Texas can finally rest easy in second half

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It was a nice win for Texas on Saturday night, exacting revenge for last year’s loss to the Cyclones — pretty boring second half though.

And that’s a good thing.

Fans of this team have been treated to nail-biters and wrong-ended blowouts since the 2010 season. So I don’t think anybody’s complaining that the Longhorns finally got to rest their starters, play some backups and switch the dial to cruise control.

“If you would have asked me last week if we would have won this one 37-14, if I would have liked it, I would have said I would be really excited about it,” said head coach Mack Brown.

This isn’t to say it’s okay for Texas to lose the second half 3-14, just that it’s a nice luxury the team hasn’t been able to afford lately.

Last season saw the Longhorns fighting for their lives in the second half — coming up short in comeback attempts against UCLA, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas A&M. I left Oklahoma State and Kansas State out of there because, if we’re being honest, the Longhorns had no chance in those games.

With the exception of Jordan Hicks and Dominic Espinosa — who should be able to go for the Oklahoma game — Texas managed to get its starters cleanly off the field, as well as keep both quarterbacks alive and intact.

Even bigger was the opportunity to play members of the vaunted 2011 recruiting class. Josh Turner, Leroy Scott, Mykkele Thompson and Sheroid Evans made up an all-freshmen secondary by the fourth quarter. Scott got called for pass interference on a deep ball but, hey, it’s part of the learning curve.

Steve Edmond, that big bad beast of a linebacker, got some valuable action (while we’re at it, here’s a motion to play Edmond frequently throughout the game and not just in the final frame — he could be the best run-stopper on the team). So did Kendall Thompson and Tevin Jackson, who was technically a member of the equally vaunted 2010 recruiting class but was unable to play last year after he was flagged by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

“We had nine true freshmen out there most of the fourth quarter on defense,” Brown said. “They hung in there pretty good. They’re growing up.”

The Longhorns need these guys to get acclimated to the college game quickly, and not just for this year. The semi-dynasty that Brown fielded from 2003-09 was due in part to backups getting so much game action in Texas-sized blowouts that by the time it was their turn to actually start, they didn’t miss a beat.

“They’ve been to the Rose Bowl now and played in front of 60,000 here on national TV, so they’re veterans now,” Brown said.

That’s the good, here’s the bad: If Saturday night provided glimpses of talented defensive depth, it also showed that Texas is a couple of injuries away from being in big trouble on offense.

Jaxon Shipley and Malcolm Brown are no longer exciting freshmen — they’re now also the team’s best two skill players. If something was to happen to Brown — and he’s certainly taking some hard hits — the running game might revert back to its dismal form of 2010. We’ve learned by now Fozzy Whittaker is best served as a change-of-pace, take-the-direct-snap-and-run tailback. If the Longhorns were to lose Shipley, it’d be Mike Davis and a bunch of guys who haven’t proved much this season (paging: Darius White).

Not to say the rest of the young offensive members aren’t talented, but there has to be a reason Texas just scored three points in the second half.

“I didn’t think we ran the ball effectively,” said co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin. “We had a couple opportunities on third downs, we didn’t execute. And when you’re stopping yourself, if doesn’t look very good.”

At the same time, stopping yourself when the game’s already won seems a whole lot better than being stopped by another team. And that might be the difference — finally — between the Longhorns of a year ago and the ones we saw Saturday night.

Printed on Monday, October 3, 2011 as: Texas can finally breathe easy, rest in second half