AUSTIN -- Texas football coach Mack Brown predicted there would be growing pains involved with Saturday's formal unveiling of his team's off-season transformation.
And he was right. Progress comes in incremental doses when you're rebuilding from a 5-7 season.
Brown should be thankful that Rice, rather than Brigham Young -- next week's opponent -- showed up in Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on a night when the Longhorns found a way to squeeze out a 34-9 victory.
But this was hardly a laugher, despite the final margin. Texas led only 13-9 with 5:32 remaining in the third quarter before the Longhorns turned the momentum with the team's first touchdown pass of the 2011 season.
For the legions of fans who could not watch the Longhorn Network telecast because their local distributor did not carry Saturday's game, the first scoring toss did not belong to a quarterback. Instead, it came from receiver John Harris, a redshirt freshman, who found fellow freshman Jaxon Shipley in the end zone for a 36-yard strike.
It marked one of many exotic play calls by Bryan Harsin, Texas' new co-offensive coordinator who promises to add plenty of spice to this year's offensive menu after Texas fans endured a bland diet in 2010. Once the players fully grasp the nuances of the new attack, the Longhorns (1-0) may again start hanging 40-plus points on defensively challenged teams like Rice (0-1) -- if quarterback Garrett Gilbert stops overthrowing open receivers.
That happened on a pair of would-be touchdown possibilities Saturday. But Gilbert, who led the Big 12 in interceptions last season (17), at least eliminated that statistic from his passing line against the Owls during a 239-yard effort (13 of 23).
Like the rest of his teammates, Gilbert's effort drew mostly upbeat reviews from coaches. But something short of raves.
"This team has got a long way to go," Brown said.
That includes the offense, despite 506 yards (229 rushing, 277 passing).
"Consistency across the board is the main thing we've got to focus on offensively," Harsin said. "We made some plays. But we've got to make them more consistently."
That carries over to the defense, where Texas did not allow a touchdown and limited the Owls to 224 yards. But the pressure-based unit did not record a sack and the starting defense did not force a turnover -- two areas of concern to defensive coordinator Manny Diaz. But the bottom line, said linebacker Keenan Robinson, looked good to players who lost five of their last six games last season.
"It wasn't a dominating win, but we're just looking for a win," he said. "And we got one."
Gilbert yielded the field on occasion to freshman David Ash, who contributed in selected packages, before Case McCoy -- the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart -- took over for the final four minutes of the fourth quarter.
Texas lined up frequently in the wildcat formation, a set that produced Fozzy Whittaker's 7-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Shipley also took a snap as a wildcat quarterback on a first-quarter play that resulted in D.J. Monroe's 6-yard run on a reverse.
Freshman tailback Malcolm Brown (16 carries, 86 yards) led the team in rushing but lost a fourth-quarter fumble.
Gilbert, who played a turnover-free game, said that he, and the team, have plenty of areas in which they must improve to beat better teams. Starting next week against BYU.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760