AUSTIN, Texas - Texas beating Rice looked quite different that anyone might have expected. Still, the No. 11 Longhorns will take a win that turned from a grinder into a rout.
Quinn Ewers passed for three touchdowns and ran for another as Texas overcame a sluggish start with an overwhelming third quarter and smothering defense to beat the Owls 37-10 on Saturday in the season opener for both teams.
"The majority of people who walked into that stadium thought the game was going to go a certain way," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. "The reality is we don’t often talk about how good we are defensively."
Texas forced three turnovers, only allowed Rice 172 total yards and didn’t give up a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
Ewers connected with Jonathan Brooks on a 37-yard TD in the first quarter and Bert Auburn kicked three first-half field goals for the Longhorns, the longest a 49-yarder.
Texas turned it into a blowout in the third. Ewers connected with Georgia transfer Adonai Mitchell for a 9-yard score that put Texas ahead 23-3. Another TD pass to J.T. Sanders and Ewers’ own short scamper to the end zone finished the Texas scoring.
"We didn’t start the way we wanted to," said Ewers, who passed for 260 yards. "We were able to re-settle and reset (at halftime). I’m super proud of the way we came out in the second half."
The Longhorns are in their final season in the Big 12 and are favorites to win their first league title since 2009 before moving to the Southeastern Conference.
Texas dominated Rice defensively, but struggled to find its rhythm throughout the first half behind an offense that returned 10 starters and added a talented transfer in Mitchell. Ewers was sacked twice in the first half and Texas was twice stopped on fourth-and-short.
But the Longhorns were able to wear down the Owls. Texas only let Rice cross midfield once in the first half and put Rice quarterback J.T. Daniels under relentless pressure the entire game.
"I was impressed that we could be a second-half team," Texas linebacker David Gbenda said. "We weren’t always like that last season."
Rice: The Owls showed some potential for conference play in the AAC. A defensive effort that often used only three down linemen held its own against the bigger Longhorns, pressured Ewers and kept Texas’ big-play firepower mostly in check in the first half.
"There are things to be proud of with that defense. There’s a lot to work with there," Rice coach Mike Bloomgren said. "Our ability to stop the run was something to be proud of."
Texas: The Longhorns won’t feel comfortable about this one despite the lopsided final score. Not with a road trip to No. 4 Alabama up next. Most concerning will be a veteran offensive line that is supposed to be a strength yet consistently struggled to move the Owls off the ball. Ewers, who kept the starting job over Maalik Murphy and Arch Manning, wasn’t sharp on deep throws, an area where he continues to struggle.
"We’re going to have to play better than we did today," Sarkisian said. "And I think we can."
Texas probably did little to effect its No. 11 ranking. The Longhorns took care of an opponent they were supposed to dominate, even if it took longer than expected to put the Owls away.
TEXAS RUNNING BACK
Freshman C.J. Baxter got the start for Texas as the replacement for Bijan Robinson, who is now in the NFL. He ran five times for 38 yards, but left the game in the first half after a 32-yard gain. Sarkisian said Baxter fell on the ball and would be examined for a possible rib injury. Jaydon Blue led Texas rushers with 55 yards.
Rice quarterback J.T. Daniels’ coast-to-coast college journey includes three losses at Texas, all with different schools. Rice is his fourth program after transferring from West Virginia.
Daniels was a freshman starter at Southern California when Texas beat the Trojans here in 2018, and also lost with Mountaineers last season. He also had a two-year stint at Georgia. He passed for 149 yards and a touchdown Saturday.
Rice hosts new Big 12 member and crosstown rival Houston next Saturday.
Texas plays at Alabama next Saturday in a return matchup of last season’s 20-19 Crimson Tide victory when Ewers was hurt in the first quarter.