Though it entered last season widely considered to be among the elite teams in the country, Texas struggled in its season opener and failed to establish itself as a national championship contender.
In their first game of 2008, the Longhorns looked like they had found the edge they lacked last year.
After an overpowering performance in their opener, the 10th-ranked Longhorns look to maintain their newfound intensity when they visit Texas-El Paso on Saturday night.
Texas entered 2007 ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, but barely squeaked by Arkansas State 21-13 in the season opener - the first of several games in which the Longhorns looked vulnerable against second-rate opposition.
That reputation may have followed them into last Saturday’s matchup with Florida Atlantic. Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger drew the Longhorns’ ire by suggesting they weren’t tough in the days leading up to the game, and Texas responded with 503 total yards in a 52-10 rout.
“One of the points of interest was for us to start this year better than we did last year,” Brown said. “We just wanted to finish correctly tonight. … I thought we played a near-perfect opener.”
Though he was throwing to a largely inexperienced corps of receivers, Colt McCoy completed 24 of 29 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, and also ran for 103 yards and a TD.
“We know the talent that we have and I know we have a lot of young guys,” said McCoy, who tied for the Big 12 lead with 18 interceptions in 2007. “We were just focused on executing and just coming out and playing.”
The strong start has Texas players excited about fulfilling their potential and shedding the tag of underachievers.
“This team has a new mentality,” defensive tackle Roy Miller said.
That mentality is due in part to first-year defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, who was so upset over a blown coverage by his young secondary last week that he ripped off his headset and opened a cut on his cheek.
“I was like ‘Coach, your face is bleeding.’ The man is fiery,” defensive end Brian Orakpo said. “He acted like it wasn’t even there, that’s the funny thing.”
Texas lured Muschamp away from Auburn in the offseason with a contract worth $425,000 a year, making him one of the highest-paid assistants in the country. The Longhorns appeared to get their money’s worth last week, as they held Florida Atlantic to 53 yards of offense in a scoreless second half.
“As long as they play hard and as long as they play with effort, we’ll deal with the rest and that’s what they did,” Muschamp said. “They played with some passion and some energy. If we can do that, we’re going to have some success.”
As well as Muschamp’s defense performed, the effort was overshadowed somewhat by defensive tackle Lamarr Houston’s arrest on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge a few hours after the game. Houston has been suspended for Saturday’s contest.
That might not make much difference for UTEP, which gave up 484 yards Thursday in 42-17 season-open loss to Buffalo. The Miners turned the ball over three times and managed 67 rushing yards in the defeat, their seventh straight.
UTEP lost its first two meetings with Texas in 1930 and 1933, and is 7-26-1 against current Big 12 teams. The Miners are 3-43 with an eight-game losing streak against Top 25 opponents.