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After 20 minutes of his first Monday press conference of the season, Texas head coach Tom Herman fielded a question regarding what was on his scouting report for the UTEP Miners.
“Ahh, football,” Herman said with satisfaction.
Not that other questions regarding the safety of his players, processes and procedures for playing a football game, and his team’s involvement in social issues weren’t important. In its decision to press forward and play the 2020 season, Texas and the Big 12 opened itself up to additional scrutiny and those questions need to be answered by leadership making important decisions for hundreds of people, including student-athletes.
How would they maintain a safe environment for players when some programs have chosen not to attempt to play due to COVID-19? With players speaking out on social issues more than ever before, how much would Herman’s program stand behind its players?
The program’s responses to these questions are critical, but Herman’s first job at Texas is to win football games. After uncertainty surrounding the season reigned from March to August, Texas is just a few short days from playing a real opponent for the first time in nine months.
“Really exciting to be sitting in front of you today knowing that our first game is five days away,” Herman said. “I know our players are extremely excited. They’ve done such a great job with all of the necessary precautions that we’ve been taking, and I couldn’t be prouder of the preparation leading up until this day.”
While this Saturday’s game will be the first of the year for the Longhorns, UTEP enters Austin 1-0 after a 24-14 win September 5 versus Stephen F. Austin. Quarterback Gavin Hardison passed for over 200 yards and a score, while running back Deion Hankins rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns in UTEP’s first win since August 31, 2019.
The old football cliché says teams make improvements between their first and second games. UTEP has an opportunity to make that jump against a Texas team playing game one. The Miners are overmatched by Texas’ talent, but Herman mentioned his team would be on the lookout for UTEP’s week one-to-two step up.
He also mentioned UTEP coach Dana Dimel runs an offense in El Paso similar to the quarterback run-heavy offenses he ran as Kansas State offensive coordinator from 2009 to 2017. On the other side of the ball, Herman explained how UTEP runs several different defensive fronts the Longhorns will need to keep an eye on.
Herman could have gone on and on about what he sees between the lines for Texas’ upcoming game, but the cloud of uncertainty COVID-19 put over this season isn’t going away. When asked what on-field concerns remained entering the season, Herman quickly left the bounds of the field with his response. It wasn’t linebacker or offensive line, but maintaining program diligence on safety protocols.
“Things I’m worried about are making it through the dang season,” Herman said.
That cloud is going to remain over every football program choosing to play this fall. It’s a cloud that will bring testing to Big 12 student-athletes three times per week. It’s one that has Herman preparing third-stringers and walk-ons more than he ever has in his career.
The cloud isn’t going away, but a ray of sunshine is peaking through. Football is near, and Herman believes his Longhorns are ready no matter where the games take place.
“We’ll play games in the parking lot if we have to,” he said.