Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: If it’s bowl season, then go ahead and count Texas as a big winner

Posted January 1st, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Tom Herman, who has had his problems in the regular season and especially this one, kept his team fresh, using just eight practices since the final win over Texas Tech. Herman is flat out phenomenal with a 4-0 record in bowl games, including three consecutive victories at Texas, all of them as underdogs.
  • The Longhorns sure didn’t look like underdogs. In fact, they looked like a Top 10 team, the type of club that Longhorn Nation envisioned in August, an athletic, fast team on both sides of the ball with playmakers everywhere you looked. 
  • “They played their asses off,” Naivar said of the defense. “We loaded the box to stop the run, and the guys tackled well. You tackle well when you’re healthy.”

SAN ANTONIO — Texas finally figured it out.

Make ‘em all bowl games, real or imagined. All 12 of them before the Longhorns play, you know, the actual bowl games.

So their assignment is simple. Come up with some fancy names, starting with the first game on Sept. 5 against South Florida like the Cuisinart Lid-Lifter Bowl. Then move on to the Carrier Air Conditioning Bowl versus LSU in Baton Rouge. Return home for the Hard Hat UTEP Miners Bowl, then the Marvel Nemesis Kansas State Bowl, then promote the Rolex What Time Is It Bowl against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, and on down the line. 

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Something catchy for all 12 next regular season because Tom Herman’s got this bowl thing down pat. His explanation?

“I have really good players,” Herman said.

Boy, does he.

It appears obvious that the Longhorns are never more highly motivated or more focused than they are in post-season games. “Maybe we just need three weeks to prepare for every game,” one UT staffer cracked.

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) celebrates a first down against Utah during the Alamo Bowl win at the Alamodome on Tuesday. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

And Herman, who has had his problems in the regular season and especially this one, kept his team fresh, using just eight practices since the final win over Texas Tech. Herman is flat-out phenomenal with a 4-0 record in bowl games, including three consecutive wins at Texas — all of them as underdogs.

The Longhorns (8-5) sure didn’t look like underdogs. In fact, they looked like a top 10 team, the type of club that Longhorn Nation envisioned in August, an athletic, fast team on both sides of the ball with playmakers everywhere you looked. 

Heck, even D’Shawn Jamison had an electrifying, 71-yard punt return to set up Texas’ first touchdown and put in motion a thorough, 38-10 trouncing of an outstanding Utah club. It sure got Kyle Whittingham’s attention.

Texas head coach Tom Herman speaks with field judge Philli[p Davenport during Tuesday night’s 38-10 Alamo Bowl win over Utah. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)
“They might be the best 7-5 team, or now 8-5 team, in the country, talent-wise,” the Utah coach said of Texas.

He shouldn’t get any argument from the 60,147 that were on hand at the Alamodome.

Texas just throttled the Utes at every turn.

Without question, Texas looked like a much better team than 11th-ranked Utah from the outset, but also a complete team, which is encouraging for the future.

On both sides of the ball. Heck, who needs coordinators. Interim coordinators like defensive play-caller Craig Naivar did just fine in the role as did Herb Hand on offense.

Naivar did a superb job of channeling Texas’ for-once healthy athletes on defense, simplified schemes and moved linebacker Joseph Ossai to the edge where he belongs as an elite pass rusher for a team that had little pressure on quarterbacks all year.

“He is special, no doubt,” said strength coach Yancy McKnight.

The Longhorns played angry, with lots of emotion, and was the more physical team. Give Herman and the staff credit.

“They played their asses off,” Naivar said of the defense. “We loaded the box to stop the run, and the guys tackled well. You tackle well when you’re healthy.”

Texas Longhorns defensive back D’Shawn Jamison (5) run back to the red zone in the second quarter against Utah Utes during an NCAA college football game at the Valero Alamo Bowl at the Alamodome on Tuesday, December 31, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
The unranked Longhorns cleaned the clocks of an 11-win team team that spoke all week about being pumped to beat one of the biggest logos in college football. The Utes had won eight straight before getting blown out by Oregon in the Pac-12 title game, came in with up to eight players invited to the NFL combine and barely put up a fight. Well, that’s not entirely true.

Things got chippy in an intense evening when emotions threatened to boil over at any minute. But Texas knows a little something about frustrations and it took out its own against an overmatched, under-disciplined Utah team that didn’t show up. Something about playing depressed College Football Playoff teams that lose their conference championship games.

“This is great for Longhorn fans. They needed it,” an exuberant Texas President Gregory L. Fenves told me on the field. “It’s a great way to end the year. But this is the first game of next season.”

Maybe. Texas has been down that rabbit hole before.

It thought all was well and good after beating up Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl, too, so much so that Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger pronounced, well, you know.

An hour after Tuesday’s win, the senior-to-be again touted this roster and said, “Our talent can take us pretty far. When you add in mistake-free football, look out.”

Ehlinger pressed forward, then thought better of it and said, “I’m not going to do that again.”

“Smart move,” chimed Herman, who had to be the most relieved man in the building after watching Texas roll against the nation’s third-best defense and top rush defense with 438 yards, 231 of them on the ground against a unit allowing just 70 a week.

This was the team the third-year head coach had envisioned in August, but a secondary ravaged by injuries and the absence of elite receiver Collin Johnson for six games — combined with inconsistency on offense and poor tackling and pass coverage — spoiled what had the makings of a brilliant season.

The would-be team was on full display at the Alamodome. Ossai has to be Mr. Bowl Game. Just as he did in ripping apart Georgia for eight tackles last January, the sophomore linebacker played with a fury and ransacked Utah for nine stops, including six tackles for losses and three sacks after a regular season when linebacker Juwan Mitchell led the year with only three sacks. Ossai was everywhere.

“This will definitely be an energy-booster,” Ossai said.

The most difficult assignment Tuesday might have been narrowing MVP candidates. They were all over the field from Devin Duvernay, who capped a monster season with three sensational catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, to Johnson. Chris Adimora had several key stops, Malcolm Roach energized the defense and Caden Sterns reminded with his eight tackles how good he can be when healthy.

“The team just played a helluva game tonight,” athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “The kids galvanized around each other, and they just dominated.”

Not unlike last year’s Sugar Bowl. Now begins the countdown until the, well, the Cuisinart Lid-Lifter Bowl. Get your tickets now.

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