Young Texas safeties grow in Longhorns' victory
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
AUSTIN, Texas -- Roy Miller saw some wide eyes in the Texas huddle after some early mishaps in the secondary.
First-game jitters being what they are, the Longhorns's struggles weren't surprising.
"We always get mad when they were converting those plays," said Miller, a senior defensive tackle. "But their efforts were great. I think they did really well for a first game."
But the resiliency that the young Texas secondary showed throughout the game was one of the most impressive signs in the Longhorns' 52-10 victory over Florida Atlantic. The Longhorns started freshmen safeties for the first time under Mack Brown with Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas.
After being torched for 151 yards in the first quarter, the Longhorns allowed 102 passing yards the rest of the game. Their performance was particularly strong in the second half, when they allowed the Owls to produce only 53 total yards on 26 snaps.
"We obviously made some mistakes in the first half that were very visible," new Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said. "We came out in the second half and we played a little better and they just kind of shut it down."
It wasn't easy, particularly early. The Longhorns allowed Florida Atlantic to march into the red zone on their first two possessions. The Longhorns stymied the Owls with no points, getting a fumble recovery by linebacker Sergio Kimble on the first possesion and forcing a punt on the second drive.
"We were just kind of getting the feel of it in our first game," Texas freshman safety Earl Thomas said. "Just kind of getting our feet wet. And in the second half, we had a better understanding of what we were doing."
Thomas was perhaps the best example of that. After whiffing on a tackle on a 62-yard pass from Rusty Smith to Jamari Grant late in the first quarter, he redeemed himself on the next play. Leaping high, he tipped a pass that was turned into an interception by Ryan Palmer.
"Everybody knows we are young and inexperienced, but we're just going to try them wrong," Thomas said. "But any time you get a big play thrown at you, you just have to forget about it and go to the next play. That's what I tried to do."
It was just another obstacle thrown at Thomas, who learned earlier in the day that his mother was relocating from their Orange, Texas, home to Austin because of the approach of Hurricane Gustav.
"I talked to my mom earlier and she kind of calmed me down," Thomas said. "I was pretty nervous about it before the game."
Thomas later blocked a punt and was a leader in the Longhorns' second-half improvement along with Gideon.
The Longhorns' kiddie corps in the secondary impressed FAU quarterback Rusty Smith, who struggled through a 15-for-31 passing performance.
"They looked young, but they were very talented, I'll give them that," Smith said. "And their front four really did a number on us tonight. They pressured me well. We knew they would have great athletes and they did."
The secondary's growth didn't surprise Texas coach Mack Brown, who had seen big things in both safeties throughout training camp.
"We thought they had played well against a good offense all through camp," said Brown, who called his team's performance the best opener they have had in his 11-season tenure at Texas. "There were so many things in the first half that says we can coach from that will help them for next week. And I thought we grew up on defense in the second half."