Culpepper’s Commentary: Rice Game

Former Longhorn standout Pat Culpepper comments on the Texas aerial attack, and just how big a loss Blaine Irby is to the offense, plus an improving defensive line but a still very worrisome secondary, where Blake Gideon “gets” the safety position while Earl Thomas does not.
Sitting next to me at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium Saturday night was Thomas M. Hatfield, PhD, Director and Senior Research Fellow in the UT Center for American History. He taught Military History at Texas for over 30 years.

Why was he there, in one of my two reserved seats? For one, my wife didn’t feel like coming – she was already getting ready for Arkansas – and otherwise, I tailgate with Louisiana Max, Mark, Rebel and a cast of thousands just outside Dr. Hatfield’s office in the LBJ Library, where he comes outside to join us occasionally.

Inside the stadium in my fourth row seats directly behind the Rice bench, Dr. Hatfield observed, “I haven’t been this close to the field since my undergraduate days.”

Being a history lover myself, our conversation pre-game was quite different from other Saturdays, but as the action started in front of us, the professor turned into just another college football fan (with a unique perspective).

As Colt McCoy worked the ball down the field with short, accurate passes, Dr. Hatfield remarked, “This resembles the calculated air strikes of World War II.”

A couple of plays later, I counted to myself, ‘One-and, two-and, three-and, four-and, five…” before Colt let the ball go on a perfect pass to Jordan Shipley racing down the middle of the field.

It was an example of the remarkable protection given Colt McCoy by the Texas offensive line and I was proud of myself when I said to Dr. Hatfield, “That’s high level bombing without anti-aircraft fire.”

Texas fans don’t generally stand up and yell when they can sit down and yell (except when they play Oklahoma), but when the Rice Owls reached the Longhorn goal line and would have what seemed like 10 minutes of time trying to score, I had to tell Dr. Hatfield, “Here’s where they need us; let’s stand up and help.”

The good professor was on his feet cheering along with the ‘great unwashed’ like myself. Texas stopped Rice’s bid on 11 tries inside the six-yard line. We did good!

With Fozzy Whittaker on the sideline with a bruised knee, running backs Vondrell McGee, Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson got an extended chance to prove themselves and of the three, Johnson – all 255 pounds of him – could be of big help in the coming weeks.

It looks to me like the Texas defensive line is improving. Roy Miller is a big-timer, as are Brian Orakpo and Lamarr Houston, but that is not enough for what is coming in October. I do like the enthusiasm of defensive ends Sam Acho and Eddie Jones, but the lack of defensive tackle depth could be a real problem.

There remain questions in the Longhorn secondary. Lack of height at cornerback allows taller receivers to have a real advantage but what has to get better is tackling after the catch. I was glad to see Chykie Brown go across-the-bow making a sure stop on an Owl receiver after missing another crucial one earlier which gave Rice excellent field position.

Earl Thomas at right safety needs to get with it by this weekend. For whatever reason, true freshman Blake Gideon gets what the safety position is about and Earl does not. Thomas is a liability that must be improved upon.

Taking away tight end Blaine Irby from the Texas offense is huge. Losing such a warrior will be of much concern to the Longhorn staff and his teammates. This position is in many ways more important than the running back spot because of the nature of the Longhorn offense. Think about it: if Texas has 3-4 yards to go, who has the better chance of getting a first down, the Texas running back (any of them) or Blaine Irby?

So now it’s the return of the Razorbacks, who put a physical whipping on Texas in 2003 the last time they came to Austin. It was one of Mack Brown’s lowest moments as coach at Texas. Regardless of what his smile says this week, one night this week, when he puts his head on the pillow, that nightmare will return. But Mack Brown is a much better coach now, and he has a long memory. There will be no “S.E.C.-S.E.C.” chants in Memorial Stadium this Saturday.

Pat Culpepper played for The University from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at