Truth be told, it was an odd week at Texas. Definitely one to forget, too.
Can Saturday’s home opener against Tulsa (1-0) start any faster?
Losing the season opener to Maryland for a second straight year was bad enough. Then, coach Tom Herman likened it to a scene from a Steinbeck novel. Lennie first killed a puppy, by the way, not a rabbit in “Of Mice and Men.”
The Horns lost starting center Zach Shackelford for the week on Tuesday. He suffered a foot injury going against the scout team, and now his status will need monitoring on a weekly basis. Starting safety Brandon Jones (ankle) has been ruled out as well.
On Wednesday, offensive lineman Patrick Hudson had to be rushed to the hospital for a heat-related illness. He was moved out of intensive care but was still under medical supervision one day later.
Defensive end Breckyn Hager said the Horns may have been tight against Maryland because of “a real hostile environment” at FedEx Field. Half the stadium was wearing burnt orange.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said his unit was ready for the Terps’ ground game. “We had worked jet sweeps for four weeks going into it,” he said. Four weeks? Maryland had 143 rushing yards en route to the 34-29 win.
Late in the week, Herman chalked it up to youth. “We had a lot of guys playing in their first football game, too,” he said. “A lot of guys traveling for their first football game. A lot of guys doing a lot of things for the first time.” Twenty of UT’s starting 22 players on offense and defense that day were veterans. Twelve were seniors.
Coaches have long believed that teams make their biggest jumps from week one to week two. If that’s true, the Longhorns (0-1) should make seismic moves against the Golden Hurricane, a three-touchdown underdog.
Texas opened with a 51-41 loss to Maryland last season. The Longhorns followed that with a 56-0 win over San Jose State.
“I would hope we have a big jump, especially with how we start,” Herman said. “Now, again, if it doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean the sky is falling.”
Herman said now that players, both young and old, have the jitters out of their system, “you’ll see an improved, loose outfit out there.”
No coach can fix everything in less than seven days, but if you had a priority list, it might look like this:
Praise Sam Ehlinger: Herman complimented sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s play against Maryland at all media availabilities this week.
Fans focus on the two interceptions on UT’s three final drives. But the coaching staff zeroed in on Ehlinger’s positives, like two solid throws to Collin Johnson and the 39-yard touchdown pass to Devin Duvernay.
He stayed in the pocket more and let plays develop. Ehlinger said the game plan had two or three specific quarterback run plays. “It was tough when a team rushes two and drops nine and they had a guy spying him in the run game,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, “it’s not going to be a great passing game.”
Herman will start Ehlinger again this week with no hesitation. Changing quarterbacks after one mixed showing may be more detrimental than anything else.
Run Ingram more: It was obvious to everyone that freshman Keaontay Ingram was running hard early on against the Terps. He had six carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. But he didn’t get a single carry after halftime.
Herman said he purposely chose to utilize graduate transfer Tre Watson and junior Kyle Porter after the long rain delay. Ingram had back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons at Class 4A Carthage. He needs more touches ASAP. Beck said he expects Ingram to get more carries as the season grinds on.
Motivate the defense: Orlando’s unit had a terrible start to the season last year. But the Longhorns turned it around and finished with the second-best run defense in the Big 12. This group has talent. It just needs to get going.
Hager said his guys need to stay quiet, show up Saturday and “I believe you’ll get a performance by our team that will dictate the rest of our season.”
Get off blocks, go find the ball carrier and get him on the ground. Orlando cannot make the scheme any more simple. In August, linebacker Gary Johnson called this defense “dummy-proof.”
Tulsa averaged 247.3 rushing yards per game last season in the American Athletic Conference. Coach Philip Montgomery still uses the spread offense made famous by former Baylor coach Art Briles.
“What they do is stress you horizontally,” Herman said. “It stresses your alley players, the ones outside the box. Then if you commit too much to the run, that leaves guys on islands on the back end. We’ve got to be disciplined.”
Smarten up: Herman said he can live with “aggressive” penalties. That’s fine. The “administrative” penalties, like five yards for not having one’s knees covered, are infuriating.
But defensive lineman Charles Omenihu can’t go barreling into the quarterback for roughing, either. Johnson can’t dive head-first at a quarterback going into a slide and risk a targeting call. Defensive back Davante Davis can’t get flagged for pass interference at critical times.
Texas was called for 10 penalties for 102 yards against Maryland. “That’s seven points,” Orlando said.
Said Herman: “It was a little surprising, and certainly we felt the effect of it.”
Eliminating penalties always accelerates progress.
Playing at home is likely to cure the butterflies. “We have to learn how to manage expectations,” Herman said. “We have to learn how to manage self-inflicted pressure.”
This is Texas. Pressure comes with the uniform, one that some simply want to wear while running through the tunnel and standing on the sideline. If the Horns are to indeed get back on the winning track, they need players who will step up and deliver.
“It can’t be a thing that we’re going to start slow and then get going,” Omenihu said. “It has to be full pedal on the gas from start to finish.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.