Football

Orange-White game caps spring full of psychological challenges for Texas

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Story highlights
  • Buechele completed 23 of 39 passes for 369 yards, two TDs, ran for another.
  • Collin Johnson had a team-high 117 receiving yards, caught two TDs.
  • Connor Williams: “They’re training our minds more than anything.”

Posted April 15th, 2017

There’s little doubt that Shane Buechele should be Texas’ clear-cut starting quarterback this fall.

Buechele, who will be a sophomore, threw for 369 yards and two touchdowns in Saturday’s Orange-White spring game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Freshman Sam Ehlinger threw for 148 yards and one score but struggled under pressure.

Still, coach Tom Herman refused to anoint Buechele the starter of anything.

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“As far as Shane being the starter, no way,” Herman said. “I think a healthy fear of losing your job is just that — healthy. To say that he’s won the job in 12 padded practices when he doesn’t even get hit, that would be a bit premature.”

And therein lies exactly what the last month inside the UT football program was all about.

Forget the X’s and O’s. Herman himself has admitted there are no special diagrammed plays. This staff’s approach is psychological. In 15 practices, the Longhorns were pushed to the brink mentally. To hear the players tell it, you have two options under Herman: Get mentally stronger or get lost.

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“Everybody’s not that mentally tough,” defensive back P.J. Locke III said. “Really, it shows when you’re under pressure how mentally tough you are, and we’re under pressure every single day. If you’re not mentally tough, you’re not going to make it.

“So it’s up to the leaders to rally everybody around and let them know it’s fourth-and-inches every single day,” Locke added. “We have to be on point every single time. It’s that mentality he’s bringing that makes me feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”

Said defensive end Naashon Hughes: “It’s a difficult culture with coach Herman. Everything is a fourth-and-one, fourth-and-inches mentality. We’re going hard regardless if it’s stretching, ice tubbing, academics or on the field.”

That’s why the Orange-White game featured more situational football than ever. Buechele and Ehlinger, rotating on each possession, started sometimes at their own 4-yard line, with 96 yards ahead of them. Or Herman would set the ball on the opponent’s 2 just to see what would happen. Would the offense punch it in, or would the defense rise up?

Over the course of the day, there were some noteworthy athletic achievements. Collin Johnson had 117 receiving yards on eight catches and reeled in two touchdowns (14 and 29 yards). Lil’Jordan Humphrey caught a difficult ball for a 35-yard score while practically wearing cornerback Kris Boyd.

Texas receiver Devin Duvernay (6) tries to stay in bounds after beating Donovan Duvernay (27) on the play during the Orange and white spring football game at the Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 15, 2017 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Freshman Toneil Carter had a team-high 60 rushing yards on 10 carries as most of UT’s better running threats watched from the sideline. Chris Warren III, Kyle Porter, Kirk Johnson and Tristian Houston were all held out for various health reasons.

Defensively, Chris Nelson and Jordan Elliott were credited with two sacks each as the unit tallied 10 total in the controlled environment. Chris Brown also had the game’s only interception by snagging a high pass from Ehlinger.

Kicker Josh Rowland, a transfer who enrolled in January, connected from 36, 28 and 31 yards. He missed wide left from 49 yards. Officially, the Orange team won 52-51 in a convoluted scoring system.

“Excited that we came out of it injury-free,” Herman said. “Thank God we don’t have to play tomorrow.”

All of these statistics will be long forgotten before Easter services begin Sunday. What sticks is how the players feel things truly are different inside the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center. And it’s not just $10,500 that’ll be spent on every new, swanky locker stall, either.

“They’re training our minds more than anything,” All-America left tackle Connor Williams said. “They’re training our effort, our attitude. They want to trust the people who run on the field.”

Everything is a competition. That’s probably why Herman started the spring game with a classic bull in the ring drill, which was shown to an estimated crowd of 20,000 on the gargantuan video board. Ehlinger, Malik Jefferson, Jerrod Heard and other boldfaced names got summoned for one-on-one, who’s-the-toughest matchups. “We don’t have ties in this program,” he said.

Everything Herman does, in case you can’t tell, has a winner and a loser. 

“If you told me there was a vote today for captain, I’m not sure who would get it,” Herman said. “I’m not sure who the four guys would be. And that’s a bit unusual.”

All of this is done to get the Longhorns to reach their maximum potential, offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “Get them to play fearlessly. Get ’em to trust one another and lay it on the line,” he said. “Until that happens, it doesn’t matter what play you call.”

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

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