No. 24 Texas undergoing youth movement to rebuild
The kids are taking over at Texas.
The No. 24 Longhorns were ripe for a youth movement after a 5-7 season in 2010 left the program reeling and rebuilding after nine straight seasons of at least 10 wins.
Texas (1-0) has 12 freshmen and sophomores in the starting lineup. Eighteen true freshmen played in a 34-9 season-opening win over Rice, the most in coach Mack Brown's 14 years in Austin.
The Longhorns will be relying on that youth again Saturday night against BYU (1-0), a veteran team that proved its mettle with a tough, come-from-behind win last week at Mississippi.
After the 2010 meltdown, Brown warned his veterans that all positions were open. The youngsters met the challenge, shoving aside some of their older teammates to get on the field. Several had a big impact in the first game.
''We feel like it's a great recruiting class,'' Brown said. ''They're going to have to grow up fast and have to play very fast.''
Jaxon Shipley, the younger brother of Texas' career receptions leader Jordan Shipley, caught a third-quarter touchdown pass against the Owls that broke open a close game. The throw came from freshman wide receiver John Harris on a trick play.
Freshman running back Malcolm Brown, the all-star recruit out of the San Antonio area who is expected to pump some life into the Texas running game, didn't get a carry until the second half. He then pounded the Owls for 86 yards on 16 carries.
Freshman center Dominic Espinosa anchors an offensive line that has senior starters at left guard and left tackle and earned the team's Bevo Beast award given to the best lineman for his play against Rice. Espinosa's solid play since the start of camp has allowed David Snow, probably the most versatile Texas lineman, to move to guard to help protect quarterback Garrett Gilbert's blind side.
''He has to make a lot of calls in a complicated offense and he handled it all really well in the first game of his college career,'' Mack Brown said.
Brown hasn't always shown a willingness to use young but talented players in key roles. Longhorns fans still gnash their teeth over his decision in 2001 to keep freshman running back Cedric Benson on the bench for all but one play of a 14-3 loss to Oklahoma. Benson started the next week and had the first of four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.
Senior Fozzy Whittaker got the start over Malcolm Brown against Rice and did enough to keep his job with 41 yards rushing and 55 receiving and one touchdown. But the freshman is likely to start pushing for more game action early.
''We thought Fozzy needed to get us out of the gate,'' Mack Brown said. ''We felt like we needed to get settled, get us headed in the right direction, then get (Brown) in the second half. I thought he did well. He had good vision, good ball security and ran the ball well with some power.''
Shipley, who also returns punts, was expected to make an immediate impact as a playmaker and didn't disappoint.
In uniform, he looks like an exact replica of his older brother. With hands good enough to catch anything thrown his way, he's also shifty enough to wiggle through defenders and fast enough to leave them behind in the open field.
Shipley could have enrolled at Texas last January to participate in spring drills but instead took a few months off to spend time working out with his brother. When he finally reported to camp, Texas got a receiver with the polish of a seasoned veteran.
''He's come in beyond his years,'' said senior safety Blake Gideon, who has had to try to cover Shipley in practice. ''He hasn't been overwhelmed by anything and you can point to his brother.''
''And like his brother,'' Mack Brown said, ''he can run forever.''
Texas will match all that youth against a veteran BYU team hungry to get another big road win in the school's first season playing as an independent and one rumored to be a target of the Big 12. Brown is warning his team to expect a tough, physical game.
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall called last week's win one of the most gratifying of his career. The Cougars rallied from a 13-0 deficit on the road in the SEC and won't be intimidated by the crowd of 101,000 that will be waiting for them in Austin.
The Cougars defense held Ole Miss to 208 total yards and didn't surrender a touchdown. The defense won the game with a fumble return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
''We know we can battle until the end,'' BYU senior linebacker Jordan Pendleton said.