Now that the much ballyhooed matchup against the LSU Tigers is in the rear-view mirror, the Longhorns must dust themselves off and focus on the remainder of their season’s goals. This game, as well as the season opener against Louisiana Tech, told us quite a bit about the season’s possibilities for the Longhorns. Trying our best not to look through burnt orange colored glasses, we take a look ahead.
First, let’s take a quick look at the ugly, and there was quite a bit to look at defensively. The Longhorn’s secondary gave up 100 yards receiving to three LSU wide receivers as Joe Burrow passed for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson got dangerously close to 200 receiving yards with an impressive 163-yard and three touchdown performance. LSU’s offense only had to punt twice in this game against the Texas defense. Ouch.
However, let us keep in mind that Texas has eight new starters on the defensive side of the ball. Six of which are underclassmen. The improvement of certain players like sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai, has been an absolute revelation. Even without a consistent pass rush, the Texas defense got to Joe Burrow and dropped him in the backfield four times on the night. The change of attitude on the defensive side of the ball is palpable, despite their statistical shortcomings.
Looking ahead, the loss of standout safety B.J. Foster to a hamstring injury surely won’t make things any easier. But, take into consideration that his injury opens up playing time for other talented players who will be forced to step up. Look for Josh Thompson and D’Shawn Jamison to help fill this void at nickelback. The progression at this spot is critical as the Longhorns will again be tested through the air when they face Oklahoma State in a couple of weeks.
Things looked much more promising on the opposite side of the ball with Sam Ehlinger leading the charge. Ehlinger passed for 401 yards and four touchdowns, and added another rushing touchdown to go along with 60 yards rushing on 19 carries. With a lack of a healthy running back stable, it’s unsurprising that Ehlinger ran with the ball 19 times. The biggest thing though, is that Ehlinger was able to do so without really taking any huge shots. However, the Texas offensive line did give up five sacks for a loss of 28 yards on the day.
Ehlinger’s 677 passing yards through the first two games are the most by a Texas quarterback of all-time. During this span, Ehlinger has thrown 85 passes without an interception and hasn’t thrown a pick since last season. He was even named the Manning Award Star of the Week. That’s a far cry from the young quarterback who was known for throwing interceptions at crucial times in the past against the likes of Oklahoma State and Maryland.
Senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay continues to be on a tear early this season. He recorded career-highs with 12 passes for 154 yards. The fact that defenses are focusing on taking away Colin Johnson as a weapon has allowed the strong and aggressive Duvernay, along with newcomer Brennan Eagles, to really showcase their talents. Eagles helped snap a 17-game streak in which the Horns hadn’t produced a play of 50 yards or more with his 55-yard touchdown catch from Sam Ehlinger.
So the question many people had before this game was if Texas was truly back. The answer is no…and yes. This team is good, make no mistake about it. It’s just not good enough to leave 10 points on the field against a top-5 opponent like LSU. There’s still plenty of room for improvement on both sides of the ball.
Can these Longhorns win the Big 12 and still make the College Football Playoff? That still remains to be seen. The schedule is unrelenting as matchups against several more explosive offenses await. But remember, it was just three short seasons ago when the Longhorns lost to Kansas. It was only a season ago when the Longhorns lost for a second consecutive year to Maryland, and then escaped at home against a feisty Tulsa team a week later.
Now, the prospect of the Longhorns reaching lofty heights once again is definitely more tangible than it just recently was. If going 2-2 overall against Oklahoma, Georgia, and LSU in you most recent matchups does’t mean you’re back, it definitely means you’re a helluva lot closer than you have been in a long time.
This team is young. It’s talented. And it’s hungry. They are still a favorite to get to the Big 12 Championship game, and if they win that, maybe they’ll get another shot at LSU.