Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger turned 21 on Monday, which prompted an obvious question for coach Tom Herman. What did he do on his 21st birthday?
“It was so long ago I can’t remember,” Herman quipped. “And maybe that does have a little bit to do with what I did that day.”
Herman, 44, looked rested and relaxed at his Monday press conference. An off week works wonders for the psyche.
Starting this week, the 11th-ranked Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) begin an eight-game stretch that will determine whether this program is championship worthy or not.
First comes a trip to West Virginia (3-1, 1-0) for a Saturday matinee at Milan Puskar Stadium. These are not the same Mountaineers throwing the Horns Down and going for broke last season at Royal-Memorial Stadium. That coach, quarterback and top receiver are all gone.
Texas is a double-digit favorite on the road, which should keep a lid on any pre-game buildup. Better to save all that energy for the Red River rivalry game on Oct. 12.
“We’re not far enough along in our development as a program to have any sense of enjoying prosperity,” Herman said. “It’s unfathomable to me that anybody in this program right now at the stage that we’re in could feel anything resembling comfortability.”
With one-third of the regular season complete, Texas has clear strengths and weaknesses.
“I know that we can stop the run,” Herman said. UT has the fourth-best run defense in the Big 12. The unit allows 122 yards per game. It’s not the ’85 Bears, but it’s winning football, nonetheless.
“I’d like to see us defend the pass a little better, whether it be in man or zone,” Herman said.
The Horns are the only Big 12 team allowing more than 300 passing yards per game. Granted, LSU’s Joe Burrow did most of the damage; he’s now up to 17 touchdowns for the season. But Louisiana Tech also had 340 passing yards. Oklahoma State finished with 268.
Multiple players in the secondary went down with injuries against the Cowboys. Herman said Monday that nickel back B.J. Foster (hamstring) was cleared to practice Sunday. Foster should play this week against the Mountaineers.
Defensive back DeMarvion Overshown (back) and receiver Collin Johnson (hamstring) are scheduled to practice Tuesday. Team trainers will evaluate how they hold up afterward, so it’s not clear if they’ll be available this week or not.
Still, Herman is showing no worry about injured safety Caden Sterns and cornerback Jalen Green. They are likely out the entire month of October with knee and shoulder injuries, respectively. Why so calm and cool?
“I know that our quarterback is as good as there is in the country at managing the game and getting us into good plays and out of bad plays,” Herman said.
Ehlinger has thrown 15 touchdown passes and only one interception. He ranks 12th nationally in completion percentage (.729) In the Big 12, Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts and Ehlinger rank 1-2 in Big 12 quarterback efficiency.
As long as Ehlinger remains healthy, Texas should be competitive in every game.
“And then some consistency in the run game,” Herman said. “We’ve had back-to-back weeks where we felt pretty good about it. So, I think we’re headed in the right direction there.”
Texas’ run game, an area of deep concern early because of injuries, has found traction. Keaontay Ingram shed the knee brace against Oklahoma State that he believed was slowing him. He had 114 yards on 21 carries, both career highs. Former quarterback Roschon Johnson continues to chip away as Ingram’s backup. Herman said last week that coaches would wait until the offseason before discussing Johnson’s long-term future.
Freshman Jordan Whittington, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia, has started running again and could be cleared soon. Saving Whittington for OU seems prudent. “We’re certainly not expecting him to be cleared for (West Virginia),” Herman said.
Herman also shot down the idea that Whittington could redshirt. “As long as his rehab is on schedule, nobody has put redshirting him on the table,” the coach said.
On the weekly Big 12 conference call, West Virginia coach Neal Brown said “it’s probably been a while” since his team was huge underdogs at home. “I don’t think we’ll need a bunch of motivational ploys this weekend,” he said.
Herman isn’t looking for any, either. It’s a low-key week, as far as Texas is concerned. All he cares about is living up to UT’s standard: 1-0.
“To allow an opposing crowd or the fact that you’re on the road affect your play, that’s a choice that you make,” Herman said. “And hopefully most of our guys choose opposite of that.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.