On November 19 two years ago, the Texas Longhorns football program became the butt of a joke. They lost to a team that hadn’t won a FBS game under its head coach and did it in ugly fashion. That joke led to the hiring of Tom Herman as head coach of the Longhorns.
Since that time, the program has changed drastically. Not only is the leadership different, but the attitude, style of play and most importantly, the record has changed.
“I feel like the program that went there, I feel like that was 50 years ago, not two years ago,” Herman said Monday. “We’re so far past that point in our program.”
All that is true. Texas in 2018 is past the point of battling for bowl eligibility and for a head coach’s job. They’re at the point of trying to contend for a conference championship.
That supposedly came as news to some players.
“I’m glad for you informing me of this,” defensive end Charles Omenihu said Tuesday when told a win puts Texas into the Big 12 Championship game in Arlington on December 1.
That goes to show while the program has developed a lot since rock bottom two years ago, the focus of the program isn’t drifting off of the 1-0 mentality the coaches preach constantly.
“You’ve got to take care of what’s ahead of you and not look forward,” Omenihu added. “There ain’t no forward if you don’t take care of what’s in the present.”
Omenihu’s postgame anger is the lasting image, and very likely the sentiment fans shared, from that game against Kansas in 2016. The loss, to steal a line, made a decision on former coach Charlie Strong’s future one of necessity rather than one of courage.
While it may be an opportunity for Texas players who made that 2016 trip to “right a wrong,” Herman made a point to dissuade that cathartic notion.
“There is no need for ‘closure,’” Herman said. “We’ve played a lot of football since then, and we’ve grown up a lot as a team.”
Put more succinctly, “there is no hidden significance of it.”
There is an actual significance to this game. As mentioned, a win cements a spot in the Big 12 Championship game.
“We just want that locker room telling those guys we’ve got to be on our Ps and Qs,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “Don’t take this game lightly.”
A repeat of the defensive performance the Longhorns put together against Iowa State would certainly help Texas’ chance to make it to Arlington on December 1. Kansas’ offense is led by thousand-yard rusher Pooka Williams, surrounded by players who take care of the football, and coming off a 40-point performance against a top ten team on the road.
On defense, linebacker Joe Dineen leads the leads the country in solo tackles with 97 according to NCAA.com.
The players also realize the dynamics happening in Lawrence above the players’ heads. They know that David Beaty is on his way out and that Les Miles will soon take the reins of the Jayhawk program.
“Those guys are playing for their head coach,” Nelson said. “They don’t have nothing to lose. Everybody, when they play us, it’s like the national championship.”
The Longhorn program has come a long way since Kansas fans stormed the field and tore down the goalposts, since Beaty was in tears during his postgame interview prior to receiving a contract extension likely off the merits of that lone win.
They’ve come a long way, but they can’t progress farther without a win Friday.
“Still have a game to play, so there’s nothing written in stone,” Omenihu said.