Earning his spurs
Saturday at Lubbock, Texas QB Garrett Gilbert will be playing in front of a decidedly hostile crowd for the first time. He says he’s ready.
By MIKE FINGER www.chron.com
AUSTIN — Garrett Gilbert has experienced football hostility before. He has been on the cramped sidelines at Oklahoma State, where fans are close enough to lean over the bench. He has heard plenty of taunts in Dallas, where the Oklahoma faithful stake annual claim to the seats around the Cotton Bowl tunnel.
But for the most part, the insults have been directed either at the Texas Longhorns in general or a better-known teammate in specific.
And as UT offensive coordinator Greg Davis pointed out, “It is different when it’s your name they’re using and your family they’re questioning.”
For the first time in his career as a college quarterback, Gilbert this week will enter a stadium full of people not only willing to question his decision-making but also his upbringing.
In the national championship game at the Rose Bowl last January, when Gilbert relieved an injured Colt McCoy, half the crowd was pulling for Texas. In the Longhorns’ season-opening “road game” against Rice at Reliant Stadium, about 90 percent of the onlookers wore burnt orange.
But against Texas Tech in Lubbock – where UT has lost three of its last six games and nine of its last 18 – Gilbert not only will face his first true road test, but he will have to call signals in front of one of the most notoriously inhospitable crowds in the country.
“It’ll be a different environment,” Gilbert said. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Through two games as a starter, Gilbert hasn’t had to face anything close to adversity. He has not fumbled or thrown an interception. He has yet to be sacked, although he has had a couple of narrow escapes, including one this past Saturday against Wyoming when he reprised his seventh-grade role as a hurdler.
Gilbert, a sophomore from Lake Travis, doesn’t have earth-shattering numbers, but he has been solid, completing 36 of 58 passes for 394 yards.
His statistics might be gaudier if the Longhorns hadn’t spent much of the first two weeks trying to jump-start their running game, but Gilbert said he has no complaints.
“We’re still a work in progress,” Gilbert said. “We’ve shown flashes at times.”
So, too, has the Red Raiders’ defense, rebuilt under new coach Tommy Tuberville and defensive coordinator James Willis, both of whom worked with UT defensive coordinator Will Muschamp at Auburn.
Employing an aggressive style similar to Muschamp’s, Tech already has collected nine sacks this season. But pressure – either from pass rushers or fans who, in the words of UT tackle Britt Mitchell, “are just wild” and “hate us” – isn’t likely to be Gilbert’s undoing, teammates said.
“I don’t think anything is going to faze Garrett,” left guard Michael Huey said.
Gilbert said Monday he hasn’t felt the need to scold or even cajole a teammate in the huddle, something predecessors McCoy and Vince Young became known for.
When wide receiver Marquise Goodwin dropped a perfectly thrown deep ball that would have been an 80-yard touchdown against Wyoming on Saturday, Gilbert didn’t say anything to him.
After the game, Goodwin texted Gilbert and apologized.
“I haven’t had to get on anyone, per se,” Gilbert said. “I’m still trying to be the guy who encourages.”
Given how little encouragement the atmosphere in Lubbock is likely to provide them , the Longhorns will take all of it from Gilbert they can get.