Head Coach Tom Herman run onto the field with his team against Kansas Jayhawks during the NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, November 11, 2017. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ future includes a possible bowl, but definitely some more work

Posted November 11th, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Tom Herman said he doesn't worry about the confidence level of his team or the perception of his team.
  • Texas has beaten just one team with a winning record, a 6-4 Iowa State team.
  • When Shane Buechele threw a touchdown pass on the first play of the game, he had a flashback to last year's Kansas game.

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I smell the Cactus Bowl.

Or is it the Liberty Bowl? Texas Bowl?

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Hard to tell because all those minor bowls look and taste and smell alike, but the 5-5 Texas football team inched ever closer to qualifying for its first bowl game in three years even though it’s beaten just one team with a winning record (6-4 Iowa State before it switched quarterbacks).

Not that Texas’ 42-27 win over Kansas, the lowest of the low, seemed like all that nice an appetizer Saturday night.

Tom Herman wasn’t buying it. He’ll settle for a win of any kind since it’d been a full month since there was a victory at Royal-Memorial Stadium, even one over the 1-and-whatever Jayhawks, who beat Southwest Missouri State in the season-opener. No, hold that. I think it was Southeast Missouri State. I know it was one of the Missouri States.

Texas Longhorns running back Toneil Carter (30) goes after the loose ball against Kansas Jayhawks safety Shaquille Richmond (4) and Kansas Jayhawks linebacker Osaze Ogbebor (31) during the NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, November 11, 2017. (RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

For the record, it’s 1-9 Kansas, a program so crippled that third-year head coach David Beaty is already in trouble and has only a 1-30 record against FBS teams. And folks in these parts are only too painfully aware where that 1 came from. Oh, and Kansas fans aren’t exactly counting on competitive games in the last two dates against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Charlie Weis may be starting to look good to the folks in Lawrence, and he only went 6-22 before getting canned.

Herman’s got his own problems, and perception is one of them. Texas just didn’t look very good. It did for a quarter, leading 28-7, but that didn’t last.

It has to bug the announced crowd of 96,557 at Royal-Memorial Stadium — they rounded up, way up — that their team was leading arguably the worst team in college football by 15 points late in the fourth quarter. Herman can mention the meaningless touchdown that Kansas scored with 11 seconds left, but Chris Warren III’s 1-yard scoring run with 5:02 left wasn’t all that meaningful either.

“It was our fault,” said Longhorns safety DeShon Elliott, who has played like an All-American this fall. “They’re a hard-nosed offense.”

But 27 points to last-place Kansas, which lost its last two road games by a combined score of 88-0?

“Oh yeah,” Elliott said, “that definitely makes me mad.”

Texas’ win might make Herman mad too, but he said he sees no issues in his team’s confidence or in Longhorn Nation’s confidence in him and his program. Never mind that the five teams the Longhorns have beaten so far have a collective ghastly record of 14-37. Two of them — Baylor and Kansas — have one win apiece.

Texas wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (84), top, celebrates his touchdown against Kansas with offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter (68), wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) and tight end Cade Brewer (80) in the first half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

This has been a work in progress, but also a work in regress. The defense has come light years from the Charlie Strong years and produced its sixth touchdown of the season with a heroic evening from Antwuan Davis, but the offense works sporadically if at all. The latter won’t be fixed this season. Nor will the kicking game, which has given Herman fits with eight misses in 15 field-goal tries.

So was he upset he didn’t get a more comfortable win over a 33-point underdog? Does he worry about the perception of his team?

“No, we’re … no, on both counts,” Herman said. “Our guys are confident. They know that that’s a team that’s playing really, really hard on the other side and especially defensively, they’ve got two guys that will get my vote for all-conference. There’s no lack of confidence. Winning for us right now is going to be hard, and that’s OK.”

And Herman didn’t even realize his team was a staggering 33-point favorite.

“That’s a lot,” he said with raised eyebrows.

And he has a lot to work on, but he knows it.

So what did anyone learn from the Longhorns’ fifth win of the season?

They’re better than Kansas. That’s something.

They’re 5-5 and need only a win over West Virginia (very iffy) or Texas Tech (sort of iffy) to clinch a post-season berth (still iffy).

Even without suspended cornerback Holton Hill, their defense can beat the tar out of a lot of offenses, but hit a lull against outmatched Kansas.

The offense can score. It put up 28 points in the first quarter Saturday. OK, Davis’ pick-six provided some of them, but Shane Buechele threw a 49-yard strike to Lorenzo Joe on a really sweet first play of the game, Toneil Carter ran one in from 23 yards and backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger flicked a nifty 8-yard pass to Cade Brewer for another score.

The next three quarters, not so much.

Texas sputtered and stumbled after that, posting 13 first downs and 236 yards following the first period. That the Longhorns scored on the first snap of the game exactly as they did in that meltdown in Lawrence in 2016, only to commit six turnovers in the overtime loss that cost Strong his job, wasn’t lost on Buechele.

“It took me to a flashback of last year,” Buechele said, “so I went back to the sideline and said we need to keep going.”

They still do.

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