Writer: Lucas Garza
Texas is not back, folks.
Tom Herman has made believers out of the majority of the Texas fan base. After close calls against Southern California and Oklahoma, many Longhorn supporters thought their team would be able to take down #10 Oklahoma State, coached by Mike Gundy. The Longhorns forced another overtime game after a defensive battle in regulation. The Cowboys started off OT with the ball, and the Longhorn defense was able to hold them to a field goal. Texas was able to move inside the red zone on their OT possession after a pass interference call in the endzone. A touchdown would have won the game for Texas, but Freshman QB Sam Ehlinger threw an uncontested interception on 3rd down, which ended the game in a 13-10 Oklahoma State victory.
Sam Ehlinger has been treated as the savior of Texas football over the past month, but his passing ability has shown otherwise. His inability to connect with receivers when they’re on the move has made the offense stall multiple times during the season. With Kyle Porter injured and not running well, Chris Warren has been taking most of handoffs for the offense, but we have yet to see him breakout as he did against Texas Tech in 2015. Sam Ehlinger has become second on the team in total rush yards, and has taken multiple hits because of it. WR Armanti Foreman has been demoted and replaced by Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, and WR Collin Johnson has seen some of his playing time taken away by Jerrod Heard and Dorian Leonard. Both demotions were due to performance in practice.
The defense has improved tremendously since last season. Malik Jefferson leads the team in tackles, and is on pace to have over 100 on the season. DB DeShon Elliott has been named on seven Mid-Season All-American teams, and quarterbacks have been avoiding throwing to his side of the field. DB Holton Hill had a great game against Oklahoma State, making some big open field tackles and playing good coverage. Breckyn Hager, the former LB who changed to a DE once Coach Herman took over, has not seen as much playing time as he did last season. Hager played by far his best game of the season this weekend as he made three big hits on Heisman candidate QB Mason Rudolph.
As the defense is improving, the Longhorns have been able to stay competitive in every game they’ve played this season. They have blown a fourth quarter lead in each of their three games against ranked opponents. Tom Herman has now coached in three overtime games as the head coach at UT, while former head coach, Mack Brown, coached only one overtime game in his entire career, and it was his last season coaching (2013 in Morgantown, the best Texas football game this decade). Herman has a 1-2 record in OT games as the Longhorn Head Coach, with the lone win coming at home against Kansas State. In big fourth quarter situations, the defense has given up easy scores and the offense cannot move the ball. Texas had the opportunity to have a game winning drive on four different occasions on Saturday, but they failed to score late when it counted.
Tom Herman has said that he is disappointed in the support from the university’s student body. At the 11:00 a.m. kickoff on Saturday, both student sections were under half full, and did not fill up during the game. Many students in the student-athlete section left the exciting game during the third quarter. Although alumni and adult fans of the team seem to think the program is moving in the right directions, the students don’t seem to be interested at all in the product that Coach Herman has to offer. Herman said that he and everybody in the program needs to do a better job when it comes to connecting with the student body.
The Longhorns are dealing with a few injuries. Sam Ehlinger and Zach Shackelford went under concussion protocol after the game against Oklahoma State. The tone in Tom Herman’s voice during his press conference today indicated that he did not think that Ehlinger would be available for the game against Baylor this Saturday. That would make Shane Buechele the starting QB and would move WR Jerrod Heard to back-up. All-American OL Connor WIlliams is expected to return this season after the knee injury he suffered against SC, but it is not yet known when exactly. WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps left the game against Oklahoma State because of sprained knee, but he is expected to practice and play later this week.
At 3-4 (2-2), the Longhorns are no longer serious contenders to reach the Big 12 Championship in Arlington unless they win out and have help from other teams. Texas needs to win three of its remaining five games to become bowl eligible. The only gimme left on the schedule is Kansas (hopefully), and they still have dates with Baylor in Waco, West Virginia in Morgantown, and Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving. Baylor’s student body is oddly optimistic about their team, even though the have an 0-7 record. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has said forget it to his new system and implemented the offense that Baylor had last season, in order to try to have a successful second half of the season. Baylor could spoil Texas’ plans for a bowl game with their old offense being run by Freshman QB Charlie Brewer, and Texas could be without their Freshman QB Sam Ehlinger.