Close to the vest fine for Texas

Longhorns use running game, safe passing attack to roll Wyoming in opener

Updated: September 2, 2012, 9:49 AM ET
By Carter Strickland | HornsNation

AUSTIN, Texas -- Maybe it wasn't as convincing or even as dominant as those with spittle in their speech, burnt orange on their faces and heart on their sleeves wanted.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Brown
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireMalcolm Brown ran for 105 yards Saturday against Wyoming, joining Joe Bergeron as 100-yard rushers.
But that's not Texas. Not this season. Not with this group. At least not until New Mexico and its team bereft of speed or talent comes to Darrell K. Royal next week.

No, for now, Texas is pedestrian at best. That's just fine for a team that couldn't take two steps without falling for the past two years. After all, you have to learn to walk before you can run.

No. 15-ranked Texas was at times unsteady of gait but still managed to step over Wyoming for the first win of the season, 37-17, in front of 101,142 at DKR Saturday night.

The Longhorns ran when they wanted to run -- Malcolm Brown's 3 yards for a touchdown on fourth down was a testament to that. They passed, albeit with the conservative nature of a Tea Party candidate, when they wanted to pass -- quarterback David Ash threw for 156 yards but only twice attempted a pass for more than 20. And, after a pratfall first quarter in which it gave up 178 yards and nine points, the defense dictated and dominated. Wyoming had 26 yards and no points in the second quarter.

"There were enough good things tonight that we can build on," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "If we would have won the game 45-9 we would have walked out of here feeling too good."

While maybe not jubilant, Texas has at least a hop in its step. What it also managed was to adroitly sidestep any drama when it came to the quarterbacks. This was to be a game that featured two quarterbacks. At least that was the plan, according to the coaches.

Somebody hit the snooze button instead of the switch button. Case McCoy only saw the field with Texas up 20 and less than three minutes to go. Instead of two quarterbacks, Texas decided to stick with Ash because the offense was more than adequate.

"He did everything we asked him to do," co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said.

What Texas did switch was running backs. Joe Bergeron gut-punched his way to 110 yards. Malcolm Brown slid around the edges for 105. What was lacking from that one-two punch was the knockout of Johnathan Gray, as the anticipated freshman saw limited action in the fourth quarter.

Brown said while he was pleased with the 15 and 14 carries Bergeron and Brown had respectively, he would like to see Gray's numbers get closer to double digits.

"You just want to keep bringing him," Brown said.

Clearly, the rotation has some wrinkles to be ironed and other wrinkles that have yet to be seen. New Mexico should provide that opportunity.

As for a chance to offense to be more opportunistic ... that might have to wait. It was clear through the play-calling that Harsin did not give Ash many opportunities to fail. While that could serve to build his confidence, if ever there were a game when some envelope-pushing was in order, at least in the fourth quarter, it might have been this one.

What Texas did by not opening things up was pull back the curtain on what is to come. This, as expected, is a team that wants to chew up yards and clock.

"It has to start with the run game," Harsin said. "It is not going to start when you are backpedaling."

[+] EnlargeDavid Ash
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesTexas played it safe with sophomore QB David Ash, as he threw for 156 yards on a safe 20-for-27 passing night.
But Texas' passing game appears to be running in quicksand. Ash's performance against Wyoming was nearly identical to his performance against Cal in the Holiday Bowl. He was 14 of 23 for 142 yards and a touchdown in that game, and 20 of 27 for 156 yards and a touchdown against Wyoming.

Such commonplace stats, while pleasing to Brown, did at least elicit an eyebrow raise.

"We just got to keep throwing it downfield and I think we can do that," Brown said. "I liked what I saw in that area."

While the results of the passing game might not have been different, the demeanor with which Ash carried himself was.

"He never panicked. I really feel like he has a good presence about him right now," Harsin said.

There are myriad reasons for that, starting with the opponent and running all the way through the offensive line, the running backs and the play calls.

"I was trying to move the chains," Ash said. "You just want to get the ball completed and get it into someone's hands and let them get the first down for you. My job is just getting them the ball."

On that account, Ash succeeded. Texas needs to find out if he can continue to do that against higher-caliber teams before it plays the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State, a team that scored 84 points in its opening-weekend victory.

Carter Strickland | email

Reporter, HornsNation