Everyone expected change. But not this much.
Mack Brown hired six new coaches for a reason. He wanted to shake things up and through half of the regular season, his wish has come true. The Longhorns were 4-2 this time last year as well but are much improved.
“We wanted to go undefeated at the start of the season but we understand we’re going to have some ups and downs,” running back Fozzy Whittaker said. “We’ve got two losses here but we’re still the same team that we were when came out at the beginning of the season.”
Texas has a new quarterback in David Ash, although the last one (Case McCoy) was new, too. At the midway mark this season, the Longhorns have a featured back in Malcolm Brown while Whittaker has had success in the kick return game and out of the “Wild” formation, one of the many new wrinkles co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin has introduced.
Under the direction of first-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, the defense has remained the strength of the team but has done it with many different players, especially in the secondary, where Carrington Byndom has shined recently.
The sophomore has stood out among the trio of young defensive backs that includes sophomore Adrian Phillips and freshman Quandre Diggs, holding last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner Justin Blackmon to 74 yards, the second-lowest total of his career.
“Fearless,” was how Diaz described Byndom. “He’s got a bright future. Sometimes we gave him help and sometimes we didn’t give him help. He really responded and I think he’ll have a lot of confidence going forward. We’ve played an all-star team of wide receivers the last two weeks but Carrington Byndom has really played well.”
Junior Garrett Gilbert took his last snap in the second quarter against BYU. The Longhorns used a two-quarterback system in the next three contests, with Ash’s role expanding after each one until he became the outright starter against Oklahoma State.
“He’s gotten better and better each week and needs an opportunity to go play,” Harsin said. “We still had a couple turnovers that we’ve got to get rid of. That continues to be part of the decision-making. The more opportunities he gets, the better he’s going to get.”
Despite returning their leading passer and rusher, the Longhorns first-team offense now includes true freshmen at both quarterback and running back. McCoy, especially against UCLA, and Whittaker have been impressive as well. Brown has met the towering expectations that go along with being a five-star running back prospect on the 40 Acres and is halfway to 1,000 rushing yards.
“1,000 yards would be really great,” Brown said. “Coming out with a Big 12 championship or a national championship would be even better. Wins are what I’m worried about.”
Ash and Brown aren’t the only freshmen flying around on offense. Jaxon Shipley is making it seem as if his older brother, Jordan, never left, catching a team-high 28 passes for 391 yards and three touchdowns in his first six career games. Dominic Espinosa has been the starting center from the first snap of the year and Josh Cochran may soon take over at left tackle.
As for the Texas defense, it’s struggled at times, especially against Oklahoma, but has been a relatively reliable unit. The Longhorns allowed just three touchdowns in the first 15 quarters of the season and, excluding two long touchdown runs, held the nation’s top scoring offense at Oklahoma State mostly in check.
“Our struggle defensively is going from good to great,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
“When you have a team like [Oklahoma State], they’re only going to give you so many chances and you have to capitalize.”
Texas hasn’t come across a win in either of its last two games but has found a shutdown cornerback in Byndom.
The good news is Texas has its two toughest games behind them. The bad news is those two games were both losses. Whatever happens in the second half of the regular season, the Longhorns won’t lose five of their last six games like they did last year.
Too much has changed for that to happen.
Printed on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 as: Fresh faces emerging everywhere