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The Charlie Strong era at The University of Texas got off to a great start on Saturday in Big 12 action. The Longhorns took care of business at home, taking down the North Texas Mean Green 38-7 in front of a packed house at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
While the Horns were dominant on both sides of the ball, the Texas defense stole the show under the lights at DKR. The Longhorns allowed just 92 yards of total offense. That is not a typo. UNT had just 40 yards through the first three quarters and totaled only 15 passing yards over the course of the game. The Mean Green couldn’t get anything going against the new look Texas defense and it seemed like everything Charlie Strong and new defensive coordinator Vance Bedford drew up worked perfectly. Texas had more interceptions (4) than North Texas had completions (3) and the Horns sacked UNT quarterback Josh Greer four times in the W. The only UNT points were scored when the Texas defense was off the field, and the Longhorn defense put up points of its own when Demarco Cobbs took an interception back 28 yards for a touchdown late in the 4th quarter. Texas fans heard Charlie Strong use the phrase “put the ‘T’ back in Texas” in regards to toughening up the team. In week one, the toughness was definitely there on defense as the Horns held a UNT team that won nine games last season to less than 100 yards of offense.
The Texas offense, after struggling early on, also looked very solid in the season opener. A major key to the game and a point of emphasis by the UT coaching staff was to establish the run game early and often. The combination of Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray totaled 147 yards on the ground, and both backs averaged more than five yards per carry. Brown added two rushing touchdowns, as well. Quarterback David Ash looked pretty good in his first game action in nearly a year. The junior went 19 of 34 for 190 yards with one passing touchdown and a one-yard rushing touchdown. His favorite target was John Harris, who finished the game with a career-high 110 yards on seven catches and a touchdown. Despite the big numbers, Harris got off to a slow start. The Garland native dropped two easy passes that could have extended Longhorn drives in the first quarter. Even from my average student seats on the other side of the field, I could see Charlie Strong give Harris an earful after the second drop, and whatever he said definitely worked.
The blowout victory, however, proved costly for Texas as the injury bug made an early appearance in 2014. Quarterback David Ash, who missed most of last season with concussion-like symptoms, is out indefinitely and will miss at least this Saturday’s game against BYU with a recurrence of those same symptoms. Ash did not report any symptoms during or immediately after the game, but reportedly called the coaching staff late Saturday night after experience headaches and dizziness. The Belton native was brought in for further evaluation, and Charlie Strong made the announcement about Ash’s status during his press conference on Monday. It didn’t appear that Ash took any major hits during the game against UNT, but the junior believes the symptoms stem from the first hit he took in Saturday night’s contest. During his presser, Strong said, “you’re always concerned about a young man’s health, and we would never jeopardize a young man’s health just for this football team. Players’ health is always first.” Many people, including myself,
think it may be time for David Ash to end his football career. While giving up a sport that he loves may be tough, Ash needs to think about his long-term health, which is more important than anything he can do on the field. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will make his first career start this week against BYU.
Unfortunately for Texas, David Ash won’t be the only offensive starter to sit out this weekend’s game. Senior Center and team captain Dominic Espinosa suffered a broken bone in his right ankle during the 3rd quarter against UNT and is out for the season. Espinosa, who has started 40 games in his five-year career at Texas, will have season-ending surgery on Wednesday. The Cedar Park native will be eligible to apply for a sixth season of eligibility in 2015, if he chooses to do so. The void at center will be filled by redshirt freshman Jake Raulerson, who finished Saturday’s game for the Longhorns. The four other Texas offensive linemen have just 14 starts combined, so it will be interesting to see how the big boys in the trenches do against a much better BYU squad this weekend.
Week one was a bittersweet one for the Longhorns, as the Charlie Strong era got off to an impressive, yet costly start. The Longhorns looked extremely dominant against the Mean Green, but the injuries to David Ash and Dominic Espinosa completely change the outlook for the rest of the 2014 season. Before the year, nobody was quite sure what to expect from this Texas team that featured a completely revamped coaching staff and a lot of new players. Now, there is even more uncertainty surrounding the Longhorns and the upcoming schedule doesn’t do Texas any favors.