Longhorns face one more test before bowl season

Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Will Gallagher/IT)

Reggie Hemphill-Mapps (Will Gallagher/IT)

For Texas head coach Tom Herman, reaching bowl eligibility carries a lot of importance. It allows him to sell a program that is trending upward in the wins column, it allows him extra practices to develop players in his system and culture, and it allows his team a chance to possibly earn eight wins.

Those benefits are all of major importance to the first year building of a program, but before that point, there still is one more team the Longhorns have to take care of, the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

TTU head coach Kliff Kingsbury is bringing yet another potent offense to Austin, and much will be asked of it. Kingsbury and his Red Raiders need one more win to reach bowl eligibility, an accomplishment that might help to cool off the hot seat the former Tech quarterback is on.

“There’s a lot at stake for this football game,” Herman said Monday. “There’s a lot still left to be played for. Not just a better bowl position, but we talked yesterday about having a winning record at home, about finishing the regular season with a winning record which hasn’t here since I believe 2013.”

Herman mentioned that Texas is 1-6 in its previous seven senior days, with the lone win coming against the Red Raiders in 2013, Kingsbury’s first season at the helm in Lubbock.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger will get the start on Friday against a Texas Tech team ranked 106 in total defense, Herman announced. He noted that despite those lackluster defensive numbers, the Red Raiders will still be playing hard to get to the six-win plateau Texas just reached.

“When you’re sitting at five wins, I would think motivation to get to a bowl game would add some pep into your step, too,” Herman said. “Again, I don’t know about teams prior, but I would think that the possibility of getting to a bowl game, much like the team that’s coming in to play us right now at 5-6, that’s going to be a motivated group, very motivated group.”

Win or lose against Tech, the Longhorns still will go to a bowl, and get the perks that comes with it. Not just the gift packages including watches, game consoles, and other nice items a bowl game provides, but the ability to add practices that Texas has not been able to utilize in three years.

In addition, Texas can now sell improvement. No matter how small it is, six wins is an improvement over five wins. Seven wins would be a bigger improvement. Eight would be major improvement and would give the program a lot of momentum heading into a pivotal recruiting stretch.

“You’re selling a vision, you’re selling a culture, you’re selling your people, you’re selling an education, your school,” Herman said. “I think as evidenced by we’ve been one of the better recruiting programs regardless of our record here in the last six months or so. I think that’s what makes this game so important is that momentum, we need to build on the momentum that we have right now. We’ve got a lot of momentum.”

Herman laid out his plan in bowl practices, splitting the added work days into three phases. Phase one is “developmental,” with a lot of individual drills since assistant coaches will be on the road recruiting. Phase two is some game prep, but not the full-fledged preparation phase three is during the week of the game.

Winning against Texas Tech might be a little more difficult than expected with Texas likely being without juniors Patrick Vahe (MCL sprain), P.J. Locke (foot), and for sure being without Breckyn Hager in the first half (targeting suspension). However, Herman claims if Texas plays its best football, like they did for extended stretches in West Virginia, they will be hard to stop.

“We have a phrase around here, your best is good enough,” Herman said. “We feel like if we play our best, we play our “A” game on all three sides of the football that that’s good enough to win.”