AUSTIN — Following Saturday’s 51-41 loss to Maryland in his debut, Texas head coach Tom Herman remained confident in his ability to successfully lead this team. In fact, while there were many on-field mistakes, as Herman himself noted, there were some positives to be taken away.
“I thought our internal/mental emotional response to adversity was fantastic,” Herman said. “I really do. I’ve had numerous players tell me that ‘coach, in years past, had we gone down 27-7, there would be a lot of guys that probably folded up their tents and went home, and that thing could have gotten ugly.’”
Texas did not go quietly against the Terrapins, but while the emotional response may have been what Herman was looking for, the on-field response was lacking.
Nearly all of the position groups had major mistakes during Saturday’s game that looked like things that should have been addressed in the offseason. The offensive line had several bad plays in which Maryland defenders were given a free route to the quarterback. The linebackers got caught in the wash several times. The defensive backs had lapses both in run support, pass coverage, and tackling ability.
“I think that when you’re trying to be perfect in this game, you wind up being a step late to everywhere you’re going, because you’re evaluating, you’re tiptoeing, you’re figuring things out, you want to be so right,” Herman said. “Is this the right way? And next thing you know, yeah, you might have gone the right way, but now you’re a step or two too late.”
Herman’s solution is for his team to play more “reckless.” After nine months of being on the job, he expected his team to trust the training his coaches provided, but at times there were relapses back into old, bad habits.
Even though there were some major issues, the panic button has not been pressed inside Moncrief.
“The first hiccup is not to press eject,” Herman said. “The first hiccup is not to just fire people from their jobs or fire players from their spots on the depth chart. We got to coach them better, they have got to learn and we have got to teach. Because we know our way works, we have just got to do a better job of teaching it and our players got to do a better job of taking that teaching to the game field.”
One game does not define the rest of the season, as many football pundits, writers, and columnists have said throughout the years. Texas welcomes San Jose State this Saturday in a game that might be worse attended than the opener against Maryland.
They might also be watching a team with some problems.
“Fragile mentally, yeah,” Herman said about his team. “Certainly.”
Herman ended his opening statement on Monday with the comment that sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele bruised his throwing shoulder and will not practice Tuesday. Inside Texas reported Buechele’s injury prior to Herman’s press conference on Monday.
The already thin depth chart at quarterback becomes dangerously thin if Buechele is unable to play. In response, Herman has done two things.
First, he’s preparing freshman Sam Ehlinger. Second, he’s giving junior wide receiver and former quarterback Jerrod Heard a package of plays.
“So that means tomorrow Sam will get the bulk of the reps – not the bulk, he’ll get the reps with the ones, and then we’ll have to move Jerrod back there to kind of do double duty a little bit,” Herman said. “But he’ll get a lot of reps at the two quarterback spot, but still get some of his reps at receiver.”
Herman made it very clear that if Buechele could play “and not to the detriment of his team,” then he would play. Buechele, however, was dinged up a lot last year, and questions about his durability remain.
With Ehlinger, the hometown frosh could have the chance to make a name for himself. For Herman, he’s glad he has until Saturday to possible prepare him.
“And is Sam ready?” Herman asked. “No, not right now. But he will be. He’s close. He’s as close as any true freshman I’ve ever been around. So I think him getting these reps this week will – he’ll respond. I mean he’ll be ready.”
In 51-41 losses, problems within the program often see the sunlight.
One of the major problems with the program right now is the tight end position. It has been for several years for several coaches, and it continues to be one for Tom Herman.
Herman said that junior Garrett Gray’s play on Saturday was “okay” and “no better or worse than most on offense.” With that being the case, the tight end was a complete non-factor, and Maryland did not respect Gray’s ability to influence the game in-line or split out wide.
In addition, there were problems in coverage and on special teams, two issues that plagued the team under the previous coaching staff.
Herman only handed the ball off to his running backs 14 times. While the situation of the game did not make it easy to establish a run game (being down 20 in the second quarter), Herman acknowledged the need to run the ball.
The secondary struggled in both run support and in coverage, but not in a way that is worthy of an overreaction.
“I don’t think my concern at that position group is any more glaring than any other one,” Herman said. “We didn’t play good in a lot of areas against Maryland and secondary is certainly one of them, but not a cause for any kind of major concern.”
Herman now prepares for a San Jose State team that runs a very similar offense to what Texas ran last year.
In the next game, the fans are hoping for better. They made that extremely clear against Maryland.
With time ticking down in the fourth quarter and the game becoming more and more out of hand, fans in the stand began to throw small advertisements designed to fan themselves from the heat onto the field.
It was a disappointing look for a fan base looking for better than the disappointing results they’ve seen in the last four years.
“Hopefully, one, we won’t have that issue again because we won’t give them, us or the officials, give them that much cause for disappointment,” Herman said. “Two, we also got to be smart and know that they could be costing their team a pretty sizable penalty.”
In looking ahead to SJSU, Herman noted that several other high-profile head coaches, like Nick Saban and Mack Brown, had early season struggles in their first year before turning their programs into high powered winning machines.
He noted, however, that his players have the mindset to change things.
“I’ve walked by a ton of guys that are in the training room, that are watching film on their own, that are in the weight room getting stronger,” Herman said. “Just guys being pros and taking care of their bodies and their mind and ready to take the next step, so that’s been really, really cool to see the influx of guys that have come just to get their extra voluntary work in.”