This could be a blockbuster November for the Longhorns. Or, it could be a disaster.
Surely, Texas coach Tom Herman has given it some thought. With four regular-season games left, what is this team capable of?
“Going 1-0 against Kansas State,” Herman said Monday, remarkably on brand.
“You guys think this is an act or this is fake,” the coach continued. “I don’t know what you guys think, having been around me for three years. I literally had to ask somebody today in case I get asked that question, who do we play after Kansas State? I honestly didn’t know. So, I don’t know. That’s irrelevant to what we have in front of us.”
Probably smart not to look past the 20th-ranked Wildcats (6-2, 3-2 Big 12). No use worrying about Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech when coach Chris Klieman’s bunch is a handful in the here and now.
The now-unranked Longhorns (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) had a chance to rest up during the off week. Nothing changed about their lot in life during that idle time. Texas still has a chance to reach the Big 12 championship game by winning four straight.
Otherwise, this group could stumble down the stretch and spend Christmas grousing about it at the Texas Bowl.
“I don’t think anybody’s oblivious to what’s in front of us,” Herman said. He pointed out the team’s long-term goal — to compete for a Big 12 title — is still possible. “We’ve left the margin for error very slim, and that’s OK.”
Herman then conjured up a boxing analogy that best describes UT’s situation.
“You know, we’re on the ropes,” Herman said. “You can do one of two things. You can fight your way off the ropes or you can tell your trainer to throw in the towel. From all accounts, everybody’s pushing in the same direction saying we want to fight our way off the ropes. It’s been a really good week-and-a-half.”
K-State opened as a 5 1/2-point underdog despite having beaten Oklahoma and Kansas the last two weeks. Oddsmakers may be giving Texas a lift because the team itself is getting an influx of healthy bodies.
Herman said defensive backs B.J. Foster and DeMarvion Overshown are probable after battling injuries. Safety Caden Sterns, who has missed the last four games, returned to practice last week and should play. Same holds true for running back Jordan Whittington, who played in the season opener and then underwent sports hernia surgery.
Herman had previously indicated linebacker Jeffery McCulloch would return this week. However, McCulloch still hasn’t returned to practice and his shoulder injury “didn’t quite keep progressing” like trainers hoped, Herman said. McCulloch’s playing status is unclear.
While these players would provide much-needed depth, none would tip the scale totally in UT’s favor.
Anyone who’s been paying attention can attest that K-State is getting progressively better with each passing week.
The Wildcats had 213 rushing yards in their 48-41 upset over the Sooners on Oct. 26. Quarterback Skylar Thompson simply had to manage the game. He completed 18 of 28 passes for just 213 yards without throwing a touchdown or interception.
Thompson completed just 9 of 16 passes for 129 yards in a 38-10 win over the Jayhawks last week. He had a team-high 127 rushing yards and three touchdowns. K-State had 342 rushing yards overall.
Texas has the fifth-best run defense in the Big 12 and its worst pass defense. The Horns allow 31.5 points per game, the second-highest total in the league.
Herman said the coaches and players have engaged in self-reflection the last two weeks about how October unfolded. Herman was asked Monday about the team’s confidence after the TCU loss and the “close loss to Kansas.”
“We beat Kansas,” Herman deadpanned with a slight grin. “You said ‘close loss to Kansas.’ Freudian slip.”
Herman probably needed to take everyone’s temperature internally. Freshman offensive lineman Javonne Shepherd and sophomore receiver Jordan Pouncey abruptly quit the team and entered the NCAA transfer portal the last two weeks. Two four-star cornerback recruits, including Pouncey’s younger brother, also backed out of their pledges.
Four players suddenly cutting ties with Texas would trigger any alarms. Herman said he spent the off week meeting individually with every member of the 2019 recruiting class. “It was really good to kind of reacquaint myself with those guys individually,” Herman said. “All of them are in great spirits.”
The upperclassmen are most responsible for rediscovering those good vibes, though.
“The guys that have not performed well, they’ve certainly been made aware of that by their coaches,” Herman said. “It’s our job to educate them on how to fix the mistakes, but it’s also their job to shoulder some accountability for that.”
Herman left no doubt about the mood around Moncrief. “Everybody in the organization has shouldered some accountability, including players coaches, myself, everybody,” he said.
Heads should roll over in marketing, though. Either that, or order more pocket schedule cards for 2020.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.