In Tom Herman’s most somber Monday press conference yet, the Texas coach acknowledged this team is at a crossroads (though he also says every week is a crossroads) and fielded questions about where this season is going, what this team’s psyche is, whether this team is fractured and whether he’s losing the locker room.
He pushed back, pointing to the furious fourth-quarter comeback to force overtime against Oklahoma as a sign that the team, indeed, is still a team in ever sense of the word. “A team that’s fractured, a team that’s lost hope, they don’t play like that,” Herman said.
Herman backed that sentiment up several times, thanked the fans and stressed that yes, the Horns have issues but that they’re pretty much all fixable.
Among the top issues, from our seats:
The running game.
The pass rush.
The offensive line.
The special teams.
Not in any particular order.
Herman opened by reading a prepared statement about “The Eyes of Texas” — an issue that sprouted up this summer and has yet to really go away — saying that he has asked his team to stand with him and the coaches after games. On Saturday, it was pretty much just Sam Ehlinger standing out there.
Later, Cedric Golden asked him toward the end of the presser about The Eyes again, and the locker room.
Golden: “Tom, your guys did leave it on the field against Oklahoma, and we know that’s an all-time rivalry game, but from the outside looking in, we see division, we see Sam and a couple others singing “The Eyes” with some coaches while many others went to the locker room. Long-term, what’s your level of concern against a Baylor, against an Oklahoma State, against an Iowa State in the area of unity, especially now at what appears to be a crossroads with your team?”
Herman: “I think every week’s a crossroads. We were at a crossroads after TCU. We’re at a crossroads now. The level of unity is phenomenal. It’s great right now. You don’t see that kind of effort and tenacity and belief from an outfit that is not unified. They all have the same goal, which is to improve. I know it’s not quick enough, the magnitude of it isn’t great enough just yet. But I think anytime you’re a young man and you have an outcome that isn’t what you hoped for and it stings and it hurts really, really bad, but when you can watch the video and take away some tangible examples of improvement, it makes going to work to fix the areas that need to be fixed a lot more palatable. Our guys are hungry and ready to get back out there on the practice field to improve, and they know that there is so much of this season left to play. And so those names of other teams you rattled off are irrelevant. What we’re concerned about right now is Texas. And us getting that last little bit — the last little bit that happens to be the hardest little bit — cleaned up, polished up and at a level where we all feel comfortable about it.”
Injury updates: Cornerback Chris Brown suffered a sprained shoulder. Wide receiver Jake Smith aggravated his hamstring injury during pregame warmups and didn’t play. Safety Caden Sterns has turf toe and also missed the game. And running back Roschon Johnson has a sprained shoulder.
On that offensive line: Danny Davis asked how Herman would grade his offensive line so far this season — particularly on the right side of the line with Denzel Okafor and Christian Jones.
“I don’t know that it’s fair to grade overall. I think they played very much improved against TCU. Nobody up front played well against Oklahoma, so to single those two guys out I don’t think is fair at all. But was happy with the progress that we made against TCU. Definitely took a step back this past week against Oklahoma, but we’ve got two weeks to fix the fixables. And they’re fixable.”
On those penalties: Texas has 38 of ’em through four games, and Herman was asked about how hurtful they’ve been. Against OU, there were some costly ones — center Derek Kerstetter committed a potential four-point flag when his late hit penalty took away a goal-line situation and forced a field goal, and there was a Junior Angilau false start on a fourth-and-2 play.
He also said the coaches will try a new tactic to fix the flag: Players will start to be punished.
“They all need to be taken individually, and see why and how and what,” Herman said. “You mention Derek Kerstetter’s (penalty); Derek Kerstetter is a captain, and nobody’s more sick about the penalty than he is. As he’s done very many times, he had assumed that Sam was still up and driving the pile, and that he was coming in to push the pile much like he’s done for four years here. And we’ve got to be smarter in that instance and know that he is down and that is not a pile. And he knows that.
“I think they’re all different. Some come from an over-exhuberance of trying to do too much. Some come from a lack of attention to detail in your technique. They all need to be addressed singularly. We have. Guys that commit foolish penalties will be punished. I’ve never been in a program that we’ve done that before; some of the new coaches have been, and so moving forward we’ll punish foolish penalties. It’s the only thing left that we know how to do. We have educated. We have pleaded. Again, till we’re blue in the face. I cannot tell you the amount of attrition that some of these guys have. There is no malice. There’s no lack of care. These are penalties, like in Derek Kerstetter’s case, losing your wits for a split-second and it wound up costing us. So we’ve obviously got to play smarter and we’ve got to reign that in and trust our technique and trust our training.”
On that running game: Kirk Bohls asked Herman about the two different directions this offense seems to be going. The running game has been as bad as the passing game has been good. Herman said these next two weeks offer a chance to sort out the running game and make it right.
“I know this: Every great championship team that has been around, including the one in our league that’s won it the last five years, has had a very formidable running attack,” he said. “I’m not saying we’re gonna flip some kind of switch and all of a sudden show up against Baylor and be able to run the ball for 300 yards — that’s not what I’m saying. But I do know that in order to win championships, you’ve got to be able to run the football when you need to run the football.”
Texcetera: Herman threw a kudo out to slot receiver Jordan Whittington, who played for the first time since the season opener and led the Horns in receiving against OU. … He also pointed out Joseph Ossai, who’s leading the team in tackles and sacks and has had strong back-to-back games against TCU and OU. “Joseph Ossai plays his ever-livin’ you-know-what off for this university and this program.”
The Horns are off this week. Next game is Baylor at home on Oct. 24 (2:30 p.m., ESPN).
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