If Longhorns fans thought Saturday night was bad, here’s the truth: Texas could absolutely lose to Rice.
This week’s home opener was supposed to be a chance for UT officials to showcase new tailgate options, premium food and beer choices and a decidedly modern gameday experience. None of it matters if the product on the field is abysmal.
Pre-season propaganda has given way to cold, hard reality. This team isn’t very good. Not in Week 1, anyway.
That’s the only way to describe what happened against Notre Dame. The Horns’ 38-3 loss was the second-worst, season-opening loss in school history and the biggest since 1988.
Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes showed no real improvement over last year. Backup Jerrod Heard didn’t play enough for coaches to have any real idea how he’ll fare going forward. “I know the progress has been made,” quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said. “We’ve got to show up when the lights go on and play.”
Texas (0-1) hasn’t lost to Rice since the equally-abysmal 1994 affair in Houston. But these aren’t the same old Owls. Coach David Bailiff’s squad went 8-5 last season and knocked off Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl.
Rice (1-0) whacked FCS-level Wagner College 56-16 in its opener.
UT coach Charlie Strong didn’t appear panicked after the Notre Dame game. He told reporters the same thing he told the team. It was only the first game. “We are just a better football team than what we showed,” Strong said.
The Irish had an eye-popping 527 total yards while the Horns managed only 163. It was the lowest offensive output of any FBS-level team in Week 1. Texas was 2-for-13 on third-down conversions and had eight drives go three-and-out.
“It’s just one game,” Swoopes said. “We’ve got 11 more to go. We’ve got to go back next week, fix it and play better next week.”
The defensive line, which Strong praised for its supposed depth, was driven off the line of scrimmage. The offensive line, which was allegedly tougher, allowed four sacks and totaled up 60 rushing yards. Notre Dame’s defense was also credited with eight quarterback hurries.
“It hurts our defense. It keeps our defense on the field, and we don’t want that,” said running back Johnathan Gray, who didn’t touch the ball until the third drive. “We’ve got to keep our defense off the field as long as we can. It’s frustrating when we can’t do that, and it’s frustrating when we make mistakes.”
There were some good moments. Linebacker Peter Jinkens had a key sack that pushed Notre Dame out of field goal range. Freshmen Malik Jefferson had nine tackles (2.5 for loss) in his debut. “I couldn’t make every play, but I was trying my best,” Jefferson said.
“Now we have an understanding of where we need to get to,” defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “As far as comparing us to other teams and us getting better, I just continue to think that we’re going to get better.”
The heat under Watson and his quarterbacks is just getting started, though. Swoopes previously said there were no changes with the scheme, and then after the game, he said, “It’s just new for everybody.”
Watson is right back where he was after several losses last season. The difference is that Swoopes was the only quarterback available last year. Now, Heard is game-worthy and freshman Kai Locksley should get a solid look.
“You’ve got to keep working, No. 1,” Watson said. “We’re going to have some young players. We gotta keep developing the new guys in our program. We’ve got to keep working. It’s a process that we’ve got to get moved along.”
Strong cannot afford to let a sputtering offense derail his second season.
When looking at the totality of a 38-3 loss, Strong said, “We’re not going backwards.
“Early in the season. We just have to somehow get the thing moving forward.”
Final stats: Below is the final game book produced by Notre Dame officials. You can view this is a larger window by clicking here.