Texas defensive back Kris Boyd (2) celebrates a stop with defensive back P.J. Locke III (11) during an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Brian Davis

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Eyes on Texas: Forget Saturdays. Texas’ physical nature is hardened on ‘Toughness Tuesdays’

Tom Herman schedules a rugged practice every Tuesday full of hitting so Longhorns are mentally ready by Saturday

Posted October 11th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • On Tuesdays, “It’s a lot of flying around and hitting.”
  • Longhorns now have the third-best defense in the Big 12, as judged on points allowed.
  • Does Texas close out five straight wins without a renewed sense of toughness?

In 2016, ESPN’s Ivan Maisel, one of the best ever allowed inside the paragraph plant, took an investigative trip to the Bayou City. Just how did Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars so physically dominate No. 3 Oklahoma?

The end result was a dissertation about the importance of toughness. “It’s like beating your head against a wall for two-and-a-half hours,” one Houston linebacker said of practice. Coaches proudly showed off a wall plaque displaying a disfigured facemask.

Perhaps sensing the hullabaloo may not sit well with mommas, Herman said, “I hope you’re not going to make me out to be this meatgrinder that doesn’t care about kids’ safety.”

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At Houston, the first day of the work week was called “Bloody Tuesday.”

“I’m not a butcher,” Herman told Maisel. “I don’t want you to make me out to be some heathen butcher.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman waits with his players to take the field before an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Herman changed the label upon his arrival at Texas. Now it’s called “Toughness Tuesday,” but make no mistake, it’s still two-plus hours of hell. The best part? These players love it, and it’s the key reason why the Longhorns have bullied their way into the top 10.

“It’s a lot of flying around and hitting,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “Toughness Tuesday is way harder than the game. Way harder. It’s something you’ve got to get your mind right for. That Monday, you really know you have to get your body back right because the next day, it’s about to be war. Each and every play.”

Safety Brandon Jones was a tad more specific. “Full pads, we’re hitting each other, ones are hitting the ones, twos are hitting the twos, everybody is just hitting each other.”

For the social set, a primer in football preparation is needed here. Texas is no different than any other college football factory. Mondays are off days. Tuesday through Friday are practice days, with each day getting gradually easier. Saturdays are game day, and Sundays are days for film breakdown and the whirlpool. Repeat for 12 weeks, 14 or 15 of them for best results.

So that means the Longhorns’ toughest work days come on Tuesdays, not Saturdays. Nosy reporters aren’t allowed to watch the former; we all get to see the latter.

Just the fact that players go full pads during the week is noticeable. In this era of heightened concussion awareness, all UT offensive and defensive linemen and linebackers wear extra padding on top of their helmets in practice.

“Every day’s a full go, full speed,” receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey said of Tuesdays. “But we don’t go to the ground.”

Graybeards would approve of that “Bloody” moniker, and the current results are just fine, too. These ninth-ranked Longhorns (5-1, 3-0 Big 12) are developing quite a reputation for their slobber-knocking ways.

Even Mike Stoops agreed. In a post-game assessment last Saturday that will far outlive the person who said it, the now-former Oklahoma defensive coordinator said, “I thought they played more physical than we did today.”

Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) and defensive lineman Breckyn Hager (44) tackle USC tight end Tyler Petite (82) during an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This season, Texas held USC to minus-5 rushing yards, then dominated TCU to the point that coach Gary Patterson punted it away at closing time. One offensive touchdown was good enough to beat Kansas State, which had only 217 total yards, because the defense was solid.

Texas now has the third-best defensive unit in the Big 12, as judged by points allowed. How does that happen? It harkens back to what happens on Tuesday, when nobody’s watching.

“It’s our day to sharpen our sword and say this is our culture day,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “We’re going to call on our physicality on Saturday. So how do we train that? A lot of guys sit there on Tuesday and they might go just (helmets and shoulder pads). But we say hey, we’re going to go full pads and we’re going to keep this as our ace in the hole.”

Somewhere, Mike Campbell is elbowing Darrell Royal as they both nod in approval.

“When things are going really, really bad, we can always count on this,” Orlando added. “This should always be in our arsenal of tools to bring to Saturday. So that’s what we do.”

This isn’t some ode to the Texas defense, mind you. This mentality has spilled over to the offensive side, too.

The offensive line has become a solid unit this season, with center Zach Shackelford earning nods for being the nastiest among the five. As his father taught him, “There’s a certain way to play football,” Shackelford said. “To respect this game, you have to be aggressive.”

Last year, receiver Collin Johnson got blasted by the coaching staff for not being physical enough. It’s what truly prevented him from being an elite receiver. Now, both he and Lil’Jordan Humphrey have earned rave reviews for their blocking prowess out wide.

Does Humphrey earn all 19 of those yards against OU on third-and-21 last year? Does Humphrey, with help from three linemen pushing him forward, get those yards without being programmed early in the week?

“Even though we start on Sunday working again,” Humphrey said, “Toughness Tuesday means it’s time to strap it back up, get back to hitting each other, get back to being physical and spreading the culture, basically.”

And does anyone really think any Texas team from the last four years could’ve closed out five straight wins like this team has? Victory formations against Tulsa, USC, TCU and Kansas State and a clutch field goal against OU? No way.

“You know, it’s hard to say,” fifth-year senior Andrew Beck said. “I’m just glad that we’re executing now the way that we are.”

Sure beats having to face the wrath of that heathen butcher.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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