AUSTIN, Texas - Perhaps the most positive aspect of the Texas motto for this season is that evokes constant improvement.
RISE - Relentless, Intensity, Sacrifice (that leads to Swagger) and Emotion - doesn't infer instant gratification or a final destination. You can rise on a continuing basis. The Longhorns opened their 2012 season with a result that leaves plenty of meat on the bone.
"Opening games are hard, they scare you to death," UT coach Mack Brown said. "I feel good. I wanted to get mad about some things."
Brown felt good that his team defeated a solid Wyoming team, 37-17, Saturday night. The Longhorns didn't accomplish all they wanted but they played well enough to win and made the plays needed to be made at the right times.
The Cowboys took a 3-0 lead and Texas responded with an efficient drive to make it 7-3. Wyoming then quieted the crowd of 101,142 with an 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown from quarterback Brett Smith to wide receiver Robert Herron for a 9-7 lead (the extra point was blocked).
The game turned on three plays by senior safety Kenny Vaccaro. Smith and the Cowboys got greedy and threw deep after UT had missed a field goal. Vaccaro vectored himself to the pass for an interception. Texas turned that into a positive when sophomore David Ash hit a diving Jaxon Shipley for a 16-yard touchdown pass and a 14-9 lead.
On the Cowboys' next possession, Vaccaro made a teeth-rattling tackle on the first play and then blitzed and forced Smith to throw a floater that Carrington Byndom picked off. D. J. Monroe finished a 7-yard jet sweep touchdown run by breaking a tackle at the 1-yard line and backing into the end zone.
"We need to get our head out of the magazines and start strong," said Vaccaro, one of two senior starters on defense. "The main focus we wanted was to start off strong and we didn't do that. Turnovers gave us a lot of momentum and kinda kick started things."
The turnovers were important but as Brown pointed out, the Longhorns' offense capitalized on the mistakes with drives that produced touchdowns.
"Turnovers and them capitalizing on them is going to suck the air out of you anytime," Wyoming coach Dave Christenson said.
The Cowboys averted a blowout. Trailing 31-9 going into the final quarter, Wyoming converted a late-hit call against Texas on a third-down incompletion into a touchdown and two-point conversion to make it 31-17. When Ash fumbled a snap and the Cowboys recovered, a one-score game with most of the fourth quarter to play was looming.
Texas, though, stuffed Smith on a fourth-down carry. Joe Bergeron then rambled 54 yards to set up the Longhorns' final touchdown – Bergeron's 17-yard TD run - and the final margin.
The fumble was Ash's only mistake. The sophomore who prevailed in a publicized quarterback battle with Case McCoy, finished 20-of-27 for 156 yards.
"Dave did a nice job, he did everything we asked of him," Texas offensive coordinator Brian Harsin said. "Not having turnovers is so important. The bobbled snap in the fourth quarter, we've got to get rid of that."
Bergeron finished with 110 yards rushing and fellow sophomore Malcolm Brown had 105. Texas wants to play smash-mouth football and producing two 100-yard rushers in the first game is a step in that direction.
While Ash managed the game well, other than the TD pass to Shipley the passing game didn't produce the kind of explosive plays Brown wants. The Longhorns had pass completions of 16, 15 (twice), 12 and 11 yards (Wyoming also committed a pass interference penalty on a deep throw.
"We need to hit some of those deep passes, we had a couple of deep balls that were just missed," Brown said. "I've seen us complete them in practice. We've got to make that transition to the game."
The Longhorns will play host to New Mexico, a 66-21 winner over Southern in the debut of new coach Bob Davie. Texas can continue the rise it wants to see this season if it improves on the opener's negatives and maintains the positives.
"We needed to get the rust off and get rid of the jitters," senior defensive end Alex Okafor said. "I think we managed to do that."