After contending for the Big 12 and knocking off Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, Texas is back…at least back to practicing for the football season. That means it is time to get into the meat and potatoes of what could be the beginning of the most exciting year this decade for Longhorn Nation.
To begin the 2019 season, Texas will have the opportunity to discover the genuine nature of their readiness to pursue the College Football Playoff. Sam Ehlinger’s “WE’RE BACK” proclamation has the Burnt Orange Faithful anticipating big league success this year. Before they can vie for the Big 12 crown, they first have to get through their non-conference slate. Lets take a look at the Longhorn’s first three opponents.
Aug 31 – vs Louisiana Tech
Thanks to Terry Bradshaw, most Texas Fans should already know who the Longhorns play to begin the season: a Louisiana Tech team that went 8-5 last season with a bowl win over Hawaii.
LA Tech will returns quarterback J’Mar Smith, leading rusher Jaqwis Dancy and leading receiver Adrian Hardy from last season’s squad. However, they lose Jaylon Ferguson who set an NCAA Record with 45 career sacks.
This team is feisty and gave LSU a scare last season even though the Tigers jumped out to a 24-0 lead. The Bulldogs came roaring back into the game and pulled within three points at 21-24 in the fourth quarter. LSU ultimately put the game away 38-21, but Tech showed that they shouldn’t be overlooked.
The Longhorns have not done well to initiate season campaigns under Tom Herman. They’ve lost their last two season openers to Maryland. That said, I believe that they get it done this year.
Sep 7 – vs LSU
This one has ESPN College Gameday potential as LSU went 10-3 last season with a bowl win over UCF. While Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso are marked as a maybe, you better believe that the purple and gold will show up in Austin for this one.
Texas and LSU have played 17 times in history, but their last meeting took place in the 2003 Cotton Bowl Classic. Texas won that game 35-20.
It’s safe to say this LSU team is going to look quite a bit different from the one Texas faced back then. On defense, the Tigers will be lethal. They are led by defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. (who actually recommended Tom Herman to take a look at hiring Todd Orlando when Herman took the job at Houston) They lose Devin White and Greedy Williams, but return unanimous All-American safety Grant Delpit. We will learn a lot about this year’s Longhorn offense against this unit.
Notable Returning players on offense include quarterback Joe Burrow. Burrow completed 58 percent of his passes for 2,894 yards and 16 touchdowns to just five interceptions. They also return running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who averaged 4.5 yards per carry last season.
The Longhorn secondary will also have to account for receiver Justin Jefferson. He racked up 875 yards and six touchdowns in 2018.
LSU also added coach Joe Brady as a passing game coordinator in an effort to install a spread offense under offensive coordinator Steve Ensminger.
This will be just the second game for Joe Burrow in this new system, on the road in a tough environment. LSU also led the SEC in sacks allowed last year. If Texas can create pressure, they may be able to get Burrow off his game and force mistakes. Nevertheless, expect a big, fast, and physical unit that Texas will have to bring their ‘A’ game against.
Early betting lines have this one as a pick ’em, but I expect Sam and company will be ready, and Texas moves to 2-0.
Sep 14 – vs Rice
If things go as predicted above, Texas will roll into NRG stadium feeling pretty good. This matchup will also be the perfect hangover cure following the prior showdown against LSU. Rice is coming off of a 2-win season in Conference USA.
Even if there is a letdown, the Longhorns should roll in this one. Starting quarterback Shawn Stankavage return to add to his 1,328 yards and 10 touchdowns from last season, although he is probably looking to cut down on the 10 interceptions. Regardless, the Longhorn defense should feast on a buffet of sacks and turnovers this weekend.
If Texas starts 3-0, it will be the first time to do so since 2012 under Mack Brown. This year’s non conference schedule will give Texas the opportunity to firmly cement themselves among the playoff contenders heading into conference play. However, getting past LSU and company would be the first of several challenges to overcome.