Tom Herman’s motto of 1-0 failed to come to fruition for the Texas Longhorns on Saturday.
The new era in Austin kicked off with a familiar result — a 51-41 loss to the Maryland Terrapins behind a barrage of self-inflicted wounds.
Penalties, special teams miscues, and quite simply, subpar play-calling and game management by the coaching staff all come to mind here.
Such issues ultimately proved to be Charlie Strong’s downfall and while few expected Texas to become a Big 12 title contender simply by way of Herman’s arrival, these kinds of errors were supposed to be addressed.
As we saw on Saturday morning and afternoon, that’s not quite the case yet — Texas just couldn’t get out of its own way.
Herman on what was going through his mind late in the fourth quarter: "Why can't we get out of our own way?"— Horns247 (@Horns247) September 2, 2017
In an eerily ironic fashion, two of Texas’ 2016 issues that clearly carried over into the 2017 debut — penalties and special teams miscues — largely went hand-in-hand. For example, prior to Joshua Rowland’s missed 42-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter, a Dorian Leonard holding call pushed Texas back 10 yards to the 35-yard line. The ‘Horns gained those 10 yards back, but the difference was evident on the field goal attempt and likely kept three points off the board as a result.
In the second quarter, the correlation between penalties and special teams struggles proved to be even more damning.
A Shane Buechele completion to Jerrod Heard was set to give the Longhorns a first and goal from the five-yard line, but an offensive pass interference call on Reggie Hemphill-Mapps stalled the drive and forced a field goal attempt.
The kick never made it past the line of scrimmage and a scoop-and-score for Maryland essentially capped a 10-point swing in favor of the Terps.
Add in the TD on the blocked FG and Texas has lost 17 points on special teams today. Tom Herman knows it's hard to win like that.— Wescott Eberts (@SBN_Wescott) September 2, 2017
Texas did return the favor a couple series later after Poona Ford sent a blocked Maryland field goal attempt into the awaiting handing of Holton Hill, but it was a Daniel Young muffed kick return — yes, a muffed kick return — that put the Terps in such great field position. Of course, the special teams error ultimately became a special teams highlight just plays later, but the ‘Horns muffed two kick returns on the afternoon, which is simply unacceptable.
Ironically, while special teams hurt the ‘Horns in a variety of ways, it essentially kept Texas in the game. Along with the aforementioned blocked field goal return by Hill, Hemphill-Mapps took a punt return 91 yards to the house late in the third quarter, which gave Texas its third non-offensive touchdown of the game after registering none in all of 2016.
It was a positive spark of life, no doubt, but banking on two special teams touchdowns — and a defensive score — each time out in hopes of winning isn’t going to provide the most palatable results.
But while penalties and special teams miscues are all fixable mistakes over time, the coaching staff didn’t do the team any favors with questionable play-calling.
Tom Herman: "I thought play-calling was not good enough, but not disastrous." #HookEm— Horns247 (@Horns247) September 2, 2017
Herman saying the “play-calling was not good enough” is putting it lightly.
Just consider a few examples of where decision-making on the coaches part hurt the ‘Horns:
- 2nd quarter, 4th and 2 from Maryland’s 36 — Buechele pass to Garrett Gray incomplete.
- 3rd quarter, 3rd and goal from Maryland 4 — Buechele screen pass completed to Gray for loss of one, which led to the very next questionable call on 4th and goal ...
- 3rd quarter, 4th and goal from Maryland 5 — Down 30-14, Texas elected to go for it and a Buechele pass to Chris Warren III in the flat fell incomplete.
- 4th quarter, 4th and 2 from the Maryland 44 — Texas emptied the backfield and pressure led to a Buechele sack. More notably, Texas was down just 37-34 and Tyrell Pigrome, Maryland’s starting quarterback, was replaced by freshman Kasim Hill. A punt would have forced Hill and the Terps to go the length of the field, but instead, a turnover on downs led to a Maryland touchdown and 44-34 edge just seven plays later. This was essentially the point where Texas lost.
In a world of what-ifs, it would be easy to say simply handing the ball to Warren in the 4th and 2 situations, or kicking a field goal from the five-yard line, or punting and forcing a freshman to win the game on the road would have led to a 1-0 start, but failing to do so certainly didn’t help the ‘Horns.
The good news is this is only Week 1 and the mistakes are all correctable, including the play-calling once the staff can find a competent running back option and trust the kicking game.
The bad news is after an offseason jam-packed with talk of change and attention to detail after the lack thereof plagued Texas so often in 2016, the Longhorns looked just like the team they were last season.
Since his arrival, Herman has assured the burnt orange nation that Texas will be the most energetic, hardest-playing, most disciplined and well-coached team each time out.
None of that was the case on Saturday.