Not dominating, but still a win for Texas

AUSTIN, Texas -- Rice was supposed to be Texas' coming out party.

The Longhorns showed up fashionably late.

Guess they took their cue from the fans.

In the end, Texas' late start was good enough against an undermanned Rice team as the Longhorns won 34-9 in front of 101,624 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But good enough is not exactly what everyone was expecting.

"That wasn't dominating," said linebacker Keenan Robinson. "It was OK."

"OK" had to suffice, though this was a season opener laced with anticipation. This, as Mack Brown had trumpeted like Gabriel on his horn, was the rebirth of a program. New coaches. New players.

To be sure, Texas did hit the high notes. John Harris took a pitch from his wide receiver position and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Shipley.

"All that quarterback controversy -- I thought we would add some guys in the mix," joked co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin.

Starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert didn't allow for much controversy talk to start. The junior hit two passes of 55 and 56 yards. He also led a 99-yard scoring drive to take command of the game. A 94-yard scoring drive followed to salt it away. He finished 13-of-23 for 239 yards.

And there was running back Malcolm Brown, who was downright Brunswickian in bowling over a few Owls in the hole. The freshman finished with a team-high 86 rushing yards on 20 carries.

"The offense relaxed and played better," coach Mack Brown said.

But there were plenty of sour notes, too.

"Consistency across the board is the main thing we have to work on offensively," Harsin said.

Midway through the third quarter the offense was consistently dull as Texas led 13-9. The offense featured no flash and only a little dash. And the overall substance left every UT fan hungry for what they had been promised.

In the first half Texas' only touchdown came after a fumbled punt set the Longhorns up on the Rice 20.

At that point, maybe invites from other conferences were flooding athletic director DeLoss Dodds' inbox. Everyone would want a piece of the once-feared Longhorns if they were to play like this.

In the offseason everyone wanted a piece of Harsin after watching him draw up sandlot plays that tore up the blue turf in Boise year after year.

He was the magic man from the West. His bag of tricks was supposed to be just the salve the burned Horns needed. Saturday, though, the Longhorns Nation went home unsatisfied.

Harsin did have a few tricks sprinkled here and there.

"We tried to pick the ones that worked," he said.

Enough were selected to allow some to wonder, "What if?" But what Texas needed was physical domination.

"When you are physical the trick plays work better,'' Harsin said.

Texas finally became physical when Brown made an appearance in the second half. Until that point Texas seemed more content to run around rather than through Rice.

Brown changed that. He gave Texas a run threat, and helped open up the passing game. He made it clear he is a player opponents will have to take into account.

"We were pounding the ball in the fourth quarter and that was something we weren't able to do the past three years,'' Mack Brown said.

On the flip side of the ball Rice had to pound sand every time it made it into the red zone.

"We never let them in our end zone and we take that very personally around here,'' said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

Rice amassed just 224 yards and never threatened, once Texas started to dominate the ball on offense.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas sports and recruiting for HornsNation.

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