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September 2, 2011

UT-Rice - The ultimate preview

It's Garrett Gilbert.

Until it isn't.

After competing with three other candidates all spring and summer, Gilbert, last year's starter, will begin the season as Texas' starting quarterback when the Longhorns host Rice.

The Opponent
Who: Rice Owls
Location: Houston, Texas
Colors: Blue, Gray
Series Record: Texas leads 70-21-1

Record: 0-0 (0-0 Conference USA)
National Ranking: N/A

Head Coach: David Bailiff
Record at Rice: 19-30 (4)
Total Record: 40-45 (7)

The Game
When: Sept. 3, 2011, 7 p.m. CDT
Where: Austin, Texas
Venue: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

TV: Longhorn Network
Radio: Longhorn Sports Network Radio (affiliates)

Vegas Line: Texas -24

The Numbers
11: Head Coach Mack Brown has won 11 openers in a row. He's 12-1 in openers at Texas. In its previous 118 years of football, UT is 98-17-3 (.843) in
season-opening games. The Longhorns are 76-7-2 (.906) when opening the year at home.

88: In 167 games under Mack Brown, Texas has
won 95-of-108 (88%) when scoring first.

133: Mack Brown has won 133 games at Texas. He is in second place on UT's all-time list behind only Darrell Royal, who tallied 167 victories from 1957-76. Brown moved ahead of Fred Akers, who posted 86 wins from 1977-86, during the 2006 season..

The Quote
"We've got to start a win streak at home again and get back on track because there's no way in the world that you shouldn't play well at home if you're at the University of Texas and have 101,000 fans that are pulling for you."
- Mack Brown

The question everybody has is how long will he remain at the position.

Despite starting all 12 games during last season's 5-7 campaign, Gilbert had to fight off sophomore Case McCoy, true freshman David Ash and Connor Wood, who was listed as the fourth-string quarterback and was in Colorado on Monday considering transfer possibilities.

Gilbert threw 10 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions during last year's debacle and struggled during the spring game and in a summer scrimmage, but first-year offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said Gilbert did "everything asked of him since the beginning of fall camp."

"Garrett had a very good handle coming into fall camp of what we were trying to get done offensively," Harsin added. "He understands the reads. He understands the plays. He understands the audibles we can make out of those plays."

The problem was on the day he was named the starter, Gilbert appeared anything but confident as he answered reporters' questions with his shoulders slumped and eyes often pointed to the ground.

And many of the questions were about leadership.

"I think that's a continuous process," he said when asked about whether or not he had his teammates' trust and respect. "I just have to be the best player every day at practice, and try and improve at practice. That (other) stuff takes care of itself."

Texas coach Mack Brown said the Longhorns were 100 percent behind Gilbert and he didn't have to be looking over his shoulder if he made a mistake. Brown added that the coaching staff was too relaxed when it came to benching struggling starters.

"There have been more changes to this depth chart than I've ever seen. There are lots of guys moving to second- and third-team, very quickly," Brown said of this offseason. "We don't care what your name is. It's not about you. It's not about individuals. It's not about hurt feelings. It's totally about who the best player is. Period. Last year, looking back, we should've made changes at times that we didn't. That's not going to happen this time."

-- Sports Xchange


QB Taylor McHargue - Passing: 33-of-58, 493 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT; Rushing: 46 for 151 yards, 1 TD - McHargue was the starter to begin the 2010 season (including against Texas) but battled injuries for most of the year. He made an impressive return to action late in the year against ECU, establishing career-bests by hitting on 11 of 15 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 13 times for 93 yards and one touchdown. From Cedar Park Vista Ridge, McHargue isn't going to blow anyone away with his physical skills but he manages the Rice offense well.

RB Sam McGuffie - Rushing: 197 carries for 883 yards and 6 TDs; Receiving: 39 catches for 384 yards and 3 TDs - Highly-touted back that led the Owls in rushing and receiving last year after transfering home to Houston from Michigan. Finished third in C-USA and 65th in the country with 73.6 yards per game rushing. He'll share carries with several other backs, but McGuffie can be an explosive playmaker if he gets through the first wave of the defense.

CB Bryce Callahan- DNP (2010) - A redshirt freshman, Callahan has been the talk of the Rice defense in the spring and over the course of the summer. The 5-10, 180-pound Cy Woods product has shown a knack in camp for making big plays.


1. Don't screw it up - This is a game Texas should win with ease, and the outcome should never really be in doubt. The most important thing for the Longhorns is to simply play a clean game and eliminate the kinds of mistakes that plagued the team last year.

2. Protect the football (that means you, QBs) - This ties in with the above point, but Texas cannot throw the ball to defenders the way it did in 2010. Garrett Gilbert needs to cut down on the interceptions ... a little help from his receivers should help that cause.

3. Don't break down - The Owls will throw the ball a lot, especially if they're behind. With UT's aggressive defensive scheme, it'll be important for the defense, particularly the young CBs, to not have mental lapses where they let Rice players make plays deep.



Rice will throw the ball around quite a bit out of the spread attack, and the Owls are expecting big things out of sophomore quarterback Taylor McHargue now that he's healthy. Tight end Luke Willson caught 33 passes last year. Vance McDonald (6-5, 260) is considered the team's best wide receiver.

The Longhorn secondary is led by the experience at safety, headlined by Blake Gideon and Kenny Vaccaro. This should be a pretty good test for UT's young group of cornerbacks since Rice will test them often.



Rice has terrific depth at the running back spot, with five guys returning from last year's team. Sam McGuffie is an exciting player that can reel off some big gains if he's able to break loose. The Owls have some power guys as well, including Jeremy Eddington, Charles Ross and Turner Petersen. The smallest of the bunch, Tyler Smith, is used as a change of pace guy. All of the backs bring something different from the other guys on the roster.

The Texas run defense had its troubles at times last year, but the Longhorns think they've fixed the issues due to more experience and better depth in the middle of the D. Rice will try to get guys in space rather than run straight at the UT D. Texas does have to be cautious about giving up big gains against the blitz.



Rice's strength along the offensive line is with left tackle Jake Hicks. The senior is one of the strongest guys on the entire team and he's very athletic. Hicks played RT last year but moves over to the left side in 2011. The line does have three seniors with experience in the starting group and for the first time under Bailiff, the Owls have a little bit of depth among their guys up front.

One of the concerns for Texas in the spring and in pre-season camp was finding someone to play alongside Kheeston Randall. Calvin Howell has stepped up his game and the Horns have some solid depth at the tackle spots. Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor form one of the country's best defensive end duos.



The Owls have never really been known as a formidable run-stopping team, and that trend will likely continue this year. Running a 4-2-5 alignment doesn't always lend itself to defensive success against teams with a good ground game. Justin Allen, a transfer from Idaho, is an undersized guy at 5-11, 220-pounds, but he has a good nose for the football.

The Texas run game will be one of the most interesting elements to watch in the opener. After several years of ground game struggles, people are expecting big things from the trio of Foswhitt Whittaker, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. It's a well-rounded group that brings a lot of different elements to the offense.



Redshirt freshman Bryce Callahan had a phenomenal spring and summer, and his play has carried over to fall practices. He's an exciting player with good ball skills. Junior Phillip Gaines who has been starting since he was a freshman, returns on the other side. The Owls play three safeties but losing the experience of Travis Bradshaw from last year hurts.

Few QBs in the entire country will face as much pressure as Garrett Gilbert. After a disastrous sophomore season, he'll look to bounce back beginning on Saturday night. Unlike last year, Gilbert should get a lot of help from his teammates, especially Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis.



The Owls return all four starters from last year's defensive line. Defensive end Scott Solomon is back after an injury forced him out all of last year. He's the strongest guy on the Rice team and is a terrific athlete for a guy his size (6-3, 270). D-line depth is a big concern for the Owls.

Texas will be breaking in several new faces and a new scheme on Saturday, so it's tough to  say what fans should expect from the line. Trey Hopkins is a star in the making at right tackle and the Horns appear to have some really good talent across the starting five. Depth is still a concern.


All-American punter Kyle Martens returns after averaging more than 45 yards per punt last year. Kicker Chris Boswell connected on 11-of-17 field goal attempts last year. He'll handle all the kicking chores in 2011. One are to watch is at deep snapper. The Owls are breaking in a new player at that position for the first time in four years.

The Texas special teams really struggled last year, but the team is expecting a bounce-back season in 2011 from this group. Justin Tucker is very reliable as a kicker and a punter, and the Longhorn return games should be explosive, headlined by D.J. Monroe, Quandre Diggs and Jaxon Shipley.

-- Suchomel

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