Five questions facing Texas on Saturday at Maryland:
1. Defensively, can Texas stop the run?
This is a weird question to ask a team that held seven teams last year under 100 rushing yards and finished with the nation’s eighth-best run defense. But Maryland ran for 263 yards and four touchdowns in last year’s 51-41 upset in Austin — the defense’s worst showing against the run, and far behind the second-worst performance of 177 yards to TCU. The Terrapins ranked only 69th nationally in rushing, but Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III — the school’s two leading rushers — are back. Can Texas, without Poona Ford and Malik Jefferson, slow down the Terrapins’ ground attack?
2. Offensively, can Texas establish the run?
Sam Ehlinger led the team in rushing last year with 381 yards, the lowest total for UT’s leading rusher since the 1958 season. The Longhorns can point to their banged-up offensive line and a pretty decent schedule as excuses, but the record books will show that Texas ranked 95th nationally in rushing in 2017, the year after D’Onta Foreman’s 2,000-yard season. There are seven scholarship running backs, but graduate transfer Tre Watson, sophomore Daniel Young and freshman Keaontay Ingram will get the first cracks at Maryland, which allowed five 100-yard rushers last season.
3. Which freshmen will show up?
Tom Herman did not shy away from playing freshmen in his first season. In fact, Ehlinger, Young and offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter combined for 21 starts between them. Texas signed the nation’s third-ranked recruit class in February, and 10 of those freshmen are listed on Saturday’s two-deep. One of them — safety Caden Sterns — is set to become the first true freshman to start a season opener for UT since quarterback Shane Buechele and offensive lineman Zach Shackelford in 2016.
4. Will the new punter resemble the old punter?
It would already have been unfair to compare Texas’ new punter — a freshman — to Michael Dickson, Texas’ 2017 Ray Guy Award winner who has become a preseason rookie sensation in Seattle. Add in that Ryan Bujcevski is also Dickson’s cousin and that spotlight is going to shine even brighter. Bujcevski averaged 41.1 yards in his eight punts during the spring game; Tom Herman seems confident with his punting game. “Is it going to be, you know, 49-yard average fine, with half your punts down inside the 10? Probably not,” he said earlier this week. “But it will be good enough to win.”
5. Will the Longhorns miss any of their Texas Exes?
Texas retains plenty of talent this season while welcoming in a heralded group of freshmen. Still, UT has plenty of holes to fill on its roster. Four Longhorns were selected in the 2018 NFL draft, and ex-Longhorns like Ford, Chris Warren III and Holton Hill have made headlines this preseason after entering the league as undrafted free agents. Against Maryland, we’ll find out how Texas plans to replace last year’s leading tackler (Jefferson), turnover producer (DeShon Elliott) and touchdown catcher (Armanti Foreman).