While big picture goal remains for Texas, small problems persist

Sam Ehlinger (Will Gallagher/IT)
Sam Ehlinger (Will Gallagher/IT)

Texas head coach Tom Herman has plenty of answers ready to go for a variety of questions. One of his favorites, especially over the 6-0 stretch prior to Saturday’s loss at Oklahoma State, is that his team is looking to go 1-0 every week, and the goal for his team in 2018 is to be in contention for the Big 12 championship.

The Longhorns failed in the first section Saturday, falling 38-35. But as Herman, deviating from the norm, spoke regarding the big picture, the opportunity to complete the second section is still intact.

“I don’t talk big picture with them very often,” Herman said Monday. “But I did with them yesterday and Saturday after the game in the locker room. The big picture is that we’ve still got all of our goals in terms of competing for the conference championship in front of us.”

That is true, but the path to actually competing in the Big 12 Championship game became more difficult with the loss. Instead of holding the conference lead outright, Texas now joins Oklahoma and West Virginia as 4-1 teams atop the standings.

Texas outscored the Sooners earlier in October, and can hold another tiebreaker within the top trio if the Longhorns defeat West Virginia in Austin this weekend.

The Mountaineers will have an extra few days of rest after a complete dismantling of Baylor on Thursday in Morgantown, and star quarterback Will Grier, who Herman called one of the best QBs in the country, should get four quarters of play against Texas as opposed to one last year due to injury.

The team West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen brings into Austin is ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, which in this strange season, could bode well for the Longhorns. Against ranked opponents in 2018, Texas is 3-0 with an average margin of victory of 13.667. One of those wins was against the aforementioned Sooners. The other two came against USC and TCU teams whose early season ranking was not indicative of their quality.

Against unranked opponents, Texas is 3-2 with an average scoring margin of +2. Oklahoma State was one of those unranked opponents.

“I don’t think ranked versus unranked, any of that stuff matters to our guys,” Herman said. “We didn’t play well on the road in a hostile environment.”

One of the reasons why the Longhorns struggled in Stillwater was due to yet another poor start from the defense. Texas was without starting senior corners Davante Davis and Kris Boyd for the opening quarter, and struggled defensively both against the run and the pass. The Cowboys gained 260 yards in the opening fifteen, including 53 yards on a four play touchdown drive to start the game.

Oklahoma State became the sixth team to score against Texas in its first drive of the game, and third to put up double-digits in the first quarter.

Herman was asked about his team’s early defensive struggles, but couldn’t come up with an explanation as to why they kept occurring.

“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s funny you ask that because I was doing some math in my head, too. The first time I had thought about it even was yesterday. I just brought it to (defensive coordinator) Todd (Orlando’s) attention yesterday, and we’re going to talk about it some more tonight. Last year it was the opposite. We’ve just got to figure out why and make sure, but I don’t have a great answer for you right now.”

Figuring that out before Saturday would be in the Longhorn’s best interest, especially facing a prolific West Virginia offense with Grier at the helm.

The Mountaineers enter ranked, and also have scored on their first drive three times this season. Both of these qualities make this a game where Texas can advance its big picture goals while also exercising one of its small problems.

“I think we responded fantastically to the opening season loss,” Herman said. I don’t think anybody can dispute that, and so I think this is very similar. That game in Stillwater will only define our season if we let it. We have an opportunity to define our season by how we respond to it as well.”