BEVO BEAT

Whys of Texas: Simply playing hard does not constitute success, not at Texas

Posted November 8th, 2017

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Texas coach Tom Herman continues to sell the notion that his team plays hard and how that alone represents progress in some fashion.

“It’s a team that has bought into the truth and reality of that if you play really, really hard, and really, really physical, and you play with a purpose greater than yourself, regardless of talent level, you have an opportunity to be in every game,” Herman said Monday.

At Texas, playing hard isn’t good enough. The team is supposed to play hard. When the head coach receives $5.25 million in the first year of a guaranteed five-year deal, playing hard should be a given.

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What has been so perplexing about this 4-5 season is the team’s odd dichotomy. How can the defense be getting better while the offense is getting worse? That’s supposed to be Herman’s speciality.

Yes, the offensive line injuries have crippled the unit. By now, you’d think Texas lost Anthony Muñoz, Orlando Pace and Tony Gonzalez to injuries considering how Herman talks about Connor Williams, Elijah Rodriguez and Andrew Beck. But this is the same head coach that alienated and lost tackles Brandon Hodges and Jean Delance, both of whom transferred.

Texas coach Tom Herman looks onto the sideline against TCU last Saturday. Jay Janner/American-Statesman

To be fair, Herman wouldn’t be playing Tristan Nickelson, Terrell Cuney and Derek Kerstetter if he had his druthers. But the situation is what it is.

This coaching staff has totally given up on Kyle Porter and Chris Warren III, the team’s top two running back threats in September. Asked Monday about Warren’s role going forward, Herman said, “I don’t know.”

What’s really problematic is that Texas still doesn’t have a quarterback for the future. Shane Buechele is a game manager who may not help you win a shootout. Fans love Sam Ehlinger’s toughness, but the facts are he’s cost Texas two victories — the goal line fumble against USC and the game-ending interception against Oklahoma State. Protecting the football is always top priority.

There are no easy answers, no quick-fix solutions for 2018. But let’s not act like playing hard defines success. At Texas, that should be expected week in, week out.

On to this week’s mailbag…

Brian, did we hire the right man? I’m truly disgusted with our direction. What is the need to change “starting players” every week, day, even hour! These ultra-talented players want playing time! Every game has different return men, receivers, backs and quarterback! Damn, I want to see players like Duverney and Heard!  And, I’m sorry, but Kerstetter has no business being on field! This coaching staff has to produce or we have another nightmare regime on hand that no excuse will do!  Really, really underwhelmed by coach Herman!!! Thanks.

— David via email 

First off, let me be clear on this. I do believe Herman is the right man for this job. Same as I believe Shaka Smart is the right coach for men’s basketball. Both have an uphill climb, to be sure. For better or worse, Herman makes it clear that if you do not perform well in practice, you will not play in the games. Now, I’ve known plenty of athletes who were mediocre practice players. But they shined when the lights came on.

Texas receiver Collin Johnson hauls in a 33-yard touchdown pass against TCU last Saturday. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Let’s take the curious case of Collin Johnson as an example. For whatever reason, Johnson was demoted on the depth chart for senior Dorian Leonard. That got noticed. Herman pointed out that Johnson played just as much as Leonard did, so what’s the big deal? Well, maybe so. But Johnson, who kept Texas in the USC game and caught a big touchdown against TCU, wasn’t on the field for the final overtime play against Oklahoma State.

Johnson leads the Longhorns with 620 receiving yards. Lil’Jordan Humphrey is second with 357. So you can understand why Johnson is frustrated about playing time. And don’t even get me started on Armanti Foreman, who still leads Texas with three touchdown catches despite getting benched in October.

“It was frustrating, obviously. But I have full confidence in Dorian for going out there and getting the starts the last coupe of weeks,” Johnson said after the TCU game. “All I can do is wait for my opportunity, keep grinding and do what I’ve been doing and keep making plays when the opportunity presents itself. I try not to let it frustrate me.”

Asked if something was happening in practice, Johnson said, “Um, you’re probably going to have to ask the coaches that. I’m not sure.”

Aloha. Wow. I will keep it short. O-line is invisible. Every snap looked like a team portrait of the TCU defense. The Texas defense played well until the tank was simply empty. Most troubling thing to me, it looked like the receivers quit. I mean quit running their routes. Quit fighting for position and the ball. Quit on the team. TCU was awesome in tight coverage and did not miss tackles. The Horns were mismatched from coaching to the field. 

— Ed in Hawaii

I do want to highlight Humphrey for his solid first half. He had four catches for 60 yards. He finished with six catches for 109 yards. I didn’t see any quit from the receivers, though. I was happy for the Horns that everybody got a participation ribbon again. Eleven different players had a catch. Of course, the better receivers weren’t targeted enough, but that’s become the norm. Texas Tech’s Keke Coutee and West Virginia’s Gary Jennings both average 7.7 catches per game. Oklahoma State’s James Washington averages 5.8 catches per game. Johnson, UT’s leader, averages 4.3 catches per game.

I have been a Longhorn fan for probably 50 years and last night I could not watch the game after our first 2 offensive possessions. I decided to record the game and watch LSU-Alabama. It is hard to watch an offense that is so consistently bad and although Shane is a decent QB, his lack of emotion drives me crazy!! So I can’t comment too much on the game as I did not watch most of it. Switched back to the game on occasion to see if we scored (more than once) or made the game competitive but we didn’t. 

Do not understand why the offense is so bad?!  Granted we have some injuries but you would think we could block someone, if not by accident to have some semblance of a running game! Hope we can get to bowl game this year. It is still not a given!

— Terry B. via email

Ah, the running game. Sigh. It’s something we talk about with fondness these days. History usually doesn’t repeat itself, but it can rhyme. Texas couldn’t run the ball in 2014 and look how that year turned out. Texas averaged 137.4 rushing yards per game en route to a 6-7 finish. This season, the Horns are averaging 137.8.

Nine yards rushing against TCU. Nine.

Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson. 9Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Hard to watch. And hard to listen to the game on TV. The best of the season:  Malik Jefferson and Breckyn Hager are friends. There is a God.

— Frances T. via email

This is true. Jefferson and Hager are good friends. They’d do anything for one another. Maybe you missed it against Iowa State, but remember that ferocious close-out sack Jefferson had on fourth down in the fourth quarter? That was because he and Hager switched their assignments on the field. Hager basically allowed Jefferson to go get the sack, and he did. That’s what the team is all about. Reporters haven’t gotten to spend much time with Hager this season, but he still bleeds orange like you wouldn’t believe.

 

You know, Charlie Strong has a one-loss team at Florida. (Defensive coordinator) Manny Diaz has an undefeated team with a defense in Miami. No one’s been able to get the Longhorns on track, so what’s going on? Is it the players maybe? The players have tons and tons of talent. So, I blame the players They just don’t have it. Just because they go to Texas and have a good reputation doesn’t mean that anyone’s going to let them win. As you well know, attendance is frustrating. Maybe they need to get rid of the football team and start up something with another kind of sport. Polo, anything. Anyway, that’s my opinion about what’s frustrating about these Longhorns. Have a good day.

— Sonny in Georgetown via voicemail

This is the most telling statistic about the entire Texas football program: the Longhorns are three games over .500 since the start of the 2010 season. That’s about as mediocre as it gets. During that time, Texas has had three athletic directors, three head coaches, a slew of assistants, hundreds of players and yet nothing changes.

I can promise you when Texas played USC earlier this season, the current players were telling reporters what we thought we wanted to hear about the rematch. They only know Vince Young from all the Longhorn Network repeats. They only know Michael Huff because he’s a defensive staff member. They were in grade school when Texas was good. Some of them weren’t even born when Ricky Williams won the Heisman Trophy!

All that said, eliminating football is not an option, funny as it may sound. Polo on Denius Fields could be interesting.

What happened to Reese Leitao?

— Doug P. via email

The freshman tight end from Jenks, Okla., is redshirting this season.

I saw something Saturday, that did not make sense to me. On the play where Collin Johnson caught the screen pass, that was called back, because he was across the line of scrimmage, I never saw a flag, or a challenge flag, so how was there a penalty on the play? I did not know the review booth could call and have a penalty enforced. Is that something new?

— David G. via email

I literally lost track of time waiting on that review of offensive pass interference against Texas. Herman did explain what happened in good detail, though:

“It’s been clearly defined to us that you can clearly block downfield as long as the receiver catches the pass on or behind the line of scrimmage, and there’s usually a 1-yard buffer zone in there to allow that to happen,” Herman said after the game. “The weird part about it is we weren’t blocking. Lil’Jordan Humphrey was running a route, he released and the guy ran into him. Then they reviewed it and said his whole body was beyond the line of scrimmage, which I’m assuming by the letter of the law that’s a penalty. But it’s one that we’ve been told there is a 1-yard buffer zone.”

I’m betting that rule is addressed this offseason. There was simply too much on-field confusion about the call and the review itself. No game should be stopped that long for that kind of infraction.

I would appreciate your asking Coach Herman tomorrow this question:  What was your game plan for TCU — what aspect of the Frog’s defense were you attacking? Currently Texas can only beat the lower one-third of Power 5 teams (Baylor, San Jose State); of the middle third, Texas may win 2 or 3 (Kansas State, Iowa State), but in the top one-third, Texas cannot beat anyone (OU, OK State, and TCU). Of the remaining 3 games, Kansas is a W, West Virginia likely a L, and Texas Tech likely a L if Tech scores more than 5 touchdowns.  That means no bowl game (5 wins vs.7 losses). 

Herman says he is in for the long haul—looks like it is going to be a very long haul as I do not believe he can beat OU, TCU, and I doubt he will beat USC in Austin in ’18. Gimmicks like carrying a baseball bat seem silly to me—may be could use it to knock some sense into his coaching staff!

— J.D. in Laredo via email

Let’s talk about bowl prospects for a minute. This team definitely needs to reach a bowl game, if only because it will guarantee 15 more practices. But winning six games isn’t guaranteed. Texas should beat Kansas. But the West Virginia game looks like a toss-up, and then Texas Tech comes to town as Kliff Kingsbury tries to hold onto his job. Do not make the mistake of putting the Tech game in the win column just yet. See the 2015 season, for example.

Brian, who is leaving the program after this disastrous season? Malik seems not to enjoy it anymore. Not by his performance but by his demeanor.  Thanks

— David via email

I don’t get the sense that Jefferson is unhappy. He’s unhappy about losing, sure. But not as it relates to playing football at Texas. I do think he will jump into the NFL draft next year, and frankly, he probably should. Jefferson’s enjoying a tremendous season and his stock will be solid. As for others, I don’t want to speculate because it doesn’t do anybody any good. However, I’ve long said that if any player doesn’t truly want to be at School X, he or she should move on. Life is too short to be miserable.

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Contact Brian Davis at bdavis@statesman.com.

The post Whys of Texas: Simply playing hard does not constitute success, not at Texas appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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