Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman celebrates with his team after an touchdown in the first quarter during an NCAA football game in Austin, Texas Saturday, Sept.12, 2020. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

BEVO BEAT Football

Tom Herman: Running game fixes, getting healthy were Texas’ top two off-week priorities

Posted October 19th, 2020

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Highlights from Texas head coach Tom Herman’s weekly press conference on Monday ahead of Saturday’s Baylor game:

Yes, there was “The Eyes of Texas” discussion. He fielded three separate questions about it, from the differences between mandates and encouragement to the complicated nature of the song itself. We’ll save The Eyes talk for another space, though, and concentrate here on X’s and O’s.

This screwy season has manifested itself in several ways because of the pandemic, from the Big 12 and Pac-12 opt-outs to the revamping and revising of everyone’s schedules to postponed and canceled games to programs across the country shutting things down temporarily because of COVID-19 issues. Baylor’s at or near the top of that pandemic issues list: The Bears have had 19 positive tests this season, three of their games have been moved or called off, and they held their first practice on Sunday since Oct. 8.

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Is Saturday’s game going to even happen? COVID tests will have to be passed by both sides, but yes, game on.

“I think as the fall turns into winter, you’re going to see more and more of this,” Herman said. “I don’t think this caught anybody by surprise — none of us, at least, none of us coaches. We knew that this was definitely a pitfall. We’ve got graduate assistants and secretaries and student assistants scouring the Baylor media sites, especially their message boards and fan boards; if they’re anything like ours, if a guy sprains an ankle in practice, the sky is falling. So you’ve got to disseminate what’s real and what’s not real. We’re trying to figure out who we’re going to play, who the players are going to be. … Right now, our assumption is that Baylor will be here. How many players they’ll have active for that game, I’m not quite sure.”

Two specific Bears he mentioned: QB Charlie Brewer, from Lake Travis, and OLB Terrel Bernard, whom Herman recruited when he was the head coach at Houston. Bernard once was committed to UH until Herman left for Texas. “He is a guy that’s all over the field,” Herman said.

Injury updates: Mostly good news. First, the bad — WR Jordan Whittington has suffered “a very, very freak strain of his hip flexor,” in his lower back area, and will miss a couple of weeks. Surgery is not needed. “Hopefully, we get Jordan back,” Herman said. But a few other Horns — S Caden Sterns, CB Chris Brown, DL Reese Leitao, S Tyler Owens and TE Brayden Liebrock — are expected back at practice on Tuesday.

The week off: Texas took last week’s open week “to recover, recuperate, heal.” Players were given off last Monday, Wednesday and Saturday off as well as today (Mondays are the team’s usual day off). The scout team work for Baylor was introduced last Friday. Brian Davis asked about the state of the team and all it’s dealing with, including “The Eyes of Texas” issues and the 2-2 record (“They’re 0-0 against Baylor, Brian,” Herman interjected”). Herman pointed to positives, including the offense’s two-minute drill success and improvement in some areas of the defense. “There are a ton of bright spots in the last two games that we can definitely build on.”

He said the biggest off-week focus was on the running game: Stopping it on defense, moving it on offense.

About the defense, which ranks 40th nationally in yards allowed, 64th in points allowed and is 34th against the run and 47th against the pass: Herman pointed to the little things, not the big things, like gap blocking, maintaining leverage and how practice reps need to translate into Saturdays on the field.

“From an overall theme, I think again they’re all different. Red zone defense was a problem against Oklahoma, especially in overtime. It was a strength against TCU. Tackling was a problem against Texas Tech. It was a strength against Oklahoma. To paint it with such a broad brush or a broad stroke is not really fair. I think you’ve got to dive into the minutia.” He also referenced the lack of spring workouts, summer programs and having to play two overtime games “that’s gonna skew the numbers a little bit as well.”

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the building that would deny that we are improving on that side of the ball.”

Texcetera: This Texas-Baylor rivalry takes on a new chapter with the arrival of new Bears coach Dave Aranda — he and Herman were teammates and roommates at Cal Lutheran. Herman said the two have remained friends and confidantes over the years. … The Oct. 31 Texas-Oklahoma State game in Stillwater will kick off at 3 p.m., the Big 12 announced this morning.

Saturday’s game at DKR kicks off at 2:30 p.m. It’ll be aired on ESPN. The Horns are 2-2 overall and 1-2 in the Big 12. Texas has won four of its last five against Baylor and is 10-2 vs. the Bears at home as Big 12 programs. The Horns are 10.5-point favorites.

Other conference games on tap — Oklahoma at TCU (11 a.m., ABC);  Kansas at No. 20 Kansas State (11 a.m., FS1); No. 17 Iowa State at No. 6 Oklahoma State (2:30, Fox); and West Virginia at Texas Tech (4:30, ABC).

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