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Was Maryland a one-game hiccup or a true reflection of what the Longhorns really are?

Posted September 3rd, 2017

Last week, Texas coach Tom Herman said “our starting 22 could play with anybody in the country.” He compared UT’s offensive line to Ohio State’s starting five that won the 2014 national title.

Deep down, Herman must’ve had some doubts, right? When faced with adversity, “do we respond the way we’re trained or do we respond by falling back into bad habits?,” he said.

After Saturday’s 51-41 loss to Maryland, Herman looked shell-shocked. One game into his tenure, the new coach faces a serious reality check: was this a one-game hiccup or simply an accurate reflection of what the Longhorns truly are?

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Breaking away from the gravitational pull of losing is far more difficult than Herman probably ever imagined.

“I don’t know what kind of game that was, honestly,” linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “But it definitely woke up a lot of people’s eyes if they were sleeping.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman looks down the sideline during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, September 2, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This week’s matchup with San Jose State (1-1) may not offer any clues. The real barometer comes Sept. 16 in Los Angeles against No. 4 USC.

Season ticket sales were already down by a few thousand. One game into the 2017 season, angry fans were throwing debris on the field in response to a questionable no-call by officials. Some were likely thrown out of sheer frustration.

“The execution and just the self-inflicted wounds at just the most inopportune time are things that are difficult to recover from, if not impossible,” Herman said.

Herman was the only coach trying to explain what happened. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the first $1-million assistant in UT history, and offensive coordinator Tim Beck were not made available to reporters. A team spokesman said neither assistant coach will speak after games.

Former defensive coordinator Vance Bedford stopped coming to post-game press conferences midway through the 2014 season. Former coach Charlie Strong took all defensive questions. But Texas has made the offensive play-caller available after games for years. Not any more, it seems.

Why did the defensive line get gashed? How did Texas go 0 for 4 on fourth down? Those questions won’t get answered until Wednesday when the coordinators are scheduled to meet with reporters again.

That left it to the 18- to 22-year-olds to explain what happened.

Receiver Collin Johnson said Herman told the players in the locker room, “Don’t get used to this feeling.”

“We’re a different team, but we’re going to have to see the rest of the season,” Johnson said. “How we respond is really going to define the difference in this team.”

Left tackle Connor Williams said that with any new coach, it’s a process. “I saw fight in my teammates that I haven’t seen, so I believe we’re on the right path. We just have to believe in the process,” Williams said.

Was this game a hiccup? “I think it was part of our journey,” he said.

To where? “We’ll see.”

The Washington Post said the Maryland win “could be remembered as a watershed moment in the young tenure of coach DJ Durkin.” The Terrapins’ 51 points was a school record against a ranked team. It was the team’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2008.

This wasn’t Ohio State or Michigan at Royal-Memorial Stadium. Texas lost to a middling Big Ten program that is now 39-50 since the start of the 2010 season. The Longhorns are merely 46-43 during that same span.

Some of UT’s problems are easily correctable. Twice, the kickoff returners let the ball hit the turf. Penalties either took points off the board for Texas or helped Maryland get closer to scoring themselves. Yet another blocked field goal led to a defensive touchdown.

Other issues are more complex.

Texas’ Kyle Porter finds little running room against Maryland on Sept. 2, 2017. Porter rushed for 21 yards in UT’s opener at Royal-Memorial Stadium. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Quarterback Shane Buechele’s unit got shutout in the first half and produced only two touchdowns when it mattered. A third score came in garbage time. Texas didn’t have many downfield threats, and the longest attempted pass got intercepted.

The lack of a solid running threat is a serious problem. Kyle Porter had only eight carries and Chris Warren III had six. They combined for 52 yards. As the game wore on, it appeared as if the Longhorns went away from running the ball entirely.

The lack of a legitimate tight end may cripple this offense. Garrett Gray missed a lot of practice time in August due to summer school, but he managed four catches for 18 yards. Graduate transfer senior Kendall Moore was not listed on the participation chart. Reese Leitao will be suspended one more game and then become eligible against USC.

The defense allowed 263 rushing yards and produced only two tackles for loss, including one sack. Holton Hill took a room-service interception back the other way for a touchdown. Otherwise, Kris Boyd and P.J. Locke III both let receivers get behind them for big catches.

Kicker Josh Rowland had one field goal blocked and missed another from 42 yards. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps had a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. But Maryland turned around and got a 62-yard kickoff return on the next play.

There’s no one problem area. Herman has issues everywhere.

“You can’t take away from Maryland. They played a good game,” Hemphill-Mapps said. “We’ve just got to come out and execute better, play better, play harder, play faster. That’s it.”

That’s a lot to accomplish in one week’s time.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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