OFFENSE: So much for redemption. After a disastrous 2010 season with 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, this was Garrett Gilbert's fresh start. He'd have a new offensive coordinator and a new offense. He'd have a productive running game with one of the best running backs in the 2011 recruiting class on campus. He'd have a maturing group of receivers.
Instead, he had shoulder surgery and booked a ticket to SMU after struggling in his second start of the season and being benched to a chorus of boos in the second quarter against BYU. Case McCoy and David Ash checked in, and neither grabbed hold of the position. McCoy would make plays (ask Texas A&M), but his limited arm strength and physical measurables made life easy on defenses and tough on his receivers. Enter the fleet-footed Ash. The true freshman didn't get much experience during the spring or in summer 7-on-7 and it showed. His decision-making didn't look much better than Gilbert's, and he finished with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Jaxon Shipley was outstanding as a freshman, though he was slowed by a knee injury during the second half of his season. Still, it's not a good sign when a true freshman receiver has one fewer touchdown pass (3) than the team's leading passer.
Malcolm Brown validated much of the hype in his first year, looking the part of a future star in the running game, alongside Joe Bergeron, though both had the second halves of their seasons marred by injuries that kept them out of action or hobbled when they did play.
There's plenty of potential in this Texas offense, but ultimately, the passing game leaves a lot to be desired. Even with its defense, Texas isn't going to win the Big 12 with a total offense ranked seventh in the Big 12 and 54th nationally. Like we said in the Missouri report card, offenses in this league are graded on a curve. The Longhorns were nearly 80 yards per game behind sixth-place Texas Tech, and ranked eighth in scoring offense for the entire season and in conference play.
DEFENSE: The biggest surprise, and a welcome one for new coordinator Manny Diaz, was the play of the secondary, especially corners Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs. They'll both be back in 2012 and Diggs absolutely looks like a future All-American, and as a true freshman, tied for fourth in the league with four interceptions. Byndom, a first-year starter, could make a case as the Big 12's best corner in 2011.
Linebackers Emmanuel Acho and Keenan Robinson weren't superstars, but both were a step above solid and provided valuable leadership that was missing in 2010. They combined for 215 stops as the team's top two tacklers, and combined for 23 tackles for loss.
Both are gone in 2012, but the Longhorns have plenty of young stars who may mature into superstars. Diggs isn't the only one. Jordan Hicks stayed healthy and looked like he clicked in 2011. The same is true of the nation's No. 1 recruit in 2010, Jackson Jeffcoat, who led the team with 17 tackles for loss in a huge year after the second half of his promising 2010 season was slowed by an ankle injury.
And senior-to-be nickelback/safety Kenny Vaccaro might be the best of the bunch, a versatile, speedy, hard hitter with a nose for the ball who seemed to be everywhere. He finished with 71 tackles (third-most on the team), 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, two interceptions and eight pass breakups. The Longhorns' defense was the best in the Big 12 in a league full of dangerous offenses, and ranking 11th nationally in that stat deserves respect.
OVERALL: This was an improvement. The offense was not quite as good as expected, but that's what happens when the guy who took a huge chunk of snaps in the spring and preseason camp gets benched for good in the second game. Ash and McCoy did what they could, but the Longhorns were tangled by their offense. In losses to Missouri and Kansas State, the Longhorns scored 5 and 13 points, and were held without a touchdown against Missouri, a first since 2004. Texas was back in a bowl, but if the team is to get any further than 8-5, the offense has to be much better.