What the win means for Texas: Hope. Texas has been in short supply of that lately, but the decision to start Heard paid off big-time. The redshirt freshman accounted for 120 passing yards, 96 rushing yards and two TDs, and he brought a swagger to the job that the Longhorns have been sorely lacking. He and Malik Jefferson look like the face of the program going forward, and Jefferson shined again with nine stops and a 26-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown. Texas’ young defense still must do a better job of getting off the field, and it missed a lot of easy stops against Rice. That could be a real problem when Cal’s high-flying offense visits Austin next weekend, but at least Texas' offense is showing serious (and much-needed) progress.
What the loss means for Rice: The Owls should be proud of how close they kept this game in the first half, thanks largely to Driphus Jackson’s poise on third downs and two rushing TDs from redshirt freshman Samuel Stewart. But Rice really needs to clean up its play on special teams -- that was the most glaring difference between these teams Saturday -- before hitting the road again to face North Texas and then Baylor.
Top play: Daje Johnson got back to doing what he does best against Rice. The senior receiver hauled in a first-quarter punt, danced around three defenders and was off to the races for an 85-yard touchdown to put the Horns ahead 14-0. Texas coach Charlie Strong liked to tease Johnson this offseason that he hasn’t done anything since his 85-yard punt return TD against Oklahoma in 2013. Johnson won’t have to hear that anymore. Texas set a school record for punt return yardage on the night.
The game turned when: Heard connected with freshman John Burt for a 69-yard touchdown. That was the very first play of the second half, and the Longhorns rolled from there. Rice gave Texas’ defense problems in the first half, converting on eight of its first 12 third downs, and this game was still tight (21-14) at halftime. Burt beating his man on a fly route for his first career TD was certainly a confidence-booster both for Heard and this offense, especially considering Heard’s passing talents were questioned during the offseason.