Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Tom Herman is happy, but Texas’ win over Tulsa gave us questions, not answers

Texas entered this game as a solid favorite but had to hold on against pesky Tulsa, still looking for its first road win since 2016.

Posted September 9th, 2018

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Story highlights
  • Texas beat Tulsa 28-21.
  • Texas improved to 1-1.
  • The Horns led 21-0 at the half but had to hold on to win by just seven.
  • Texas hosts USC Saturday,

The name of the game is winning.

But it was Tulsa.

The Horns successfully put that Maryland experience in the rear view.

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But it was Tulsa.

 

Tom Herman’s status as a .500 coach at Texas thankfully lasted just one week.

Because it was Tulsa.

Texas fan during an NCAA football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

OK, Saturday night’s 28-21 win before a home-opening crowd of 90,563 was about as easy on the eyes as saltwater, but the real sting here is how Herman described the first victory of the season.

“Winning’s hard,” Herman said. “Really, really hard.”

Depends on your perspective. It didn’t appear very hard for Alabama, Oklahoma or Ohio State on Saturday.

It did for Texas.

Against Tulsa.

It could be that winning is only as hard as you make it. The numbers looked pretty good, but the Horns (1-1) were not impressive if you’re thinking they will be a player in the Big 12 title race, which starts in a couple of weeks. This was the team they were supposed to work before the USC game. They were supposed to turn that calendar back to last season when they rebounded from the first-game shocker against Maryland with a 59-0 beatdown of San Jose State.

That shutout created hope. Saturday’s win created more questions than answers because the Longhorns, two games in, have yet to put together a full four quarters of football. Players in post-game interviews actually called Tulsa “a good team” despite the fact the Golden Hurricane haven’t won a road game since 2016.

“We get everyone’s best shot,” Herman said.

Texas head coach Tom Herman celebrates after Tulsa missed another field goal during an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

That logic used to play from 2004 through 2009, but it didn’t matter then because Texas was giving opponents the work on most weeks and hardly ever gave it up to losing teams. In contrast, what we have before us is a group that’s trying to figure out how to be good because great isn’t in the cards just yet.

Want to hear a head scratcher? Texas actually got good production from quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who competed 21 of 27 passes for 237 yards and a pair touchdowns, while the running game produced another 241. Yet there the Horns stood with 4:53 left, clinging to a dicey seven-point lead against a team that’s 3-10 in its last 13 games.

Herman didn’t go Steinbeck on us this time, but spun a predictable tale of players remembering to have fun and how a dub over Tulsa cannot go unappreciated.

“Anytime you win, we’re going to celebrate it,” he said. “If we ever get to the point in our program where we don’t celebrate wins, then we haven’t done a good job as coaches.”

There’s nothing wrong with loving on one another after rebounding from that East Coast nightmare, but the question has to be: Has there been any real progress to make fans believe great things are coming sooner rather than later?

No, not yet.

Texas strode into the locker room with a 21-0 halftime lead, albeit against an opponent that had missed three field goals from reasonable range and dropped what should have been a touchdown pass in the end zone.

Bevo XV storms out of a tunnel before an NCAA college football game between Texas and Tulsa in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Herman said he was hard on his players at the half because he wanted to make sure they didn’t get complacent, but believed the move backfired because the Horns reverted back to pressing too much like he says they did at Maryland. The defense gave up 21 in the second half, seven of those coming on a 35-yard touchdown pass with 4:53 left that stopped those who left early in their parking-lot tracks.

“We got too comfortable with the lead,” said nickel back P.J. Locke III. “We have to do a better job not letting the lead put us in that position. We have to keep our foot on their their throats and finish the game.”

Texas won, but the perception is the team didn’t take a real step forward which is about the opposite of what went down in College Station. Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M Aggies, a 12-point underdog, came within a two-point conversion of forcing overtime against No. 2 Clemson.

And in case you’re interested in the burning rivalry no one on either side wants to acknowledge, four-star wideout Demond Demas of Houston North Forest and Fort Bend Marshall’s Malik Hornsby — another four-star who’s one of the state’s top dual-threat quarterbacks — were in College Station for the game. Both had received scholarship offers from Texas. Both committed to the Aggies.

Talk about two tales in perception. There was Fisher, incensed at losing to a team that may win a second national championship in three years while Herman was spinning it positive about a seven-point win over Tulsa.

By the way, UT athletic director Chris Del Conte and chief of staff Chris Plonsky were observed in the press box watching two flat screens in the lounge. One had the Texas game on, of course. The other? A&M-Clemson.

Herman got the ‘W’ but the Horns didn’t take a big enough step to get anyone realistically excited. If they beat a wounded USC team on Saturday, that will mean much, more more.

This was Tulsa.

RELATED: Texas 28, Tulsa 21: Longhorns won, evened their record to 1-1, so why do things feel off?

RELATED: What Tom Herman said after Texas held on to beat Tulsa 28-21

RELATED: Third and Longhorns: A closer look at Texas’s 28-21 win over Tulsa

RELATED: Texas 28, Tulsa 21: Our five pregame questions — answered

RELATED: Texas 28, Tulsa 21: The expanded boxscore

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