Get FREE premium access until April 4th, then pay a reduced monthly rate for five months! Click HERE to sign up now!
AUSTIN — For the Texas Longhorns, the tumultuousness of a 6-6 season seemed to be quickly forgotten after they defeated Missouri in the Texas Bowl. For head coach Tom Herman, that game allowed the team to finally realize what Herman and his staff could do at Texas.
“I think the bowl game really showed the guys in that locker room what they’re capable of,” Herman said Monday. “We’re down, whatever it was, three defensive starters and an all-American offensive lineman who didn’t play in the game, Chris Nelson didn’t play in the game, our starting tight end didn’t play in the last couple of weeks and also didn’t play in the game, and we went out and beat an SEC team that had won six straight games and we beat them pretty good.”
“I think the sentiment in that locker room was ‘wow, we can do this, and we can do it at a really high level if we stay really positive and we stay aligned with what we’re doing.’”
Not only did the 33-16 win over the Tigers foster confidence in the direction of the program, but according to Herman, it created more confidence in what the staff was doing than at any previous point in the season.
“I think it was more of just all of the things that were stacked against them, to be able to go out and perform the way they did against a team like that, and knowing how the three weeks of preparation was as well,” Herman said. “Just think there was a light bulb moment, like ‘a-ha, this crazy guy and his crazy staff might have this thing figured out a little bit.’ I think they all bought in.”
Herman has since used that buy in to keep the program aligned. The Longhorns have been in an offseason conditioning since returning to school at the beginning of the semester. Prior to his first spring in 2017, Herman rattled off a list of numbers meant to detail the improvement the team made in the weight room. 2018 was no different.
Some of the top performers in the weight room included senior Breckyn Hager, sophomores Ta’Quon Graham and Marqez Bimage, and freshman Samuel Cosmi. Others that received accolades included seniors Charles Omenihu, Kris Boyd, and Jamari Chisholm.
That momentum, as well as the definitively massive strides his team has made in the weight room, has Herman extremely excited for his second year as Texas’ head coach.
“I told the team, in fact I told them numerous times, I’ve never been more excited to coach a team than this one,” Herman said. “We have had a magnificent couple months of developing our players, of developing them in the weight room and on the field, but also developing relationships and that is a big theme for us, develop. I think our guys have really taken that to heart.”
It’s a team that still has some questions remaining, including at linebacker and on both lines. Once again, there is no clear No. 1 at quarterback as well.
Herman said that junior Shane Buechele will be at 100% percent heading in to spring practice. He, along with sophomore Sam Ehlinger and freshmen Casey Thompson and Cameron Rising, will all be battling for that first spot. However, the first-string spot should be a battle between Ehlinger and Buechele.
“They’re going to get reps with the ones,” Herman said. “It’s hard. Shane’s got some ground to make up just because of the injury, but he’s going to get equal number of reps with the ones. They both played nine games but we didn’t play up to championship level at that position so they’re going to need to prove their development.”
One of the things that should help the quarterbacks and that has already helped contribute to the momentum the Longhorns have heading into spring is the hire of new offensive line coach Herb Hand.
Hand came to Austin from Auburn, and immediately paid dividends in helping secure Rice grad transfer Calvin Anderson.
“Coach Hand has been a fantastic addition to our staff, really has,” Herman said. “He’s provided some great ideas in the couple months that we’ve had to kind of talk ball. We’ll implement some of the things that he feels he’s really good at.”
Hand worked with very unique offenses at his previous stops of Auburn and Penn State. Herman has something on offense he believes in, so the role he has in mind for Hand is clear.
“We hired Herb Hand to coach the offensive line really, really well, to provide quality ideas that can enhance our offense, to provide great experience and knowledge of the game when game planning during the season, and to recruit his butt off,” Herman said. “Of all those that I’ve been able to evaluate thus far, he’s gotten an A+ in everything.”
With the helmets coming on Tuesday and the pads to follow in the ensuing days, Herman noted that the players donning burnt orange have continued to show the buy in that Hager spoke about following the bowl victory.
“We’ve got guys that want to be here,” Herman said. “There is a tremendous amount of positivity in that locker room right now. Very, very minute amounts of negativity or even anti-establishment defiance. Just doesn’t exist.”