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Texas fighting mental battle after opening loss

“The fastest way to failure is to play in fear of failure.”

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t blame these Texas Longhorns for not caring enough, and don’t blame head coach Tom Herman for his positive assessments of the team throughout fall camp.

At least to hear Herman tell it this week, that is.

The amount of credibility afforded the first-year head coach is for the individual reader to decide, but Herman was certainly unequivocal on Monday about what happened last weekend against Maryland.

“The fastest way to failure is to play in fear of failure,” Herman said, sounding like a coach’s version of a self-help book for fragile players.

“I think that our guys, in talking to a lot of the players on the team, they have never been so invested in something for so long and quite frankly, I think a lot of them tried to be perfect. They tried to squeeze too hard, if you will, and they didn't cut loose and play the way that they had hoped that they played.”

The task for Herman and his coaching staff this week has been finding ways to position the players to translate training to the field.

As Herman put it, the team was making simple fundamental mistakes against Maryland that the staff hadn’t seen since spring practice. Hence the preseason superlatives and the shock felt across Longhorn Nation last Saturday in the aftermath of the defeat.

One of the first things that Herman asked of his players was to rip their metaphorical hearts out and give them to their coaches. Now the ‘Horns have to trust that coaching on the field — otherwise, too much thinking gets in the way and players end up a step or two slow to the right spot on the field.

Don’t blame the players for not responding to adversity, either, because they know how things were in previous seasons.

“Coach, in years past, had we gone down 27-7, there would be a lot of guys that probably folded up their tents and went home,” numerous players told Herman.

“And that thing could have gotten ugly,” Herman said.

The end result was ugly and felt awful, to be sure, but the response was there. Texas had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter after making big plays in the third quarter and simply come up short.

On Monday, the hunger to correct those mistakes and achieve a more positive result this weekend led numerous players into the weight room, the film room, to work with the trainers recovering from the game on an off day.

Everywhere Herman looked, there were players trying to get better.

On Saturday against San Jose State, Texas will get an opportunity to show improvement. For defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, that means one thing in particular.

“This shows what we're about,” Orlando said. “This coming week, this ball game is going to show everybody in the country if these guys have the grit to win a championship.”

Perhaps more accurately, the team just has to translate their training to the field and play finally play as fast as they have been in practice.

The grit isn’t really the most looming concern any more.