Expectations have been pushed back by many after a disappointing 51-41 loss to the Maryland Terrapins on Saturday. We’ve seen this kind of performance by a Texas team many times during the Charlie Strong era. A rollercoaster of a game with inconsistent defense, questionable play-calling, and wild special teams play.
Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly from Saturday’s loss.
Linebacker Malik Jefferson the first two series:
Jefferson looked every bit like the kind of player he can be in the first two defensive series. He read the read option perfectly and made a couple of nice tackles early on including a big hit on Maryland quarterback, Tyrell Pigrome.
Wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps:
The redshirt freshman waited his turn and had a very encouraging debut as a Longhorn. After an impressive spring game and some offseason hype around Hemphill-Mapps, he exceeded expectations in game one.
Hemphill-Mapps finished the game with seven receptions, which resulted in a solid 69 yards. He also added a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown, which marked the biggest play of the game for the Longhorns. He looked elusive and was reliable on screen passes to the outside and was able to take hard hits after making catches in traffic too. Saturday was a strong start to his Longhorn career.
Cornerback Holton Hill:
The junior cornerback got the Herman era off to hot start with a pick-six on the third defensive play of the game. He was in the right place at the right time and scooped up a blocked field goal by Poona Ford and returned it for a touchdown. After a tough sophomore season, Hill was by far the most impressive defensive back on the field in Saturday’s game. Hill made some exceptional tackles in space, especially on third down. He finished the game with eight total solo tackles.
Shane Buechele’s mobility and short yardage passing:
Buechele may not be the perfect quarterback for Tom Herman’s system, but the kid is tough. He was able to escape pressure multiple times and make something out of nothing.
The stats may show 15 carries for 21 yards but Buechele looked good running the ball and took some tough hits throughout the game. He really gained 45 yards on the ground, but lost 24 of those yards due to sacks and poor offensive line play. Buechele was also impressive with the 0-to-15-yard passes. He got the ball out quick and let his recievers make some plays with the ball. It was a solid effort to kick off his sophomore season, although Buechele can improve on the deeper passes.
Ability to comeback from 27-7 deficit:
Texas responded well after getting embarrassed early on. The blocked field goal was huge, but overall the defense played with more energy and the offense was able to find a rhythm, which was encouraging to see. Of course, it also helps when the defense can get off the field on third down. Maryland was 3-for-11 on third downs, which is good for a low 27 percent. This was a big problem for the team last year. Texas was also 9-for-18 (50%) offensively on third down. The problem was the inability to convert on fourth down.
Malik Jefferson the rest of the game:
Jefferson was quiet as the game went on and wasn't able to make a big play when the defense really needed one. He was unable to fill the right gaps, which led to some big plays from Maryland running back, Ty Johnson. Jefferson has to be more consistent from start to finish each week.
Place kicker Josh Rowland had a solid game on kickoffs, but the problem was the kick coverage. Maryland averaged an impressive 30.5 yards per return. Herman emphasized the importance of having the best athletes on the field for special teams. Those best athletes were unable to make tackles in space on returns, which set Maryland up with good field position on many of their drives. The 62-yard return by Johnson after Hemphill-Mapps’ punt return touchdown was an absolute momentum killer.
Inability to develop a run game:
Yes, this offense is set up as a more pass-friendly offense but you HAVE to develop a run game to be more effective through the air. The 250-pound Chris Warren III only had six carries for 31 yards. He averaged a 5.2 yards per carry and likely would have been more effective if he received more touches. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck should have ran him more when Texas face third and short situations, and even the questionable fourth down passes. Kyle Porter should have been the guy receiving screens out of the backfield rather than Warren.
It was a really tough game for the big boys up front. Even future 1st round draft pick Connor Williams struggled against Maryland’s edge rushers, as he had two holding penalties late in the game. The unit simply didn’t give Buechele enough time early on, which is why the offense struggled to gain any rhythm in the first half.
Also, a John Burt touchdown was negated due to a holding call on right tackle Tristan Nickelson. Luckily, senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman came up with a big touchdown catch on a good ball from Buechele two plays later. Overall, the offensive line had a brutal performance in game one.
Cornerbacks and safeties in pass coverage:
Give Maryland credit; they did an excellent job developing the run, which set them up for big pass plays. Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore is a stud, too. Junior cornerback Kris Boyd had a tough first game, including allowing a crucial 3rd and 19 first down pass late in the four quarter, which basically sealed the ballgame. Sophomore safety Brandon Jones also had a tough first game. He got beat deep a couple of times, which resulted in big pass plays, although he did get lucky on one that was incomplete. Jones has the potential to be an elite safety, but expect some growing pains early on with him.
The defense was at its best when junior safety DeShon Elliott came up and played more of Rover type role in stopping the run. He made some big tackles throughout the game. Expect to see more of that from him this season. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando went with more of a complex defensive scheme in the first half. He made good halftime adjustments and kept it more simple in the second half, as it showed in the way the defense played. Against an offense like Maryland, you just cannot allow big pass plays like Texas did. Overall, it wasn’t a good showing from the DBs.
Fourth-down play calling:
How bad was the fourth down play-calling? Brutal. The decision to go for it wasn’t necessarily brutal, but the play calling was, although the decision to go for it with the ball at midfield and a chance to pin Maryland deep was very questionable. Herman’s an aggressive coach, but in a spot like that you have to be smarter. Twice on fourth down, Beck decided to have Buechele roll out to the right instead of keeping him in the pocket. This is clearly not a strength of Buechele’s game and it didn’t work at all. Maryland defensive backs did a great job defending it, but you simply have to call better plays in those types of situations.
We’ve seen this story before, many times. The kicking game is still an issue. JUCO kicker transfer Joshua Rowland missed a key 42-yard attempt early on. He then had his 44-yard attempt blocked and returned for a score. It’s easy to judge after one game, but those were two crucial kicks. At the least, you’ve got to hit one of those. He would of had an easy 22-yard attempt early in the second half if it wasn’t for the decision to go for it on fourth down. Sigh.
Fans throwing cardboard/paper on the field:
It’s the first game ladies and gentleman. Relax. It’s inexcusable to just start firing stuff on the field WHILE the game is still going on. It’s a bad look for the fan base as a whole.
As bad as Texas looked, there are still lots of positives to take out of this game. This team can build on this game a lot and hopefully it shows on the field next Saturday vs. San Jose State. It’s one game; don’t write off this Texas team just yet.