AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Charlie Strong is in the middle of a complete rebuild at Texas. Laying the foundation is a handful of freshmen starters who so far are making the biggest plays for the Longhorns.
Quarterback Jerrod Heard, linebacker Malik Jefferson and wide receiver John Burt emerged as the top playmakers in the first two games. Throw in four more freshmen starters when Texas (1-1) plays California (2-0) Saturday night, and it's clear Strong has decided youth will carry the Longhorns in 2015.
''I think they felt like when they came in they were going to re-energize the team and take us back to where we need to be. A lot of the older guys have fed off that,'' junior safety Dylan Haines said.
Heard redshirted last season and finally got his first start last week against Rice. He delivered an ultra-efficient performance with 96 yards rushing and 4-of-7 passing with two touchdowns, including a 69-yard strike to Burt. Heard said getting the start made him finally feel part of the team.
''You are sitting on the sideline thinking, man, I can't wait to get out there and play with my boys,'' Heard said.
California coach Sonny Dykes took notice of a Texas offense that had new life with Heard and new play caller Jay Norvell.
''He's certainly a dynamic playmaker ... He made a couple of big-time throws,'' Dykes said. ''You mix in a quarterback that's very fast, very elusive and you got yourself a good offense.''
Jefferson is the top playmaker on the Texas defense, even if his inexperience has led to overaggressiveness. So far, he's everything Texas expected. Jefferson was the freshman class's most highly-touted recruit and he enrolled in January in order to join spring drills. He has 18 tackles in two games, four behind the line of scrimmage.
The freshmen can make the Texas resurgence happen quickly, Jefferson said.
''It is coming fast. We know it is. But we have to get in our heads that it starts today,'' he said. ''We can't wait until it's too late.''
Some things to watch for when California plays Texas:
THE QUARTERBACKS: Heard freshman has to deliver another big game because Cal's offense is humming behind Jared Goff. Special teams set up two Texas touchdowns last week and the Longhorns had only 38 offensive plays. Goff, perhaps the top quarterback in the 2016 NFL draft, already has six touchdown passes.
GETTING PRESSURE: Texas needs to pressure Goff and not give him time to pick apart the secondary. The Texas defensive line has struggled badly through two games. If Texas is forced to blitz to pressure, Goff's ability to spot and connect with receivers will be key for Cal.
GRAY MIA: Texas running back Johnathan Gray has mostly been a no-show. The Longhorns' leading returning rusher from 2014 has 17 carries for 57 yards and averaged just 1.9 yards against Rice.
SPREADING IT AROUND: Goff keeps the ball on the move. Six Cal receivers have at least four catches already and five have touchdowns. The Bears are averaging 560 yards per game.
PLAY-CALLING: Norvell's debut as Texas play caller last week was a success, but the offense was hardly on the field and the Longhorns never trailed. If Texas gets into a shootout, or falls behind, Norvell's instincts and strategy will be challenged.