AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Charlie Strong posed for pictures with his family, sang “The Eyes of Texas” and walked off the field to fans chanting his name. On the way to the locker room, school President Bill Powers stopped him for a handshake and a big hug.
Yes, it was quite a debut for the new coach of the Texas Longhorns. One win down and who knows how many to go?
David Ash passed for one touchdown and ran for another and Texas started the Strong era with an overpowering 38-7 win over North Texas in the season-opener for both teams on Saturday night.
Malcolm Brown ran for two touchdowns and Texas held North Texas to 94 total yards.
“You like to get the first one in and get it out of the way,” Strong said. “Nine months ago I thought I walked in and saw a team that had no identity … a team that just really didn’t care about nothing … and had no pride. I told them they’d work harder than they ever worked before. They answered the challenge.”
Strong replaced Mack Brown, the coach who led Texas for 16 seasons and guided the Longhorns to the 2005 season national championship. Brown was pushed out after four sub-par seasons that failed to produce any Big 12 titles.
Strong promised to put a tougher, more rugged team on the field. Texas delivered with a dominating defensive performance that produced three first half interceptions. North Texas’ only touchdown came on a fumble recovery by cornerback James Jones in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
“It was great team defense,” Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said. “Guys are taking it more seriously. More guys want to win.”
Ash also proved durable, taking several hard hits after missing most of last season with concussion symptoms. His favorite target was John Harris, whose seven receptions topped his 2013 season total of five. Harris finished with 110 yards and a touchdown.
Texas hasn’t reached double-digit victories since 2009 and getting the first was a big step for Strong, who pledged he would end what he called a sense of entitlement in the program.
The offseason was filled with get-tough disciplinary messages for the players, ranging from suspensions and outright dismissals to smaller things like making players walk to practice instead of riding a bus and making them wear matching blazers and ties to the game.
The result was an impressive debut.
Offensively, Texas wasn’t flashy, spending much of the game trying to grind out yards behind Brown and Johnathan Gray, who combined for 147 yards rushing. Defensively, the Longhorns were dominant.
Defensively, Texas’ front four mauled a veteran North Texas offensive line all night. Mean Green quarterback Josh Greer got his first career start but rarely had time to throw and threw two interceptions in his first seven attempts.
Greer and backup Andrew McNulty were just 3 of 17 passing for 15 yards and four interceptions and four sacks. Demarco Cobbs returned a late interception 28 yards for Texas’ final touchdown.
“We really struggled tonight,” Greer said. “We knew they were going to blitz us, but we didn’t know they were going to blitz us like they did.”
Almost as important as the victory for Texas was knowing Ash could take some punishment and keep playing.
Ash had promised he’d be able to take a hit and that was tested with two big ones early. The first came when he dropped the ball and was bent over when a defender crashed into his head. Two plays later, Ash was sent flying again when he was popped on the sideline.
But Ash later scrambled to complete a 27-yard pass to Harris that set up Brown’s 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 Texas lead. Ash’s helmet hit the turf again when he was sacked in the second quarter, but he shook off that hit to pass 28 yards to Harris to set up Brown’s second touchdown.
Ash made it 21-0 at halftime when he scored on a 1-yard run off a 4th down bootleg. Even on that play, Ash took another hit when his facemask hit the ground.
“Ash took some hits, but he got up like a good soldier and moved forward,” Gray said.
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