Flashback to Big 12 media day in July. Tom Herman took questions from all directions about the Longhorns’ expectations for 2019.
“What constitutes success?” said Herman, a coach who, like many of them, hates questions about predicting a win total. “First, I’ll ask how many people got injured.”
Fast forward to Monday. Herman couldn’t help but chuckle while looking at his injury notes, now longer than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Safety DeMarvion Overshown has been added to the list after complaining about shoulder pain. “(Defensive back) B.J. Foster,” Herman said, “we’re working him up for anything and everything.”
Injuries have been a problem, no question. But Herman isn’t lowering the bar. He expected this team would compete for a Big 12 championship this season, and frankly, this coach believes that’s what the standard should be at Texas.
“Regardless of who we jog out on the field, that standard is expected to be met,” Herman said.
No. 15 Texas (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) won last Saturday even though the 50-48 decision against Kansas might’ve felt like a loss given the defensive mess. That’s not how it’ll go into the history books, though. It was a win, plain and simple.
Herman’s bunch now moves on to TCU (3-3, 1-2), a team that’s already lost to undefeated SMU this season but always comes locked and loaded for anyone in burnt orange.
“Obviously we know we’ve got to play better defensively,” Herman said. “Everybody associated with that side of the ball — coaches, players, leaders — we all get it. We’re committed to figuring it out. And I think we can and will.”
Herman rarely criticizes his players by name in public, if ever. But he veered toward individual accountability on Monday.
Herman noted that UT started nine underclassmen on defense Saturday. Asked if he needed to remind players that the bar isn’t being lowered, Herman said, “Yeah, I think you do.”
“Our job is to defeat human nature every day as coaches,” Herman said. “And human nature, if you’re a young player on defense, is to say, ‘Well, I’m young, and I’m just trying to figure this out, coach. I’m just trying to get my feet wet.’ Or, whatever.
“I mean, that’s human nature to blame, complain and defend yourself,” he continued. “Blame other people, complain about your circumstances and defend yourself.”
Herman said he told the Horns upon arrival in 2017 that the price of a championship “is really, really expensive in terms of your time, effort and energy, and that price will never come down. Ever.”
That’s why he referenced the “standard at Texas” twice Monday, both on the Big 12 conference call and with reporters during his press conference in Bellmont Hall.
“We’ve got standards at the University of Texas that we need to play up to, and we didn’t on that side of the ball,” Herman said of the defense. That unit is well on pace to finish as the worst statistically in school history.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s name wasn’t invoked Monday, and his job status isn’t really an issue at this point. Herman takes, and practically welcomes, all incoming fire directed at his assistants.
“Guys that have been here for two and three years should be able to play man-to-man coverage and quarters coverage,” Herman said. “As coaches, we need to uphold our end off the bargain in terms of techniques. And the players need to uphold their end by employing those techniques on game day.”
From day one, Herman has said effort in his program is “non-negotiable.” He didn’t deviate from that Monday, either.
“But the one thing we can’t or will not coach is effort,” Herman said. “And we are playing with a tremendous amount of effort. Now it’s on us to figure out, with the personnel that we do have, what do they do well and enhance it. Where they are deficient, either improve it or eliminate that from the game plan. And then it’s on the players to do what they’re coached to do.”
Herman said that if fixing the defense was easy, it’d be done tomorrow. But he doesn’t appear open to changing the base 3-3-5 alignment, at least not right now. In fairness, that’s an offseason issue, as is whether to keep or change the current coaching staff.
The Longhorns’ defensive line hasn’t generated much of a pass rush at all this season. That unit has only two sacks in seven games. Most of the quarterback pressure has come via blitz, long a permanent fixture in Orlando’s DNA. Still, Texas has only one sack in the last three games combined.
“What you don’t ever want to be on either side of the ball is a jack of all trades and master of none,” Herman said.
Elsewhere, this team’s inconsistencies were on display in special teams against Kansas. Kicker Cameron Dicker was named the Big 12 special teams player of the week for his game-winning, 33-yard boot at the buzzer. But the updated NCAA statistics revealed that Texas ranks 130th out of 130 — dead last — in punt return average.
Texas is the only FBS team in the nation with negative punt return yards (minus-5). “I would imagine two drops against Oklahoma State is probably part of that,” Herman said. “And I didn’t know that. I know we won the net punting battle Saturday.”
The offense, led by quarterback Sam Ehlinger, is the most consistent thing Texas has going at the moment. That’ll work, too.
If Texas can get past TCU, then comes the team’s second off week of the season, a perfect chance to get people healthy. After that, it’s a treacherous four-game finish against Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor and Texas Tech.
On the Big 12 conference call, Herman was asked about the defensive unit’s morale.
“As coaches, we’re all kind of part-time psychologists, right?” Herman said. “We’re 5-2 and it feels like sometimes around here we’re 2-5. With any human being, there’s a time to kick them in the butt and times to pat them on the back. It’s a fine line that we as coaches walk on a daily basis.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.