After a disappointing start to the season, to put it nicely, Texas coach Tom Herman had a rough week trying to put the pieces back together. Herman’s post-game press conference comments have been publicly criticized by the talking heads, pundits, and a certain head coach from Big Ten country.
Herman also stated that quarterback Shane Buechele will be a game-time decision after not practicing for the majority of the week due to a sore shoulder. After week one, Herman’s Horns seem to have left everyone with more questions regarding the prognosis of their 2017 season than they answered.
Texas was their own worst enemy last Saturday by committing 11 penalties for 117 yards. The Longhorns need to limit the mistakes and show they can play clean football against the San Jose State Spartans, who make their first visit to Austin.
Led by first year head coach, Brent Brennan, San Jose State will be playing in its third game this season when they face Texas. In week one, the Spartans held a 16-0 first quarter lead on Charlie Strong’s USF Bulls before falling in a 42-22 loss. The Spartans then defeated the Cal Poly Mustangs (FCS) a week ago, 34-13. In those two games, the Spartans have been able to amass an impressive average of 190 rushing yards per game.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 9 at 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (Austin, TX)
WEATHER: Sunny, high of 88F. Winds 5-10 MPH
SERIES HISTORY: First ever meeting
BETTING LINE: TEX -24.5
Last week’s performance was a small disaster. The Longhorns scored 41 points in their loss, but were only able to rack up 20 points offensively. Take into consideration that their first offensive touchdown didn’t come until 8:42 of the third quarter.
An offensive line, which was touted during the preseason, failed to provide Buechele with adequate protection and he was ultimately sacked five times while being hit a total of eighteen times. To make matters worse, Buechele couldn’t rely on the ground game to provide much balance as the running backs only garnered a total of 52 yards combined.
On defense, there didn’t seem to be much of a difference between the 2016 and 2017 squads. Big run and pass plays were allowed throughout the game by the Texas defense, much to the chagrin of everyone in burnt orange. In the end, they surrendered a total of 482 yards and 51 points to the Terps, the most ever in a season opener and the most allowed in a Texas’ head coach’s debut.
As previously mentioned, three Texas touchdowns came on defense and special teams. In fact, 14 of those points came courtesy of Holton Hill who returned an interception and blocked field goal for touchdowns in an excellent effort. It was almost enough to help bail the team out of the hole it dug for itself offensively and defensively. However, too many mistakes and lost opportunities eventually eroded away any hope the Horns might have to secure a week one victory.
If Texas wants to salvage its season then it must start this Saturday by focusing on fundamentals. Sure, Texas isn’t “back” at this moment as so many have fervently pointed out throughout the week. That doesn’t mean they can’t use the showdown against the Spartans as a springboard for improvement. The conference schedule still awaits beyond this challenge, and the Longhorns should look at this game as a chance to prepare for the race to come.
Keys To The Game Texas
Focus and Don’t Press – The Texas offense kept itself from capitalizing on various opportunities a week ago due to penalties. Focus on the fundamentals and follow through with proper playmaking and the results will be like the difference between night and day. Defensively, they must focus on limiting big plays. They may not yet possess the defensive playmakers to field a formidable defense, but they do possess an advantage in talent which they should exploit to the fullest. Wear the Spartans down. Expectations were sky-high just 7 days ago. What a difference a week can make. Now that the national ranking and pre-season hype are long gone, the Horns can hone in on fielding the proper personnel and getting into a groove. They must move forward without carrying the weight of expectations on their shoulders. This may be a tad more difficult if Shane Buechele is unable to play, or if he’s limited in action. If forced to play, freshman Sam Ehlinger seems to hold the type of mentality where he’d relish the opportunity. Ehlinger just needs to play within himself and not try to do too much, lest he become injured as well. Though he may be a freshman, the Spartans won’t exactly know what to expect from Ehlinger either which adds a level of intrigue.
Get The Running Game Going – A quarterback’s best friend is an effective run game. Buechele and/or Ehlinger will have a much easier time leading the offense down the field if Texas can establish a consistent and effective run game. D’Onta Foreman left big shoes to fill, but Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter need to begin doing exactly that. The offensive line will play a huge part in the overall success of the Texas offense by creating opportunities for Warren and Porter to impose their will, while also keeping the quarterback off his backside. But the play calling must be there and the running game cannot be abandoned.
This Is Not Sparta – As previously noted, the Spartans are averaging 190 rushing yards per game. It’s their bread and butter. The Longhorns gave up 263 rushing yards against Maryland. The Horns defense must be more physical and impose their will early upon running back Zamore Zigler, the go-to guy for the Spartans.
Prior to last week’s surprising loss, I would’ve picked Texas by a landslide early. After the illumination of the many deficiencies Texas seems to possess becomes coupled with the running strength of SJSU, I’m more inclined to second guess that initial opinion. The Longhorns will still win by double digits against their outmatched foe, but San Jose State will make it more interesting than Tom Herman would care for early on.