Texas made arguably the splashiest coaching hire of the offseason in landing touted Urban Meyer disciple Tom Herman. The long-speculated marriage between Herman and the Longhorns has Texas’ army of well-heeled boosters ready for a return to the top of college football royalty. Given how things have gone in Austin for the better part of a decade, their ascendancy might take a little longer than they would like.
Ironically, the opponent in Herman’s first game is coached by a protégé of Meyer’s rival, Jim Harbaugh. Entering his second season with Maryland, DJ Durkin is hoping to capitalize on last season’s bowl bid to keep his program moving towards respectability in the Big Ten.
Oddsmakers are giving Herman a great chance of winning his Texas debut, but the truth is that his team remains shrouded in mystery heading into Saturday.
Maryland at Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: Texas -17.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Shane Buechele’s comfort level
As a true freshman last year, Buechele showed promise early before starting to wilt late in the season. Herman is now asking the sophomore quarterback to run an entirely different offensive system from the Art Briles-infused scheme he was in a year ago, and it’s not entirely clear how his skill set fits with what his new coach wants to do.
Notably, Herman had dangerous runners behind center in his last two years at Houston and as a coordinator at Ohio State prior to that. Buechele isn’t in the class of guys like Greg Ward and J.T. Barrett when it comes to doing damage with his legs. The injuries that dogged him last year also suggest he’s not a guy to put in harm’s way very often.
If the incumbent struggles, how quickly might Herman turn to true freshman Sam Ehlinger?
2. Speaking of quarterbacks...
Tyrell Pigrome got the nod this week at QB from head coach DJ Durkin over Kasim Hill. Whether or not he’s the best choice as a starter, Pigrome’s mobility and throwing ability outside the pocket suggest he’s the best options for the Terrapins versus Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s pressure-heavy scheme. Offensive coordinator Walt Bell could potentially use Pigrome on designed QB runs to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the Longhorns.
3. Maryland’s offensive line vs. Texas’ defensive line
Former Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong left Herman and Orlando with some nice pieces up front on D, including senior tackle Poona Ford and sophomore end Malcolm Roach. For Maryland to have any chance of pulling off an upset, it will need a spectacular effort from its seasoned offensive line. Keeping the Texas defense from making negative plays in the backfield will be paramount for the Terps to put points on the board.
Texas is such a wild card following its coaching change that predicting how this game will play out is nearly impossible. Tom Herman showed himself to be a capable motivator at Houston, where he enjoyed success almost immediately. Count on his team playing with an edge on Saturday.
Getting fired up can’t make the offense run smoothly, though. Maryland head coach DJ Durkin is an accomplished defensive strategist with the capability to draw up a game plan to confuse quarterback Shane Buechele and the rest of the offensive players transitioning over to Herman’s system. That could lead to a handful of costly mistakes by the Longhorns.
In the end, we’re talking about two different classes of players and a home game for UT. Maryland can keep the game from getting out of hand, but Herman will go home with a W in his Texas debut.
Prediction: Texas 31, Maryland 21
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.
(Tom Herman photo courtesy of Texas Athletics)