SOUTH BEND, Ind. — One blowout loss can be forgiven. Two is concerning. But three makes an alarming trend.
Texas came into Saturday’s season opener against No. 11 Notre Dame fully intent on washing away all the bad aftertaste of last season’s miserable finish. No more TCU and Arkansas talk, they said. This team was better than last year’s, coach Charlie Strong insisted.
Nobody is convinced of that now. The Longhorns were embarrassed yet again, losing 38-3 at Notre Dame Stadium. It was the second-biggest defeat in a season opener in UT history and the most lopsided since 1988.
Granted, it was only the first game of the new season. But the Longhorns have been outscored 117-20 in their last three games, which harkens back to last season’s dismal 6-7 campaign.
“Very shocked,” senior running back Johnathan Gray said. “Coming out here to Notre Dame, great game, great atmosphere and the stage is set. For us to go lay an egg, it’s just mind-boggling.”
Strong didn’t use the E-word until the tail end of his press conference.
“It’s always a shock when you go out and just go get embarrassed,” he said. “You would’ve figured that we would’ve come out and played much better than we did.”
The thousands of Texas fans who made the trek to South Bend certainly did. The upper deck of the south end zone was packed with burnt orange. But they shuffled out in silence, just like UT fans did in Austin after the 48-10 Thanksgiving loss to TCU and again in Houston after the 31-7 loss to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
Texas coaches stuck with quarterback Tyrone Swoopes even though he appeared overwhelmed at times with this supposedly new up-tempo offense. He completed just 7 of 22 passes for 93 yards. The only play worth highlighting was a 48-yard heave to freshman John Burt. That long throw set up Nick Rose’s 41-yard field goal for UT’s only points.
On Monday, when Swoopes was asked what’s new with the offense, he said, “Nothing’s changed.” But after the game, Swoopes had a different tone.
“It’s a new offense. Everybody’s learning on the fly still,” he said. “It’s just new for everybody, first time really doing it in a game. Coaches, players, it’s new to everybody. So we just gotta get better next week.”
Texas opened the game going three-and-out on its first two drives. Gray didn’t get his first touch until there was less than a minute left in the first quarter. Strong said the game plan was to establish a solid running game. Yet Gray had only eight carries for 40 yards.
Spread offenses can be terrible for a defense gasping for air. Texas was 2 for 13 on third-down conversions. The Horns’ longest drive of the night lasted only 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
So the big question on UT fans’ minds: Why didn’t redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard play more?
Heard got into the game on the third series and took back-to-back sacks in the second quarter. He got hammered on one play, and it looked as if he was injured. But coaches said that wasn’t the case. Heard completed his only pass of the night for 10 yards. Swoopes played the entire second half.
“It’s not so much that we didn’t wanted to expose Jerrod,” Strong said. “It’s just that you felt like Tyrone could make the throws and get us back in the game. But we didn’t protect him, so we couldn’t make those throws.
Quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said, “We’re always concerned when we don’t do well. We’re all concerned. But what you’ve got to do is keep working. There’s not a whole lot of other answers other than keep working them, keep growing them.”
The Irish had 527 total yards as quarterback Malik Zaire completed 19 of 22 passes and threw three touchdowns. Zaire, a left-hander making only his second career start, simply ate UT’s zone defense alive.
Zaire’s first touchdown throw — a 16-yarder to Will Fuller — was caught right in front of safety Dylan Haines, who was playing center field in a in zone coverage. You’ll see Zaire’s 66-yard scoring strike to Fuller several times on future highlight reels. Fuller simply blew past Duke Thomas, who appeared to believe he had safety help, and raced toward the end zone.
Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, who does not speak with reporters after the game, told the Longhorn Network that he’d give his unit an F.
Freshman sensation Malik Jefferson was all over the place. He had nine tackles (2.5 for a loss) in his UT debut.
“It was a true honor,” Jefferson said. “You just wish you had a better outcome than we had.”
Was this more than just one game, though? Is this a sign of things to come the rest of the fall?
“I’m not really concerned about three games in a row,” defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “This is a new team, a new focus. We’re just going to let this one sink in and get ready for the next game.”
Worst opening losses in UT historyThe five biggest season-opening losses for the Longhorns:
|1988||at BYU||L, 47-6||41|
|2015||at No. 11 Notre Dame||L, 38-3||35|
|1987||at No. 5 Auburn||L, 31-3||28|
|1993||at No. 11 Colorado||L, 36-14||22|