Tom Herman arrived at Texas toward the end of 2016 knowing full well this program had a problem. Lots and lots of losing.
“Losing is awful,” the coach said at Big 12 media days in July 2017, about a month before his first game. “It’s awful. It’s not just, ‘oh, well, we’ll get them next week.’ No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff.”
Fast forward, and Herman’s problem is still the same today as it was then. The Longhorns simply don’t know how to win. Sure, the games are closer. Former coach Charlie Strong lost 21 games from 2014-16 by an average of 16 points. Herman, who went 22-5 in his two seasons at Houston, has now lost seven games at Texas by an average of 6.7 points.
Losing is losing, especially at this level. Texas is now just four games above .500 since the start of the 2010 season.
Herman’s thesis for why Texas struggled against a two-touchdown underdog and lost to Maryland? “We wanted it so badly that we got in our own way quite a bit, and that’s correctable,” he said.
Monday’s press conference to preview Saturday’s home opener against Tulsa (1-0) felt like so many that have come before. The coach tried to maintain calm while reporters looked for cracks. “It’s not Armageddon,” Herman said at one point. His fan base may vehemently disagree.
“We’re learning how to win,” Herman said. “I think, again, losses are unacceptable. Losses hurt really bad. It was like a funeral home around our building yesterday, and it should be. It should be. Because if it doesn’t matter, then you don’t care.
“And so, it matters very, very much to those kids in that locker room,” he continued. “I think going from player to player and talking to guys that you trust on the team, you figure out that that’s real; that they could taste it. If you talked to a lot of the veterans, they haven’t even tasted it before.”
There were no changes listed on this week’s depth chart. Herman will stick with sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who dropped to 2-5 as a starter.
Ehlinger completed 21 of 39 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns against the Terrapins. Those two fourth-quarter interceptions in the last seven minutes along with a Tre Watson fumble are what stick out, though.
Asked if he would consider a quarterback change, Herman said, “Nah, I don’t think now’s the time to do that. I really don’t. You’re going to wind up in the same situation that you’re in last year.”
Last season, Herman had to rotate quarterbacks based on various injuries to Ehlinger and junior Shane Buechele. Neither player benefitted. So for now, Buechele will stay back. Herman praised Buechele’s sideline demeanor and insists that he is ready at a moment’s notice.
“We made a decision,” Herman said. “Sam didn’t play perfect, but nobody did. His errors weren’t egregious enough to merit dumping him on the depth chart. If you start doing that, you’re going to start riding a roller-coaster.”
Ehlinger did stay in the pocket more, something he worked on throughout the offseason. Lil’Jordan Humphrey led the way with six catches for 82 yards. Devin Duvernay had four catches and a sensational 39-yard diving touchdown catch. Collin Johnson also reeled in a 22-yard score.
As for running back Keaontay Ingram’s second-half disappearance, Herman explained that he simply preferred veterans Tre Watson and Kyle Porter over a freshman after the rain delay. “Oh, yeah, I think you’ll continue to see his role progress and increase,” Herman said of Ingram.
In August, Herman said Porter was in the second-tier group of running backs. Yet, Porter was the one out there on UT’s final drive. Needing a touchdown to take the lead, Porter caught one pass for a 3-yard loss, caught another for a 7-yard gain and then dropped one near the sideline.
Perhaps the only reason Texas was in the game was because the Horns climbed out of a 17-point hole. That started back in the second quarter, when the offense kicked into high gear and went into hurry-up mode.
Herman, as is his penchant now, called it a “collective” staff decision to pick up the pace.
“We got on the headset and said these guys are thinking way too much,” Herman said. “They were trying to be perfect. We were paralysis by analysis.”
The coach said perhaps the Horns should start that way “so they don’t have any time or energy to be nervous or uptight.”
Three of UT’s starting four defensive backs are on the injury report. Safety Brandon Jones (ankle) and cornerback Davante Davis (neck) are both questionable for the Golden Hurricane. Cornerback Kris Boyd (ankle) is probable, Herman said. Receiver John Burt (foot) is likely out.
Herman said the Maryland loss was just one game. “This is one game that doesn’t count in the Big 12 standings,” he said. “Week one will never define anybody.”
The Longhorns will be three-touchdown favorites this week. Is that enough against a team that had 274 rushing yards and 470 total in a 38-27 win over Central Michigan? Texas has not lost to a non-Power 5 opponent since the infamous rain game at Rice in 1994.
There’s been a lot of winning since then. A lot of losing, too.
“So to answer your original question,” Herman said, “it’s a work-in-progress, but I think we’re much closer to having that part down than we were when we got here. Not the same problem.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.