Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) runs for yards against UTEP Miners during an NCAA football game in Austin, Texas on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2020. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

After five difficult months, No. 9 Texas allowed to relax after UTEP rout — for one day, anyway

Herman: ‘We had zero COVID issues, leading up to this game, but knock on wood. Hopefully it stays that way’

Posted September 13th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Texas (1-0) was rewarded by moving up to No. 9 the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
  • Orangebloods reported that S B.J. Foster abruptly quit the team sometime during the second half.
  • The first win showed Texas is ready for the 2020 season, even though none of us were ready for 2020 itself.

For one full day, Tom Herman is allowed to relax. The Texas coach’s players should be encouraged to take it easy, too. Every Longhorn deserved it after a 59-3 rout over UTEP in Saturday’s season opener.

Just one day, though. Now it’s time to focus on winning a Big 12 championship.

Getting through the COVID-19 pandemic has been a mental grind since March, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Players have adjusted to full-scale changes to their daily lives. Now they press forward with mostly online classes and some isolation from friends on campus.

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Texas’ next game is Sept. 26 at Texas Tech, so there’s plenty of upcoming idle time for the players, something coaches loathe.

During his pregame radio interview, Herman said you can “roll your eyes” at the mental health aspect of dealing with all this. But it’s a real issue. That’s why the coach looked so relieved late Saturday even though the Horns were 43-point favorites. The 56-point margin of victory equaled the biggest win so far in his UT tenure.

“I’m really proud of our players,” Herman said. “Really, really proud. We’ve won some games around here, we’ve all won games in the past but this one’s special.

Final statistics from Saturday’s 59-3 win over UTEP.

“We had zero COVID issues leading up to this game, but knock on wood. Hopefully it stays that way,” he added. “But just really, really proud of the way that our team handled their business leading up to the game and then obviously the way they came out, exerted their will and played really, really well, especially to start the game.”

Texas (1-0) was rewarded by moving up to No. 9 in Sunday’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. That kind of jump is slightly deceiving. Now that the season has begun, Big Ten and Pac-12 teams are not eligible for the weekly AP poll, so there was a noticeable rearrangement.

Not all the news was good Sunday, either. Orangebloods reported that safety B.J. Foster apparently quit the team at some point in the second half Saturday night, and his future with the program is now in question. A team spokesman could not confirm the report.

Foster, a hard-hitting junior from Angleton, was likely upset over playing time, or lack thereof. He came into the game listed second on the depth chart at strong safety behind Chris Brown. Foster was listed on the participation chart but did not have a tackle.

Foster is the same player who got into “a fight with a car bumper” this summer and fractured his hand, Herman said in July. Foster was upset that someone hit his car and did not leave a note, the coach said. The junior fractured his fifth metacarpal bone. “We had a long conversation on that,” Herman said then.

A different type of conversation must be had now, assuming Foster is allowed back. Not everyone will get equal playing time anymore. Why? These Horns have a fully loaded defensive backfield, not to mention stronger players sprinkled throughout the roster.

There are literally a dozen players that deserve a look among the four or five spots on the back end. It’s just that unit was ravaged by injuries last year. Now healthy again, Josh Thompson made a terrific interception by leaping backward. Chris Adimora had six tackles and D’Shawn Jamison have five. Caden Sterns had four tackles and a pass breakup.

Tons of defensive players got some action against the Miners. DeMarvion Overshown had four tackles in his first full game at linebacker. Freshman Alfred Collins had his first sack while 19 players made at least two tackles.

Texas fans cheer on the Longhorns against UTEP. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

UTEP finished with 43 yards rushing and looked every bit like the overmatched foe it was supposed to be. Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas fans probably would’ve loved to trade opponents on Saturday.

Most Texas fans had to be in awe of the offensive fireworks. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger set career highs in passing yards (426) and touchdowns (five). All three running backs got action, and seven different receivers caught touchdown passes.

“To tell you the truth, I’m actually pretty disappointed,” Ehlinger, the perfectionist, said. “I left a lot of throws out there that I should have made.”

The most important play may have been UT’s first. Joshua Moore caught an inside slant pass and turned on the jets, racing 78 yards for the tone-setting score. It just looked like an easy throw and catch, something Oklahoma’s been doing for years. Finally, Texas may have an offense that allows for easy scores.

“I think that’s what our offense is designed to do is start fast,” left tackle Samuel Cosmi said. “And I think that first play showed it.”

The first win showed Texas is ready for the 2020 season, even though none of us was ready for 2020 itself. Texas Tech struggled to beat tiny Houston Baptist 35-33 on Saturday. Texas’ opponent after Tech is TCU on Oct. 3. The Horned Frogs have not played a game yet because their season opener was postponed over a COVID outbreak.

It’s going to be that kind of a season, which means ultimate focus is required.

“To be able to kick the ball off and have everything go smoothly as we can,” Herman said as he thanked the players, coaches, support staff and everyone with the program. “There was a sense of, ‘Hey, we can do this.’

“Guys have done a yeoman’s job of handling COVID protocols,” he added. “We can’t let up after one game. We’ve got to make sure this is the norm, and as many people are able to suit up as we can.”

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

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