“One game does not make a season.”
The simple statement from Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong last week following the double-overtime thriller against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish summed up how the ‘Horns had to approach this weekend’s game against the UTEP Miners.
After a history of inconsistent performances last season, Strong was nervous, an unusual emotion for a head coach who doesn’t normally worry excessively.
He had a short game week to prepare for UTEP, having given his team Monday off following the Sunday victory. As a result, film prep for the upcoming opponent was put off until Tuesday. Strong said that he felt like he was a day behind all week. He was.
And those were just the issues with not having a full week to prepare — the team’s recent history and ability to deal with success were perhaps bigger concerns.
“I was just so nervous, because you say, ‘Oh, God, everybody is going to tell them how great they have done and they are reading it, now how are we going to respond?’”
“That's all I kept talking about is just focus and you haven't done anything yet; and are we gonna be just a one-game wonder; what are we going to do; how are we going to respond; how can we respond?” Strong wondered.
Injuries made the task more difficult, but the Texas head coach believes that a lack of depth can no longer be an excuse — there’s talent at every position, with some possessing depth provided by older players
Along the offensive line, which was missing three starters to being the game and lost another during the contest — freshman center Zach Shackelford to continued injury problems — multiple veterans emerged despite all the buzz about the youth movement.
Sophomore offensive guard Alex Anderson did so against Notre Dame, putting him in position to earn his first start. Strong teased him a bit about it in front of the team before the game to loosen up his players.
“I never, ever thought you would be running out here starting a game,” Strong said.
To some extent, he wasn’t joking — before fall camp began, Anderson wasn’t anywhere close to the depth chart and looked like a guy content to merely occupy a scholarship.
The Texas head coach had challenged everyone to emerge to replace injured players, especially the guys who have been in the program for multiple years under Strong.
“We're in a position now where some of you guys been in the program and it's time for you to step up and help us and help this program,” he told his team.
So on Thursday, Strong held a meeting with the seniors to ask them to get the attention of the younger players and ensure that they were focused on the game. Though relatively small, that group has been instrumental in becoming the voice of the coaching staff and ensuring a greater level of locker-room cohesion than last season.
Senior wide receiver Jacorey Warrick, known as Petey, took some of it into his own hands during the game with his best performance as a Longhorn, leading the team with seven catches for 73 yards and his first touchdown in burnt orange.
“Look what Petey has done, nobody ever heard of Petey until this year and look how effective he is on punt returns, and then he catches the ball, he can make a guy miss,” Strong said. “Then he's able to move the ball and get the yards after the catch. It's just really fun watching.”
All in all, a 41-7 win over UTEP may not seem like an incredible performance for Texas, but when putting it in context, the injuries and need to respond after the big win to start the season helped the ‘Horns show important and demonstrable growth.
“The number one thing is I’m extremely proud of our guys, fighting through adversity and it’s been that mentality, that’s what we got so for those guys that were forcing the action tonight to be able to play,” said offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert.
“I’m proud of those guys for going out and fighting and battling and what it does naturally with that, you know you have to play other guys, you’re in the process of creating depth. It’s a long football season and so be able to create depth, up front especially, and being in a situation to play some of those young guys in those skilled positions. Its beneficial.”