So, it turns out Tom Herman during a regular-season game-week press conference is the same as Tom Herman during the week of the Big 12 championship game.
He wasn’t particularly up. Or down. He put it all in perspective. This game isn’t another Red River Showdown, he says he’s told his players.
“That one’s played in October. That one’s played in the Cotton Bowl. That one’s played for the Golden Hat. And that one is over,” Herman said. “Our motivation, I would hope, in playing the conference championship game, would be the same were it any other opponent.”
- Starting safety Brandon Jones (ankle) is “on track.” He’s meeting with doctors on Monday. “Everything is pointing to a return to play.”
That was the only injury Herman felt noteworthy to mention.
On to questions and answers:
On Sam Ehlinger’s shoulder: “Yeah, it was bothering him (against Kansas). It’s going to bother him this week too. But my confidence level in him — I think it’s going to bother him significantly less playing Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game than it bothered him against Kansas. We have that extra day, which is critical.”
On playing Oklahoma a second time: “Defensively you can see the differences. Not a ton, but a little bit less defense, making sure guys are lined up, guys are in the right gaps, guys are covering the right people. This offense is, what is it, like 10 yards a play? That’s literally set/hit/move the ball 10 yards, set/hit/move the ball 10 yards. I’ve never seen anything like it. And what a special player the quarterback is and what a special player he is and the numbers he has, (but) you’ve got to stop the run. The last five or six games, at least 290 yards rushing in each of those games, so we’ve got to stop the run and we obviously have to contain him, which means we’ve got to play well on the perimeter then, too, because he can really throw it. But no, they haven’t gotten better. They were doing all this stuff before they played us, too. It’s remarkable to watch them.”
On how Texas kept Kyler Murray bottled up the first time: “I think we did a good job of collapsing the pocket. I think we did not want him on read plays. We certainly did not want him carrying the football out there on the loose. And we were able to get the ball out of his hands quickly. … If you can get him to get the ball out fast, a lot of his big scrambles have come when you’re covering but you’re not getting good pressure on him and he’s sitting back there, sitting back there, sitting back there, nobody’s open, OK, go. When it’s pressure/get it out, obviously he doesn’t have time to then make those kind of decisions.
On whether it excites him or terrifies him that Texas may need to score 50 points to win: (Chuckle) “I haven’t given that much thought. I don’t know that it does either. Again, our offense is designed to score at least one more point htan our opponent, and whatever it takes to do that, we’ll be ready to do.”
On what the term “overachieving” means to him: “I think we’re winning with culture, we’re winning with toughness, we’re winning with physicality, we’re winning by playing smartly, by protecting the football. We’re fifth in the country in red zone defense. We’ve had 21 10-or-more play drives that have resulted in scores; that’s good for fifth in the country, so we’re controlling the football on offense to make up for some talent discrepancies. I’ve nominated a bunch of guys for first-team all-conference, but when you look at the conference as a whole — and this is only a 10-team conference — we’re playing for a conference title and how many true no-brainer, first-team all-conference guys do we have on our team. You’d like to think the two wideouts, but holy smokes, is it difficult to be the first-team wide receiver. Maybe Charles (Omenihu)? Our quarterback’s having an historic year, but is he gonna be first-team all-conference? Probably not. So I think that’s what I mean. You’ve got so much elite talent in this conference, and especially on our opponent’s team, that our guys are finding ways to win.
On his impressions of the Texas-West Virginia game, and if he’s comfortable being in a track meet on a fast track: “No, I’m not comfortable. But again, we’ll do whatever it takes. We showed that in October, we showed that against West Virginia here, that was a track meet, and Lubbock, Texas (was) the same. Our offense is capable of doing that. We’re always going to go into a game believing that we’re going to play really good defense. Are we gonna shut these guys out? No. It’s not gonna be a 9-3 ballgame, we all know that. But we do think we can do some things defensively that others haven’t been able to do, but if it does turn into a track meet as you say, then our offense is perfectly capable of winning the game that way.”
On whether there was a moment he saw where the light switch turned on: “A couple. Our winter conditioning coming back from the bowl game was phenomenal. We had no off-the-field issues,we had guys really wanting to better themselves and improve as athletes and as football players. And I think after we lost the first game. In previous years there would’ve been a lot of rats scurrying and OK, same ol’, same ol’. But this team really came together and I think believed in what it was capable of doing.”
On how Texas has changed since Oct. 6, and if he has indeed sought game-prep help from former Kansas coach David Beaty: “Yeah. I don’t know why that’s news. Whenever you play an opponent and you don’t play that opponent again, you have friends on that staff, you’re gonna call them and say, ‘Hey, what did you have on us?’ When we got done playing USC, we called the coaches at USC and said hey, what did you have on us? And here’s what we had on you. And you share that kind of information to help. It’s all self-scout stuff, like when so-and-so DB lines up in this stance, it’s man and when it’s in this stance, it’s zone. You get lost at times, you’re so focused on game-planning for your opponent that sometimes you lose sight of what your opponent is game-planning for you. So it’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes. It’s very common. It just so hapens that we were playing this week and they weren’t, and he’s a friend of mine and we weren’t going to play each other again.”
Herman said the meeting with Beaty never happened because of bad weather in Kansas City, but that there were extensive phone conversations.
“And how have we evolved as a team? I think we’re running the ball more consistently. I think we have learned that we can, if we need to throw it for 320 yards in a game and win, we can. And I think on defense, the biggest improvement theses past two weeks is being the physical, tough, hard-nosed defense that we’ve been around here for awhile that we might have strayed from for a couple of weeks.”
On why he personally has such a good record as an underdog: “I think we always see ourselves as underdogs. We’ve got a little chip on our shoulder. We have a saying: Train like you’re the underdog and play like you’re’ the champ. I think we relish in that distinction. We take a lot of pride in training like the underdog. But I don’t know if there’s something magical we do. My speeches aren’t any different when we’re an underdog vs. when we’re a favorite. I just think our guys enjoy being the underdog because that’s how we train every day.”
And, of course, he was asked about the news that broke Monday morning that Mack Brown is returning to coaching at North Carolina.
“He’s a mentor” Herman said. “I love coach Brown. He gave me an opportunity as a young, Division III, restricted earnings coach to come be a graduate assistant not having known who I was. He’s been extremely instrumental in terms of providing a great sounding board to me not just on head coaching things but on being the head coach at Texas and the challenges that that presents itself. If Coach chooses to get back into coaching, I think he’ll do a great job and whoever gets him will be lucky to have him.”
This will be the first time the two schools have played each other twice in the same season since 1903. The Longhorns and Sooners tied each other 6-6 in the first meeting, and Texas prevailed 11-5 in the rematch.
This year’s rematch kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday. Texas and Oklahoma have combined to play in 14 of the first 18 Big 12 championship games. The Sooners are 8-1 so far; the Longhorns are 3-2.
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