knock over the building on the premises than it did to try to keep patching and fixing something that wasn't ever going to be quite right.  So, this year we're building.  It's gonna take a couple more years.

For actual analysis:

Kirk Bohls on the game

Cedric Golden on the game

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