Obligatory reminder: The SMO is an emotional overreaction based on the game events the day before. It does not deal in logic or reason.
I’ll open by apologizing for the delay in publishing this column.
Usually when I publish an SMO column this late in the week, it’s because Texas football has disappointed me so greatly that I have no interest in sitting down to rehash it the following Sunday.
This is not one of those times.
On Saturday morning, we buried my grandmother, Nana, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in late June of this year.
Nana never lived in the Lone Star State — she was a lifelong resident of Indiana, Pa.
But when a group of Texas college students showed up on her door-step five years ago to crash in her house and borrow her car to attend the first ever Texas v. West Virginia match-up some 90 miles south in Morgantown — she cooked a massive brisket, macaroni and cheese, cookies, etc. and helped pull the Horns to an exciting overtime victory.
Nana earned her Legendary Longhorn status that weekend.
OK, the game.
I’ll confess, when I created this column about five years ago, the idea of making it an “optimistic” column was mainly in jest.
My goal — initially — was to create somewhat of a mock column that you’d find on the pay-sites. Columns where one week they’ll tell you, “What I’m hearing behind the scenes is that this is going to be the best year of Texas football ever” and then follow it up after a loss two weeks later with, “From what I’ve been gathering, big money donors are FURIOUS and have let the administration know it. It’s the beginning of the end for [insert coach here.]”
You know, the good stuff you’re all paying $8.99/mo to read. The true insider access.
Instead, the column morphed into a purely reactionary post — sometimes so ridiculous that I was instructed to leave a disclaimer at the top of the page.
The point, I suppose, is that I have never mentally prepared for being this sincerely optimistic this late into September. I have no idea what to do.
Texas football is playing really well against good football teams. DKR’s atmosphere is improving each and every week.
Athletic Director Chris Del Conte and Drew Martin received much-deserved praise for their work in a piece published this morning from Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples:
Del Conte and Martin have reconfigured the seating to give Texas students a contiguous bloc of seats with the Texas band blasting from the middle. They have made that student seating first-come, first-serve to get those students in the stadium and yelling. They have cut down on ads on the video boards and forbidden on-field, thanks-for-writing-that-big-check presentations if those presentations bring down the energy level in the stadium.
The newcomers are trying to remind Texas fans that football games are supposed to be fun. And it just so happens that for the past two Saturdays, the team has given fans a reason to keep partying in the stands.
And none of this would be possible had the on-field performance not started trending in the right direction.
I don’t know what it was about the Maryland game — but for a second year in a row it appears to be the exception, not the rule. In its last two games, Texas football has outscored its opponent 42-3 in the second half.
When Texas coach Tom Herman came into this season, one of the biggest questions asked was whether or not he could teach this team how to finish. After a season with so many close losses, most Texas fans assumed the answer was no after the ‘Letdown in Landover on Labor Day.’
Three weeks later, Texas is finishing games emphatically. Who knew the Longhorns could still do that?
Extremely Optimistic — Caden Sterns
Are you kidding me? The second coming of Earl Thomas is finally on campus. This kid is an absolute beast. He’s only played in four college games as a true freshman, and he already has three interceptions and 15 total tackles.
The future 2021 first-round draft choice was an absolute impact player against TCU — stealing two must-have interceptions for the Horns and locking down opposing wide receivers in the secondary. Watch out Michael Huff, you might end up being the second best Texas defensive back to ever wear No. 7.
Extremely Optimistic — Collin Johnson, L.J. Humphrey and the WRs
I said it at the beginning of the year and I’ll say it again: I’ll put Texas wide receivers up with just about any wide receiver unit in the country.
Collin Johnson and L.J. Humphrey are getting the job done for Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Against TCU, it was CJ’s show. Johnson finished with seven catches for 124 yards and an amazing, highlight-reel touchdown catch.
Humphrey contributed as well, pulling in four catches for 77 yards and a touchdown of his own. Through four games, Humphrey and Johnson have nearly identical stat lines. LJH currently has 21 receptions to Johnson’s 20 — each averaging around 15 yards a catch. The duo has also combined for five touchdowns.
Devin Duvernay follows the pair with eight receptions on the season. I would love to see him used a little bit more — his explosiveness is so dangerous. As Herman said earlier in the year, just throw it up and let him go get it. You won’t over-throw him.
Excited to see young guys start contributing in this group — Joshua Moore has already shown he’s an elite athlete and Brennan Eagles — though he has been battling through injuries — is also capable of becoming another offensive weapon for Herman & Co. to utilize.
Also, and maybe this is just me, but I love John Burt. Hope to see him back out there soon.
Extremely Optimistic — Gary Johnson
If you’re a linebacker recruit in high school right now, why would you not want to come play for Todd Orlando? Just look at what he is doing with Gary Johnson.
Johnson was all over USC two weeks ago, finishing with four TFLs. He currently is second in total team tackles with 26 — behind Brandon Jones.
According to social media, Johnson also found out he is about to be the father of a baby girl. Maybe that will soften him up a little bit, but hopefully not until the end of the season.
Optimistic — Sam Ehlinger is finding his role
Ehlinger terrified the Texas faithful with his opening performance against Maryland, but since then, the true sophomore has become a beacon of quarterbacking efficiency.
In the three games since the ‘Debacle in DC,’ Ehlinger is 58-for-92 for 715 yards, six touchdowns and — most importantly — ZERO interceptions. In those three games, he’s also rushed for 97 yards and three touchdowns.
You don’t need to put up Heisman-like numbers with this team. Ehlinger is doing exactly what is asked of him and it’s putting Texas in the right positions to win.
If Ehlinger protects the football and gets it to his offensive weapons while also threatening defenses with his rushing ability, Texas can win a lot of games this season.
Neutrally Optimistic — Kris Boyd, Breckyn Hager
I said it before and I’ll say it again: the preseason Kris Boyd hype felt like the purist form of Texas football propaganda — not because he isn’t capable, but because he hasn’t shown it yet.
Three games in and my feelings haven’t really changed. Boyd made some good plays to start the year, including a great interception against USC, but really struggled with TCU’s Jalen Reagor — who is a beast in his own right.
Boyd will have an opportunity to play at the next level — but it would be really exciting to see him become the lock-down corner that everyone surrounding Texas football says he can be.
Similarly, it feels like Texas defensive end Breckyn Hager is all over the field — just not in places he should be. Hager had a really hard time with Maryland’s jet sweeps and hasn’t really been a factor in the pass rush through four games.
I’m optimistic he will turn it on.
Optimistic — October football
It’s been a long time coming, but Texas could be playing relevant football heading into October.
To do that, Texas needs to get its first win in Manhattan since 2002. Kansas State is in full meltdown mode after a brutal beatdown on the road against West Virginia. The last thing Texas needs is a motivated Bill Snyder team.
Texas is rolling right now, though. I know Herman doesn’t believe in momentum, but I do.
A win on Saturday could set up the biggest showdown in Dallas in the last decade. Not that Texas can afford to look ahead to Oklahoma. The Horns have to play lights out this week. But it’s hard not to get excited about the possibilities of Texas escaping this stretch of the season with minimal damage.
It feels like we’ve come a long way since Labor Day. Nothing is off the table.
I didn’t get to it this week. Try again next week. Email thoughts, questions, concerns, etc. to firstname.lastname@example.org.