The obvious story, of course, is Garrett Gilbert. His stat line (10-of-13, 165 yards, 3 TD) is impressive, but he did it with a variety of throws and showed a simple, important truth: Give him time, and he will deliver an accurate, catch-able ball. Yeah, it’s spring. Yeah, the defense didn’t provide the level of harassment Alabama did, but the tangible negatives from the outside looking in for Gilbert were pretty microscopic in Sunday’s scrimmage. His growth is going to be exciting to watch, and it could be very rapid.
“The team trusts him,” coach Mack Brown said after Sunday’s game. “They think he is the guy and at his age and not starting a game before, that’s pretty impressive for him.”
More on Gilbert in a bit.
Texas held nine players out of Sunday’s game: LB Emmanuel Acho (hip), S Nolan Brewster (shoulder), WR John Chiles (hamstring), TE D.J. Grant (knee), RB Cody Johnson (hamstring), OT Paden Kelley (ankle), RB Vondrell McGee (shoulder), LB Jared Norton (shoulder), and OG Mason Walters (foot).
Brown told me last week he was trying to find a way to use running back Chris Whaley. In Sunday’s game, Whaley showed why. With Johnson sitting out, the 259-pounder played the role of bruiser, answering criticisms of his inability to use that frame.
“We want him to lose about 25 pounds,” Brown said. “If he can get down in the 240s and see if we think he has a chance to be a running back. He has to keep working because he shows spurts of doing some really good things.”
Whaley busted a long run out of the shotgun on his team’s first drive, and unleashed a nasty stiff-arm two carries later. Granted, he fumbled between those two carries, but still. If he can show some consistency, he’ll create his own carries.
He also had a nice run in the fourth quarter with a little under five minutes to play. When he gets in the secondary, he can make big things happen.
He finished with 70 yards on 14 carries, split between the two teams. He did a lot of that against reserves, and right now, the redshirt freshman is basically Johnson with less experience, but he’s definitely a guy to watch in coming years.
Fozzy Whittaker and Tre' Newton had ho-hum days (43 and 13 yards, respectively) on the stat sheet, but Whittaker looked pretty good hitting the hole a couple times and both guys showed a nice ability to lower their shoulder and deliver a hit.
“We can throw it every time with Garrett, but we want to go back and be more balanced,” Brown said. “I do like where we are. I like the progress we’ve made and we’re still not there. We still have to get a lot better to be consistent in the running game. Unlike last year, we’re not going to change it. We’re going to go back and we’re going to be good in the running game.”
At this point, it’s probably stupid to say Gilbert is “underrated” at anything, but he’s got a really nice play fake. Not a bold prediction: That’s going to come in handy next season.
DeSean Hales wins the day for the receivers, and it wasn’t close. His big highlight was a 41-yard touchdown on a post that Gilbert delivered beautifully in stride, and Hales turned on the jets, racing for the touchdown. He caught a game-high three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. His first catch was the 41-yarder, and he also had a pair of 18-yard catches.
As for style, it’s tough to infer very much. Texas ran the ball for the first 11 plays of the scrimmage, but opened up the offense for plenty of the latter part of the game. Final play count: 43 runs, 31 passes for the two teams combined.
They did bust out a couple trick plays, staying true to Brown’s offseason hope of having “more fun.”
Sophomore safety Kenny Vaccaro had a nice day for the highlight reel. He flattened Newton in the flats, drawing a very audible “Oooh” from about everyone. He also came closest to intercepting Gilbert. Vaccarro dove in front of a tight end on a rollout play, nearly coming away with possession, but managed the acrobatic pass break-up. That’s as close as Gilbert came to turning the ball over, and against a defense like Texas’, that’s a nice day.
Lamarr Houston busted out his Nirvana T-shirt on the sidelines on Sunday. Can’t say I would have pegged him for a Kurt Cobain fan.
Lastly, Texas beat Fight, 34-3. So … yeah. Fight’s got a lot of work to do from now until September. Otherwise, they’ll be in for a long season. Texas looked like a juggernaut, scoring 34 consecutive points after falling behind 3-0 to the Fighting Fighters to start the game.