BEVO BEAT Football

The Whys of Texas: Benching starters isn’t popular, but for Tom Herman, it’s the right thing to do

Posted October 31st, 2018

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Let’s dispense with the pleasantries and get right to the point.

Texas coach Tom Herman should be applauded for sticking to his guns and benching three starters for the early portion of Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State.

No, that’s not popular opinion, as you’ll see from the emails that poured in this week. And no, I don’t say that because I want to “stay in good with the coaches,” as a few of you suggested, because we “don’t have the guts to ask Herman the TRUTH!!” Personally, I liked that emailer’s use of capital letters and exclamation points.

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Rules are rules. If the coach tells a player to be back by 5 p.m. Sunday after the bye week, you should probably be back in Austin in a team meeting by 4:59 p.m. at the latest. Not 5:00 or 5:01 or 5:02.

What message does it send to those who do things right if Herman lets Kris Boyd, Davante Davis and Lil’Jordan Humphrey do whatever they want?

Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) walks on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Herman inherited a program that had three straight losing seasons. You either do it his way or you don’t. A bunch of underclassmen left after last season because they didn’t want to do it his way. OK, fine. They made a business decision. That’s well within their right.

Just know there are plenty of high school athletes ready and willing to take your place.

Does anyone really think Nick Saban tolerates players strolling in late? After a bye week? When you have the No. 1 team in the country? I doubt it. Herman shouldn’t tolerate it, either.

Does this make Boyd, Davis and Humphrey bad people. Of course not. Absolutely not.

Does this make Herman a bad person for forcing his players to live up to a certain standard. Of course not. Absolutely not.

“We love Kris Boyd and we love Davante Davis and we love LJ Humphrey, absolutely,” Herman said. “They made a minor mistake that, you know, has to be reinforced. Our culture needs to be reinforced on a daily basis, so that moving forward, especially our young guys know that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what your name is.”

So set aside what happened in the OSU game for a moment. We’ll get to that. A coach sets the rules, players must follow them. Full stop.

On to this week’s mailbag…

Q. I know Coach Herman doesn’t believe in momentum but will you ask him if he believes in coincidence? Was it a coincidence that the UT defense gave up 260 yards of offense to OSU while Boyd and Davis were benched for violating team rules? Unfortunately, that decision punished the entire team and fan base and not just the two players. 

Back in my days playing football, individuals were punished with wind sprints, running the bleachers, form tackle practice or something similar. The way the defense played early, the decision obviously affected the entire defense. Maybe Coach Herman should have taken their phones away for a day, that seems to be a punishment today’s college kids might really hate!

— Keith H. in New Braunfels via email

I’m fully convinced taking away playing time is the only way to get through to athletes these days. Take away their phone? OK, maybe that, too. But take away playing time? Look out!

Herman said he and the staff decided on Friday night that Boyd and Davis, the two starting corners, would miss the first quarter. Humphrey would miss the opening drive, Herman said.

I’m betting the coaches felt Kobe Boyce and Anthony Cook were good enough to mind the store for one quarter against Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius, who hadn’t blown anyone’s doors off. UT coaches probably thought they could muddle through and be just fine.

They didn’t count on OSU coach Mike Gundy, who saw his team’s season about to fall into the abyss, coming up with an aggressive game plan. Gundy and Cornelius clearly targeted UT’s inexperienced substitutes. But it wasn’t like anyone else did all that well, either. There was little pressure on the quarterback, and Justice Hill ran like a rocket through UT’s run defense.

Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius celebrates a 38-35 win over Texas in Stillwater, Okla., on Oct. 27, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Q: Brian, can you lead the pack and ask the hard questions for the coach that the fans want to hear? Lead off with this: With two senior DBs on the bench in the first quarter why in the world would you defer and go on defense? With other teams scoring first in the last six games, revisit the definition of insanity. You guys set aside the softball questions today.

— Dave S. from Plano via email

Now this is something you can get on Herman about. The Horns always defer. Saturday night, on the road, that might’ve been a good chance to take the ball and try and negate the crowd. But again, I’m betting the UT coaches thought Boyce and Cook would be OK. Still, I definitely would’ve tried to get Keaontay Ingram going early or get Ehlinger going with some passes and try to eat up some clock. I’d want to minimize the time without two starting corners as much as possible. OSU scored on its first drive. That’s the third straight game an opponent has scored a touchdown on its opening drive. It’s the sixth time in eight games the opponent has collected points right out of the gate.

Q. Coach Tom Herman needs to tell all of us that his job is to win football games and not hold out key players for the Oklahoma State game. I bet Saban/Riley or any of the other top coaches would not have done this. If we do not get prepared for West Virginia their long passes will blow out Texas.

— Curtis via email

It’s impossible to know exactly what another coach would do. Here’s what I do know about West Virginia. The Mountaineers have three receivers averaging more than 14 yards per catch. David Sills V, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings Jr. will give Texas fits on Saturday. It’s going to take more than one or two corners to cover them all.

Q. Texas should use the TE #47 more than they have. It would prove to be a success. Also, it would force the LB to cover, which would be a mismatch or open the run for the RB’s or, force a smaller DB to defend which is a mismatch and free up a wide receiver! The offensive play selection is dismal regardless who is designing it.

— Jack S. via email

Texas tight end Andrew Beck (47) secures a catch in front of Oklahoma State safety Jarrick Bernard (24) during an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Senior tight end Andrew Beck is having a career year, something I personally like to remind him about from time to time. When he’s asked a question, I like to interject, “Career year.” He’s got 18 receptions for 183 yards and a touchdown so far. That blows away anything he’s done in the past. Yes, Beck should be used in the passing game. He’s a legitimate threat in open space. He’s clutch, too, as evidenced by some late-game catches this season.

Q. My biggest disappointment so far this season is our offensive line. Not tough enough in the run game or a critical points in the game. This staff appears to trust trick plays, and gambling instead of establishing the line of scrimmage. Please ask Coach Herman if he believes in establishing the line of scrimmage? I expected a lot more with Herb Hand coming on board. Hook ’em.

— Robert G. via email

I thought Herman’s comments Monday about the offensive line was as painfully truthful as it gets. “How would I grade the O-line? I would say above average, which is considering where we came from with last season’s group, I think is a drastic improvement.”

Yes, it is. No doubt this season is an improvement.

“As I’ve said a couple of times before, we’re doing a much better job of putting — getting in front of people, which is the first step of good O-line play is you’ve got to at least get in front of them,” Herman added, “and now we’ve got to do a better job here these last few games of starting moving people and it’s hard.”

Last season, Texas averaged 139.6 rushing yards per game. This season, that number is up to 154. The Longhorns allowed 34 sacks last season, the second-worst total in the Big 12. This year, they are on pace to allow 18 in a 12-game regular season. I’d call that drastic improvement.

First-year offensive line coach Herb Hand has definitely improved this group. But you are right, Robert, the offensive line can get better.

Q: Botched officiating? I assume you are referencing the defensive pass interference call on the Longhorns’ first drive?

— Keith F. in Stillwater, Okla., via email

I referenced botched officiating in my Sunday game story. I’m not sure about a defensive pass interference call early in the game. But if any Oklahoma State fan wants to email me about the scrambling around on that fake punt that drew UT’s Ta’Quon Graham offside, I’ll gladly hit the delete button.

NCAA Rule 7, section 1, article 2 states a false start penalty is incurred when there’s movement by one or more players to simulate the start of a play. Or, when a restricted lineman (those covered up on the line of scrimmage) move his hand(s) or makes any quick movement. Or, when an offensive player makes any quick, jerky movement before the snap.

If you’re going to tell me the offensive guards shifted legally on fourth-and-1 at midfield on the fake punt, well, we will agree to disagree. That penalty gave OSU new life late in the first half, and the Cowboys finished the drive with a touchdown to take a 31-14 lead.

I’m not debating the Horns should’ve stopped the Cowboys on the rest of the drive. That’s on Texas’ defense. Kudos to OSU. But that one particular play, that was a false start and should’ve backed OSU up five yards. In that case, Mike Gundy probably punts.

Texas safety Brandon Jones (19) downs a punt on the 3-yard line during the fourth quarter against Baylor at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Q. Brandon Jones fielding that punt was a killer, but it wasn’t an isolated incident. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the Horns lead the free world in punts fielded inside the 10 over the past season-and-a-half — including a bunch of frustrating fair catches! Why in the world would you do that? Herman said Saturday night that they tell the returners that the 10-yard line is the edge of a cliff. If so, we’ve got a roster full of cliff divers! 

— Nathan S. from Abilene via email

Jones screwed up. He knows it. “Honestly, I didn’t realize we were in punt safe,” Jones said after the game. “We were down. I just wanted to try to make a play for my team. It was obviously a bad read. I didn’t expect the ball to go that far over my head.”

If you know Brandon Jones and saw him afterward, you’d be crushed, too. I tweeted about this in postgame and will say it again here. I have incredible respect for Jones to come to postgame and face reporters about that mistake. Things like that separate the pros from the joes.

Obviously, the moment Jones turned his hips while tracking the flight of the ball, he should’ve let it go. That punt most likely would’ve gone into the end zone for a touchback. Instead, he caught it over his shoulder at the Texas 9, and Jones’ momentum carried him the wrong way. To avoid tacklers, he went backward seven yards and nearly got pinned in for a safety.

Instead, Texas took over at the 2. The offense went three-and-out, OSU got a short field and scored a touchdown to go up 38-28. Lesson learned.

Q. UT either spent the past week drinking Austin’s tap water, or more likely, drinking the ‘Kool-Aid’ saying how good they are, especially on defense. OSU obviously spent their bye week in serious work. I think we all knew deep down that UT’s lofty No. 6 national ranking was a little premature and not really deserved as yet.

— Newt H. via email

I’ll give the Horns credit for one thing. They didn’t really talk much about the top-10 ranking or getting up to No. 6. In fact, the only people talking about it were reporters and fans. The players really didn’t. So I don’t think they spent too much time reading their press clippings, the death knell for some UT teams in the past few years. I credit the Cowboys for coming out pistols firing. Their season was on the brink, and they played like their backs were against the wall.

Q: I haven’t chimed in much recently as the Horns have been on a winning streak, though their play in some cases was not stellar. Please ask Coach Herman during the press conference: 1) Who has the QB on the read option? I can see missing that assignment once but at least 3 times? And if we stop him, the game likely has a different outcome? Frustrating for sure. Thanks

— Terry B. via email

The zone read, at its core, is an option play based on watching the movements of one defensive player, usually the defensive end. The quarterback “reads” the defensive end and can give the football to the running back going straight up field, if the end is staying back in his position. Or, the quarterback will keep the ball himself if the defensive end crashes down the line of scrimmage to plug up the running lane. In theory, the quarterback get around the defensive end and run into open space. There are all sorts of variations, obviously. If your team isn’t good at stopping the zone read, you may not have great defensive ends. It’s a tricky play to defend, that’s for sure. The best defensive ends can stay home and be quick enough to keep outside containment if the quarterback tries to get out wide. The hope is you keep the runner contained while you wait for the cavalry.

Q. Why isn’t James Street in the UT Ring of Honor? Love Colt McCoy but Street won a national championship and he went undefeated.

— Jim S. via email

You know, I don’t know. Street was inducted into the UT Men’s Hall of Honor in 1982. But I think you’re talking about getting Street’s name on the stadium. Those names now appear on signage under the press box on the west side. They were on the stadium façade but got moved when the new advertising ribbon was installed. If I was UT, I wouldn’t be adding too many names to that stadium ring. Way too many qualify. I would expect Street and those from the 1969 national title team to get a big display in the newly-created Hall of Honor that will be constructed in the stadium’s north end zone beginning after this season.

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Email Brian Davis at bdavis@statesman.com.

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