Longhorns close out regular season with 7-5 finish after bouncing back from 14-point deficit against Red Raiders
Posted November 29th, 2019
Piling up 610 yards against the second-worst defense in the Big 12 sure felt good considering how Texas struggled offensively throughout November.
Bouncing back from a 14-point deficit and forcing two turnovers will have some rethinking whether coach Tom Herman should shake up his coaching staff this offseason.
Texas fans won’t be fooled into thinking this was a major success. Friday’s 49-24 win over a below-average Texas Tech squad locked in UT’s third-straight winning season, but the Longhorns expected so much more.
A 7-5 overall record, a 5-4 Big 12 mark and maybe a trip to the Camping World Bowl or Texas Bowl isn’t ideal. Still, Herman had a simple message for his frustrated fan base: “We’re going to be OK.”
“Things are still headed in the right direction,” Herman said. “Obviously we’re not happy with the totality of the season. But the kids are fighting. … The future is very, very bright. But we’re not oblivious to the fact that we’ve got to evaluate what needs to be fixed and fix it.”
Herman sidestepped questions about possible staff changes, saying he just wanted to “celebrate these seniors” for winning their final game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Athletic director Chris Del Conte confirmed he will let Herman make whatever changes are deemed necessary and won’t hire and fire assistants himself.
It’s expected that Herman could move quickly, if he decides to fire anyone. Coaches are scheduled to hit the recruiting trail next week, and recruits and parents are going to want answers about UT’s future.
“We’re all disappointed because of expectations. We all had great expectations,” Del Conte said. “At the end of the day, Tom’s his own man. He’s the coach. He has a blueprint. I understand what’s he’s trying to do and get accomplished.”
Senior day always creates certain indelible moments. Safety Brandon Jones left it all out on the field, notching a team-high 12 tackles. Defensive end Malcolm Roach had a sack, two tackles for loss and a rather impressive WWE-style takedown of Tech’s Jett Duffey.
Receiver John Burt went over and fired Smokey the cannon. Linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch stood at the base of the runway and took one long, last look before blowing a kiss and saying goodbye.
“Not everything went according to plan, obviously,” center Zach Shackelford said. “But I’m just super proud of the way we responded to all the events that happened — personally, as a team, as an offense, an O-line, just all the above.”
Shackelford was here in 2016 when Texas was finishing off its third-straight losing season. By that comparison alone, he’s leaving the program better than when he found it. “We responded to the adversity and came back to work and capped this thing off with a winning season,” Shackelford said. “Just super proud of the guys for doing that.”
Texas Tech (4-8, 2-7 Big 12) sure tried to ruin the day, which was miserable enough with lousy weather. Duffey threw a 13-yard touchdown pass, and SaRodorick Thompson scored from 10 yards out.
Trailing 14-0, Texas fell behind at some point in all nine league games this season partially because of horrifically slow starts. Tech had 10 first downs on its first 14 offensive plays.
Then, a breakthrough. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw a ball down the west sideline for the 6-6 Malcolm Epps, who went skyward to haul in a 36-yard gain. That energized the announced crowd of 93,747 and the Horns. Ehlinger completed the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Daniel Young scored on Texas’ next drive from 3 yards out. Duffey tied things up with a 24-yard touchdown pass on a short field. But on UT’s next play, Ehlinger threw a strike downfield to Devin Duvernay, who went 75 yards on the longest offensive play of the season. Duvernay finished with six catches for 199 yards.
Roschon Johnson had a 1-yard touchdown run as part of his 105-yard day. Texas’ quarterback-turned-running back confirmed he wants to go back to quarterback next season, despite averaging 5.1 yards per carry in 12 games.
It was impossible to miss that Herman gave several freshmen extended action. Johnson, receivers Jake Smith and Marcus Washington and cornerback Kenyatta Watson II all had key moments throughout the day. All figure into UT’s long-term future — assuming none go elsewhere via the NCAA transfer portal.
“That’s personally between them, their family and God,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s different. Everybody has a different story and different track. If they want to go that route, they can. But I know within this program, we’re going to instill some hardcore lines and rules with this program to uphold this culture.”
Smith’s terrific 26-yard touchdown catch gave the Horns a 35-21 lead, and the Red Raiders just wilted. In the second half, Tech had two drives end with turnovers on downs. Another drive ended with a fumble. The Raiders’ only scoring after the break was Trey Wolff’s 23-yard field goal.
“We were rattled the first two series or whatever with their pace, alignment and assignment,” UT linebacker Joseph Ossai said. “But we just focused back up.”
Duffey completed 36 of 58 passes for 399 yards and two touchdowns. He got sacked four times as UT’s defensive line actually found some good runways. Marqez Bimage, Ta’Quon Graham and Keondre Coburn all had sacks, along with Roach. Collectively, the group struggled to generate a pass rush all season.
This was effectively Tech’s bowl game, as coach Matt Wells’ team finished with a losing record. “Development in the locker room is a big part of year two here coming up,” Wells said.
Player development, or lack thereof, is a major reason why Herman finds himself here at the crossroads at the end of this third season. He said Monday the Texas staff hasn’t gotten the most out of highly-touted recruiting classes.
Herman is 24-15 in three seasons and has yet to win a Big 12 title, although UT did reach the league’s championship game last season.
“Obviously we know that 7-5 is not our standard here,” Herman said. “There’ll certainly be time enough to evaluate the whole program, from the top down, from myself to the support staff to everybody involved. But now’s not the time to do that. Now’s the time to celebrate the seniors.”
The athletic director wanted to celebrate senior day, too.
“The issue is how is our program progressing,” Del Conte said. “We’re very much in line. He’s our football coach.”
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