Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Any Texas season-opening opponent would be preferred over you-know-who

Posted August 26th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • This is a Bulldogs team that has won 42 games the last five years and won all its bowl games the last five years, scoring 47 or more points in three of those post-season victories over Arkansas State, Navy and SMU. But at least it’s not Maryland.
  • Asked to explain those two inexcusable losses to the Terrapins, head coach Tom Herman on Monday said, “We didn’t play good enough.”
  • This Texas team had better be different -- and smarter and tougher and better-prepared than the last two out of the gate -- because this is a Louisiana Tech program that routinely schedules Power 5 opponents and more often than not has held its own.

The Longhorns could not be more excited about their season-opener Saturday. Why?

They’re not playing Maryland.

Sigh. The news doesn’t get any better than that.

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But don’t think for a second that Louisiana Tech is anyone’s cupcake. It won’t be, a three-touchdown line by Vegas notwithstanding.

Tom Herman was bragging about Bulldogs veteran quarterback J’Mar Smith and his 27 career starts and junior wide receiver Adrian Hardy, an Oklahoma signee who had 1,145 yards for Tech last year, and a strong defense. This is a team that has won 42 games the last five years and all its bowl games the last five years, scoring 47 or more points in three of those post-season victories over Arkansas State, Navy and SMU.

But at least it’s not Maryland.

Hopefully those 2017 and 2018 losses remain the exception rather than the rule, and season-openers aren’t Herman’s Achilles heel. But he’s kind of made a habit of knocking off the marquee opponents and slipping up against the wannabes. He did at Houston, and he’s kind of fallen into the same trap at Texas.

He can ill afford another slip-up like Maryland. Do it three times, and it’s a disturbing pattern.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) walks back into the locker room after losing against Maryland 34-29 in 2018 season opener at FedExField in Landover, Md. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Herman’s got a strong 11-6 record against Top 25 teams in his four-year head coaching career and is a respectable 5-6 against such elite competition at Texas. Louisiana Tech isn’t ranked and didn’t receive any votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Of course, Maryland has won just nine games over the last two years, with two of them over Texas and two over non-Power Five clubs. The Terrapins’ only other victories came over Towson, Minnesota twice, Illinois, Indiana, Bowling Green and Rutgers.

Herman has stubbed his toe in the opener the last two seasons against the underdog Terrapins with decidedly underwhelming play.

Asked to explain those two inexcusable losses, Herman on Monday said, “We didn’t play good enough.”

Yeah, uh, that was pretty obvious.

The 23rd-ranked Longhorns got their doors blown off by the Terps in 2017, falling 51-41 in a home game that wasn’t that close. They looked dreadful. It might have been mental confusion, no confidence and zero momentum, coming off three consecutive losing seasons.

Texas coach Tom Herman argues a call against Maryland at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., on Sept. 1 , 2018. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

The 23rd-ranked Longhorns trailed the Terps 24-7 in the first half in 2018 and couldn’t muster a point their last three offensive possessions in a five-point loss. They looked lost at the start, good in the middle and totally impotent in the fourth quarter. It might have been the inclement weather, overconfidence and poor coaching.

The first defeat stung and helped trigger a modest 7-6 season, a winning record made possible with a resounding bowl victory over Missouri. 

The second time around, Maryland unveiled an explosive offense and jet sweeps galore even though its head coach was suspended and Texas couldn’t sustain mid-game momentum during a bizarre, rain-delayed game. But the loss didn’t cripple the season or deter the Longhorns from a 10-4 year and Sugar Bowl win.

So in retrospect, has Herman noticed a common theme in the pair of stunning losses?

“Every year is different,” Herman said, not dwelling on any self-examination. “Every team is different in terms of their psyche.”

This team had better be different — and smarter and tougher and better-prepared than the last two out of the gate — because this is a Louisiana Tech program that routinely schedules Power Five opponents and more often than not has held its own.

Over the last five seasons, the Bulldogs have faced Oklahoma, Auburn, Kansas State, Arkansas, South Carolina, LSU and Mississippi State three times and have lost all of them. Eight of those nine games came on the road, but they fell to Kansas State in three overtimes, they lost to South Carolina and Arkansas by a point each and trailed LSU by a field goal in the fourth quarter last season.

Herman did delve into one rather strange area when he focused a discussion of his problems in season-openers on preparation time and framed it in a weird way. He mentioned that classes start on Wednesday — three days before Louisiana Tech — and the staff has to adjust because NCAA rules mandate a 20-hour week work once the semester begins.

He said he has spoken to colleagues like Dabo Swinney about the issue, and the Clemson coach told him he never holds a practice on the first day of classes, but added it’s never fallen on game week for the Tigers. To cope, Texas will practice at night this entire week at 6:30 to approximate Saturday’s game time against Louisiana Tech.

Something tells me the 20-hour work week won’t have much to do with determining the outcome of this game.

The memory of Maryland might.

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