After one of the longest weeks in recent memory, in which the team was shellacked in South Bend, leading to Charlie Strong to demote play-caller Shawn Watson and Mack Brown washing his hands of the mess he left behind, it was safe to say Texas needed this. Jerrod Heard and a bunch of freshman led the Longhorns to a 42-28 win over Rice, in what felt like a ceremonial turning of the page from whatever the past six years have been to whatever the next few years could become.
Heard, a redshirt freshman and a two-time state champion from Denton, Texas, earned the first start of his career and made an immediate impact, accounting for 78 yards (40 passing, 38 rushing) on an 80-yard opening touchdown drive. Heard and an explosive punt return unit (141 yards between returns by Daje Johnson and Duke Thomas) pushed Texas to a 21-0 lead after one quarter.
It was the third quarter, however, that showed the promise of what Texas football could become. Heard opened the frame by hitting true freshman John Burt for a 69-yard touchdown, the team’s first third quarter touchdown in 13 games. The Longhorns pushed the lead to 35-14 when true freshman Kris Boyd forced a Driphus Jackson fumble and true freshman Malik Jefferson picked it up and raced 26 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore D’Onta Foreman closed the quarter with a two-yard touchdown plunge.
In all, Heard finished the game by completing 4-of-7 passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 10 times for a team-high 96 yards.
In showing its promise, Texas also revealed its limitations on Saturday night. While the Longhorns won the odd-numbered quarters 42-0, they lost the evens 28-0. Rice consistently exploited a soft underbelly in the Longhorns’ defense, rushing 58 times for 228 yards and converting 13 of their 17 third downs. Those stats allowed Rice massive advantages in first downs (30-11), total plays (96-38), total yards (462-277) and time of possession (44:02 to 15:58). If not for Texas’s explosive plays in the passing and kicking games and a 5-1 turnover edge, Rice could easily have won this game.
Texas (1-1) moves to 41-1 since 1966 against Rice; the ‘Horns have now marked a full 50 years since last falling to the Owls in Austin. The Longhorns will host California next week in a critical game for Strong and company. Rice (1-1) visits North Texas next week.