Tom Herman refused to watch last year’s game film of Charlie Strong’s 5-7 Longhorns. Texas’ new coach didn’t want to be influenced by what he saw on the screen.
The past didn’t matter anyway, in Herman’s mind. The last nine months were different. “I know how they’ve been trained,” he said days before the season opener against Maryland.
Herman may be a dynamic new coach. But these are still the same players that lost to Kansas. It’s the same program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2013.
All of the same problems that ultimately led to Strong’s dismissal were on full display again Saturday during Herman’s debut. Drive-killing penalties, a porous run defense and wild, unpredictable special teams all fueled the Terrapins’ 51-41 win over the 23rd-ranked Longhorns at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
“It’s like I was never fired,” Chuck F’n Strong tweeted during the first half.
It’s like I was never fired.
— Chuck F’n Strong (@ChuckFnStrong) September 2, 2017
The famous parody Twitter account had gone dormant with Strong’s departure. But the sentiment was spot on after Texas had a field goal blocked and returned 71 yards for a Maryland touchdown midway through the first half.
Cornerback Holton Hill returned an interception (31 yards) and blocked field goal (65 yards) for touchdowns. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps scored on an electric 91-yard punt return. And yet, the Longhorns (0-1) still let a winnable game slip away.
The Terps, 18-point underdogs, celebrated in the southeast corner with their fans, who chanted their coach’s name, “D.J. Durkin!”
“Why can’t we get out of our own way?,” Herman said. “That’s where the big-time introspection and self-criticism has to come these next 24-48 hours. We’ve got to find a way to stop beating ourselves. We’ve got to find a way to execute the way that we’ve been trained to execute when live bullets are flying.”
Left tackle Connor Williams, who had two holding penalties in the fourth quarter, was more blunt.
“We’re all hurt, and it’s not a pat on the back, it’s all going to be OK. Losing sucks,” Williams said. “We need to make sure we’re never in this spot again.”
Offense wasn’t the problem last year. Texas averaged 491.2 yards per game in 2016, the team’s highest total since the national title season of 2005. Against Maryland, the offense struggled on a day the unit had to carry the defense.
Quarterback Shane Buechele had what look like impressive numbers. He completed 34 of 52 passes for 375 yards and two touchdowns. Some were those quick swing or flat passes that coaches equate to running plays.
Buechele’s best pass of the day didn’t count. He found John Burt in the back of the end zone for an apparent 23-yard touchdown. Only it got negated by a holding penalty.
Three plays later, Buechele hit a twisting Armanti Foreman for a 33-yard score. That touchdown with 7:20 left in the third quarter was the first offensive score of the day. By then, Maryland held a 30-20 lead. The Longhorns have not overcome a 14-point deficit to win a game since 2007, according to ESPN Stats.
Running backs Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter combined for 14 rushing attempts but just 52 yards. Buechele, who isn’t a dynamic running threat, had a team-high 15 attempts for 21 yards. Herman estimated the game plan called for three quarterback run plays at most.
“Obviously, I didn’t expect it,” Buechele said of his carries. “Those two are great running backs. Today didn’t show what they can do.”
The Texas defense simply got gashed. Maryland’s Ty Johnson averaged 11 yards on 12 carries (132 yards total) and scored once from 40 yards out. Quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome threw for 175 yards and ran for 64 more in three quarters.
Despite falling behind by 20, Texas clawed back and had all the momentum when Buechele dove in for a 3-yard touchdown. By the fourth quarter, Pigrome suffered a knee injury and gave way to freshman Kasim Hill. The stars appeared to be aligning.
On third-and-14 at the Texas 42, fans were on their feet and the Terps got called for a delay of game. Facing third-and-19, Hill calmly connected with D.J. Moore for a 40-yard gain.
“The breath of air come out of me because actually I was expecting run, and I was telling those guys run,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
On the next play, senior captain Naashon Hughes got called for a horse collar tackle, moving the ball to the Texas 3. Then Hill scored and the Terps again had a 10-point lead.
“I still don’t know, but I think the ref just made a call and we’ve got to live with whatever he makes,” Hughes said.
Texas couldn’t score on its next two drives, and Maryland tacked on another score for good measure but the game was effectively over.
Neither Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck nor defensive coordinator Todd Orlando were made available to reporters afterward. A team spokesman said coordinators will not be made available after games this season.
It was obvious from the players’ expressions and body language that they didn’t expect this end result after nine months under Herman. “Coach said that all of our goals are still there, so don’t get down on ourselves,” receiver Collin Johnson said.
Said Hemphill-Mapps, “Coach says all the time we train for chaos. We expect adversity to happen and it’s just about how we respond, so just have to respond.”
Herman said the Longhorns suffered from “self-inflicted wounds.” Anyone who thought he could “sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we’ve arrived, then we’re wrong,” he added.
It was all there for everyone to see last season. Now, Herman has seen it firsthand. More work remains.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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