Despite all the optimism going into Tom Herman’s first year at Texas, you can find ways to understand a team losing its first game with a new coaching staff. Even if it was to Maryland.
Starting your second year by losing to the same team — now mired in an offseason scandal involving the death of a player — that is playing with a first-time interim head coach? As a two-touchdown favorite?
It’s hard to find ways to understand that.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Herman left fans baffled by saying that “although the outcome is similar to last year’s opener, this one feels much different.”
To even the most casual fan, this one felt very similar. Dumb penalties, turnovers, struggles against the run, the inability to produce consistent offense, special teams woes. Just about everything we saw from the game in Austin in 2017 showed itself in Landover.
To me, Texas played poorly because it was poorly coached. Players looked slow, passive, lethargic and unprepared. That’s what led to a second consecutive loss against one of the worst teams in the Big Ten.
While the defense struggled at times on Saturday, the continuous culprit for this team’s woes is the offense. And that needs to change before this season spirals out of control.
Herman and this offensive coaching staff need to develop an identity.
The biggest change that needs to be made?
Herman needs to call the plays for this offense. It’s that simple.
The Longhorns were down 24-7 at the 8:32 mark in the second quarter against Maryland. They were averaging fewer than two yards per play and had five punts on six drives.
At that moment, according to Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods.com, Herman took over the offensive play-calling.
Texas scored touchdowns on three of its next six drives and picked up multiple first downs on two of the other three. It went up-tempo and took the lead with a 22-0 run.
For some reason, after a two-hour lightning delay, the play-calling looked similar to what we saw in the first quarter. Slower pace, less running, more dropback passes. Almost like someone else had re-taken over the play-calling duties.
Herman won a national championship with a third-string QB while calling plays for Ohio State. He has a great feel for play-calling and he is far and away Texas’ best option for that role.
I know Tim Beck is the official offensive coordinator for Texas, but Saturday showed that there is clearly some disconnect between what he and Herman want to do on offense.
Herman repeatedly has said to blame him and not the other coaches if the offense struggles. If this administration goes down, it needs to go down with Herman manning the wheel.
Another issue this coaching staff needs to address is the quarterback.
A week and a half before the season opener, Herman announced that sophomore QB Sam Ehlinger had beaten out junior Shane Buechele and would get the start against Maryland.
What makes Ehlinger effective are his legs. When you think of the Herman offenses during his time at Ohio State and Houston, you think of dual-threat quarterbacks such as Braxton Miller, JT Barrett and Greg Ward Jr.
While Ehlinger isn’t the caliber of runner that those guys are, he can make plays with his feet.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this Longhorn offense last Saturday, but I would have guessed that Ehlinger would have had ample opportunity to pick up yards with his legs.
For the majority of the game, that was not the case.
Ehlinger had only seven carries for 30 yards, and there were very few designed RPOs or zone-read plays called that would have given him the opportunity to rush for more.
Most of the plays that were called were dropback passes, in which Ehlinger was almost forced to stay in the pocket and chunk balls down the field.
If I knew that was going to be the game plan for Texas, I would’ve made the case for Buechele, the more accurate deep-ball thrower on this team, to be the starter.
There’s no doubt that Ehlinger struggled against Maryland (21 of 39 passing, 263 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs). But he was put in a tough spot by a poorly designed offensive game plan.
The Texas coaches have to find ways to let Ehlinger use his skillset to win games. He’s not going to be a successful college quarterback if he is forced to stay in the pocket and throw the ball down the field. That’s not his game.
The Longhorns get a relatively easy matchup this weekend as 23-point favorites against Tulsa to try to get back on track. After Saturday, Texas plays a brutal four-game stretch against USC, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma.
If the Longhorns can’t find an identity on offense soon, it’s going to be another long season on The Forty Acres.