When we look back at Tom Herman’s first year in Austin, we’ll likely look back towards the bottom half of the season as the part of the schedule that saved Herman and Texas from utter disappointment in a year many thought would feel more reassuring.
Thanks to the win against West Virginia in Morgantown, the Longhorns have secured bowl eligibility and can close out their season with a winning record as long as they take care of business against Texas Tech this Friday in Austin.
Finishing with a 7-5 record would be the first winning season for the Longhorns since Mack Brown walked the sidelines as the Texas head coach for the last time before he and the ‘Horns parted ways four years ago.
— What a huge win this was for the Longhorns on Saturday. Not only did winning this game now give Texas a chance to end the season with a winning record, it led to the Longhorns first bowl game in three years.
More importantly than any of that, this team now gets an extra 15 practices leading up to its bowl game. That’s essentially another spring practice with that amount of practice time.
— Overall, the defense showed up and did its part as it has all season long. And yeah, sure, WVU’s offense lost fire power when it lost starting quarterback Will Grier to a gruesome finger injury.
Regardless, the defense played well and showed up like it has most of this season, holding West Virginia’s offense to just seven points.
— The Unnecessary Roughness flag called on Davante Davis was absolute trash.
When looking back at that play, it looked like Davis was already in motion of taking that WVU receiver down when the initial whistle blew. The flag itself was unnecessary, not anything Davis did on that play.
— Speaking of flags, Hager getting the flag and boot from the game for targeting was definitely debatable at the very least.
By definition, he did hit the quarterback’s head with the crown of his own helmet. At the same time, the refs failed to call the facemask flag that blatantly happened on that same play just seconds before Hager made contact with the quarterback.
It could even be argued that the facemask led to the contact between Hager and WVU quarterback Chris Chugunov.
Consider me someone who thinks the ejection associated with this flag is silly and should be removed from the penalty.
-- If you haven’t realized this by now, it’s time for you to accept that this coaching staff wants Sam Ehlinger to be the guy at quarterback, and there’s two main reasons why...
Reason number one is that Ehlinger is able to consistently use his legs and running ability to extend plays, pick up yards on the ground, and force the opposing defenses to respect that threat to run.
We have to remember that both Herman and Beck have utilized mobile quarterbacks in their previous stops, and that’s the type of quarterback they generally recruit to run their offense.
The second reason is one that not all quarterbacks have in general, especially true freshman quarterbacks — and that’s the demeanor and confidence Ehlinger plays with.
There’s no lack of confidence from Ehlinger, and that goes a long way given he’s already a leader of this football team as a true freshman.
Even after adversity or a negative play occurs during a game, like a pick-six in the red zone, Ehlinger comes back out with the same smooth confidence he starts the game with. And that resonates with players around him.
Buechele started this game the first two drives and didn’t necessarily do anything wrong. He’s also shown to be the more accurate passer right now between the two, even if the margin isn’t a large one. But Ehlinger brings more of that play-making and play-extending ability that is coveted at the quarterback position, and he carries himself as a leader of this team.
This will be Ehlinger’s job to lose until further notice.
— Another true freshman who has solidified his case as the best at his position is freshman running back Daniel Young.
It’s a shame that it took until the last weekend of October for this coaching staff to finally give Young a real chance to show what he could do.
On the positive side, Texas at least now has a good outlook at the running back position these next few years with both Daniel Young and fellow freshman Toniel Carter looking like they could be a formidable 1-2 punch.
Speaking of Carter, he did struggle against the Mountaineers ending the day with a 2.7 yard-per-carry average on 10 carries. Carter is better than those stats, though, and he very well could bounce back against a weak Red Raider defense this Friday.
-- Wow, what a difference Connor Williams makes on this offensive line
After missing all of conference play until this past Saturday, Williams stepped right into the starting lineup and played like the dominant offensive lineman that he is.
Williams being back doesn’t fix everything on offense but it sure makes life easier for running backs running to the left side of the formation.
— Of course the one game Williams returns, Texas watches its starting left guard Patrick Vahe exit the game with what would eventually be diagnosed as a 2nd-degree sprained MCL.
Vahe will miss this Friday’s game against Texas Tech and is hopeful to return for whatever bowl game the Longhorns get invited to.
— Should Malik Jefferson decide to return for his senior year at Texas (these odds have to be low, no?), he and Gary Johnson would be a force in the middle of this defense in 2018.
Both Johnson and Jefferson have played well together as of late, and Johnson won Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against West Virginia.
If Jefferson leaves, though, the Longhorns will absolutely look to Gary Johnson to be a stable force at linebacker in 2018.
— Another duo that impressed on defense Saturday in Morgantown were safeties Brandon Jones and DeShon Elliott.
There are fewer things I enjoy more than watching safeties show up all over the field making plays. DeShon Elliott has been doing it all season, and on Saturday Brandon Jones showed more consistency as well.
There’s no question that Jones’ forced fumble at the goal line early in the game was a huge moment. The Mountaineers not only missed a chance to score, they lost the ball and their starting quarterback.
After that, West Virginia struggled to overcome the turbulence losing starting quarterback Will Grier created for its offense.
Whether or not Elliott returns for his senior season (I doubt he returns), the Longhorns will need more big plays from Jones moving forward.
Jones came to Texas as a five-star recruit with expectations he would be an instant impact player. To date, his impact hasn’t been to the level many expected.
He has the athleticism to be one of the better safeties around, he just has to continue to learn to diagnose plays more quickly and play with better consistency in coverage.
-- I hope there’s a logical reason as to why we haven’t seen more of Reggie Hemphill-Mapps on offense, like that he’s been dealing with a lingering knee injury all season.
Hemphill-Mapps has the ability to separate from defensive backs consistently and should see plenty of opportunities if healthy.
He ended the day with just two receptions, one being a huge 50-yard gain early in the game that lead to the Longhorns’ first touchdown of the game. Hemphill-Mapps has the tools to be an electric wide receiver in the Big 12 in the coming years.
— It’s been fun watching a Texas offense actually use its tight ends as legit receiving options again. The first two Longhorns touchdowns of the game came on two passes in the red zone to tight end Kendall Moore and H-Back Chris Warren.
What has been a position deprived of healthy depth this season could actually quickly be one of strength heading into 2018 if the Longhorns can manage to avoid the barrage of injuries the position has seen this year.
Along with Cade Brewer, who has recently been ruled out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, the Longhorns will also add redshirt freshman Reese Leitao into the mix at tight end next year and could see former starting tight end and H-Back Andrew Beck return for a 5th season after missing all of this season with a broken ankle.
And should Chris Warren decide to stick around the 40 Acres and commit to playing H-back full time as well, this position group of tight ends and H-backs could become a huge strength for the Longhorns in 2018.
Whether or not Warren will decide to stay at Texas as an H-Back after this season remains to be seen.
Celebrating a sixth win when there’s one game left in the season isn’t ideal and isn’t the normal standard expected of Texas Longhorns football.
A sixth win, though, ensures bowl eligibility and gives most of these Texas players a chance to end the season with a winning record for the first time as Longhorns.
Hey, progress is progress, and this football program absolutely needs all the progress it can get.