AUSTIN, Texas — Bad defence, bad special teams and bad penalties. And the same old result.
Outside of those $10 million locker rooms, Tom Herman hasn’t really fixed much at Texas so far.
With a 51-41 loss to Maryland on Saturday, Herman’s Longhorns tripped into the 2017 season looking a lot like the team from 2016. And 2015. And 2014.
Once again, Texas got pushed around at the line of scrimmage and gave up big plays on special teams along with big-play touchdowns in a loss that deflated a fan base eager for Herman to turn things around after three consecutive losing seasons under Charlie Strong.
Texas is back? Back to where it was before. And Strong isn’t around to blame for this one. Herman praised his team for fighting to the end of the game but that will be of little solace in a program that lost its home opener for the first time since 1999.
“I told our guys never to get used to this feeling, but that we all thought that we were going to come in here and in nine months, sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we’ve arrived, then we’re wrong,” Herman said.
Herman didn’t sound angry in his postgame comments. He was rather subdued. And his players said the problems can be fixed.
“It was a lot of self-inflicted wounds. We’re going to get those things fixed because those are game changers,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
That too sounds a lot like what Texas players have been saying for years. But how to fix a defensive line that continues to get pushed around at the line of scrimmage? Herman chided the defensive line when he first arrived, but softened last week when he called it the surprise group of training camp. Nose tackle Poona Ford was named a team captain.
Ford blocked a field goal that was returned for a touchdown, but Maryland manhandled Texas’ defensive front, averaging 6.1 yards per rush. Ty Johnson ran for 132 yards on 12 carries, an average of 11 yards per carry, for the Terrapins. Before he got hurt in the third quarter, Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome was 9 of 12 passing for 175 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Kasim Hill was 3 of 3 and converted a huge fourth quarter third down that set up a touchdown.
Pigrome “threw the ball better than we thought he could,” Herman said.
The offence had similar struggles. A running game that produced a 2,000-yard rusher last season managed just 98 yards against Maryland. Quarterback Shane Buechele, when he wasn’t passing for 375 yards, had a team-high 15 carries for just 21 yards. Chris Warren III, a 250-pound bruiser, carried only six times. Texas went 0-4 on fourth down. Of Texas’s 41 points, only 20 were from the offence as defence and special teams scored three touchdowns.
Even the special teams gave up game-changing plays. Maryland returned a blocked kick for a 71-yard touchdown and killed Texas’ momentum in the fourth with a big kickoff return that set up a touchdown.
Texas fans have seen these sorts of game unravel for years now. Of Texas’ 30 coaches since 1894, Herman is one of only three to lose their first game.
“Why can’t we get out of own way?” Herman asked. “That’s where the big-time introspection and self-criticism has to come on these next 24 and 48 hours … We’ve got to find a way to execute the way that we’ve been trained to execute when live bullets are flying.”
Next up for Texas is a home game Saturday against San Jose State.