Never bury the good news.
“You know, the sun came up today, as it did yesterday,” Texas coach Tom Herman began his Monday’s press conference. “In fact, I think I saw it come up yesterday, as late as we go home.”
The team known as America’s Brightest Orange blasted the Longhorns with America’s brightest sunshine, apparently.
Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Oklahoma State shed undeniable light on some key truths about this team that’s been largely hidden in the shadows. This rebuilding Texas program, one that’s ahead of schedule, must now navigate the first setback after some sustained success.
No. 12 West Virginia (6-1, 4-1 Big 12) has plenty of things to examine about Texas’ current state of affairs this week in preparation for a trip to Austin.
Herman said in August he felt rock-solid about his starting 22 offensive and defensive players. After that, should the situation call for backups, things get murky. Herman admitted Monday the team has been building depth, “but we’ve certainly got to accelerate it.”
See young cornerbacks Koby Boyce and Anthony Cook, as examples. Those two started in place of suspended seniors Kris Boyd and Davante Davis; the Cowboys rang up 260 total yards in the first quarter. Boyd and Davis entered the game in the second quarter when UT was down by 10.
“I would be foolish to say it wasn’t a factor. It certainly was,” Herman said earlier Monday on the Big 12 conference call. “I don’t know how much. We didn’t play well on that side of the ball at any position, so I don’t think it was the determining factor for the opening quarter onslaught. But it certainly played a role.”
It’s been obvious for weeks the Longhorns (6-2, 4-1 Big 12) were probably a tad over-ranked in the top 10, getting as high as No. 6. Now, they’ve fallen back to 15th, which feels about right.
And it’s clear if this team does not bring its A-level or even B-plus game each week, things will get dicey. Herman has stressed for weeks this team cannot play a sub-par game and expect to win. Pistol Pete, the swaggering OSU mascot, hit the bull’s-eye.
“I think we responded fantastically to the opening-season loss,” Herman said. “I don’t think anybody can dispute that. And so I think this is very similar. That game in Stillwater will only define our season if we let it. We have an opportunity to define our season by how we respond to it, as well.”
Herman said Kevin Washington, UT’s director of player development, oversees the weekly chapel service. Washington used the analogy of humans being like a sponge.
“When you get squeezed, it may look OK on the outside,” Herman said, “but when you squeeze a sponge, what’s really inside comes out, and we got squeezed Saturday night.
“So now, we’re going to figure out what’s really inside of our guys,” the coach added in optimistic fashion, “and I think they will respond as well, if not better than we did after week one.”
In the aftermath, it would make sense if Herman questioned himself about benching Boyd and Davis, considering how the game played out.
Herman said the coaching staff decided Friday night on the punishments. Boyd and Davis sat the first quarter while receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey missed the opening drive, essentially denying him a start. All three were late to a team function, Herman said last week.
“We don’t love them any less,” Herman said. “They made a minor mistake that has to be reinforced. Our culture need to be reinforced on a daily basis, so that moving forward, especially our young guys know that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing or what your name is.”
Herman said it was “ill-advised” of Boyd to lash out at ESPN’s Emmanuel Acho on Instagram on Sunday after the former Longhorn criticized Boyd and Davis after the game.
“You want to silence any critic, the best way to do that is keep your mouth shut and go play really good,” Herman said. “If you’re concerned about the critics, then you’ve probably got bigger issues.”
There hasn’t been much criticism the last month or so as Texas won six straight games. Winning tends to do that. It also covers up other issues, like UT’s inability to start strong defensively.
Told that his defense had allowed six scores on the opening drive of the last eight games, Herman said, “I don’t know, it’s funny you asked that, because I was doing some math in my head, too. First time I thought about it even was yesterday.”
Herman said he’d talk to defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. “I don’t have a great answer for you right now,” he said.
Herman almost glossed over perhaps the most important news of the day. Linebacker Malcolm Roach (foot) is close to getting back on the field. He’s missed the last five games. Roach could be cleared this week, but a return against Texas Tech on Nov. 10 is more likely.
Defensive end Breckyn Hager (upper chest) and punt returner D’Shawn Jamison (foot sprain) are both day-to-day.
Oklahoma State exposed certain things, but most are correctable. Texas is still motoring on its way toward the Big 12 championship game. The road has some dangerous twists and turns ahead, though.
“I’ve said it numerous times, but it bears repeating; that our best is good enough to compete with and beat pretty much anybody in the country,” Herman said. “But when we’re not at our best, and we’re getting the other team’s best, we’re not good enough yet to overcome that, and our guys know that.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.