AUSTIN, Texas – Texas spent the offseason loading up a new power running game that was going to get tough yards and first downs when they need it.
The Longhorns still have some work to do.
By the numbers, Texas was able to grind out 197 yards on 46 carries in a steady 34-17 season-opening win over Rice. Tre' Newton, who had lost the starting tailback job to Cody Johnson, punched in three touchdowns on runs of 1, 1 and 2 yards.
Those numbers don't show how a Rice team that went 2-10 last season stuffed Texas on four straight runs inside the Owls' 4-yard line on the first drive, or how they held Texas to 76 yards on 21 carries in the first half.
Another 3rd-and-2 in the third quarter produced only one yard when Texas was trying to get out from deep inside its own half of the field.
That new power rushing attack was pretty punchless at key times in the game.
"I do know that when you run the ball, most of your rushing yards are going to come late in the third and fourth quarter. That happened some tonight, but you have to be patient, even more than I am right now. I need to continue to work on my patience," Texas coach Mack Brown said.
Newton led Texas with 61 yards but averaged just 3.4 yards. Johnson, whose 5-foot-11, 250-pound frame had made him Texas' goal-line specialist the previous two seasons, carried the ball four straight times on the goal line on Texas' first drive but couldn't get in the end zone. On fourth down, Texas called a sweep right and Johnson lost four yards.
Johnson finished with 59 yards but didn't score. Fozzy Whittaker added 51 yards on nine carries.
"We got the win, so that is the most important goal," Newton said. "I don't know what kind of grade I would give us."
Brown said he'd wait to evaluate game film to decide who will start next weekend against Wyoming. The running backs were playing behind a line with three new starters.
"Sometimes you see a great run, and there was a huge hole. We'll want to see who made the yards when things aren't there," Brown said. "All three of them are experienced, and all three of them played well. But I feel like that is something that we'll have to see on film."
Texas fans have gotten used to watching the Longhorns light up the scoreboard after six seasons of Vince Young and Colt McCoy at quarterback. Saturday's grind-it-out attack limited the throws of new starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who went 14 of 24 for 172 yards but no touchdowns.
Unlike McCoy the last four seasons, Gilbert was rarely in the shotgun against the Owls. His longest completion was a 47-yard strike to Malcolm Williams down the middle in the third quarter.
"We did a good job running the ball for the most part, but we've got a long way to go before we're where we want to be as a team," Gilbert said.
Texas left a lot of points on the field.
Besides the goal-line stand by Rice in the first quarter, Texas defensive backs Chykie Brown and Aaron Williams both dropped potential interceptions that should have resulted in easy touchdowns, and new kicker Justin Tucker missed field goals of 44 and 54 yards. Tucker also made kicks of 51 and 26 yards.
"We better get a bunch better next week before Wyoming, or we are going to have trouble winning," Brown said.