Critical installation time for Tom Herman’s seven new assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and defensive coordinator Chris Ash, was lost due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Herman says he made the most of winter conditioning to install Texas’ new offense and defense and felt like good chemistry had been established between players and their new position coaches.
Following up a 10-win season in 2018 with an 8–5 downturn in 2019 has turned up the heat on Herman, who overhauled his coaching staff. With seven starters back on offense, led by quarterback Sam Ehlinger, and nine starters back on defense, this should be a Big 12-contending season. “With the way we’ve recruited the past three years, with top 10-ranked recruiting classes, we figured (2020) might be a season where things could come together for us,” Herman says.
Previewing Texas’ Offense for 2020
While Herman’s power spread will still be the basis for Texas’ offense, Yurcich brings in some new wrinkles. “Coach Yurcich has some really good ideas about how to get guys open in space,” says Ehlinger, who threw for 32 touchdowns with 10 interceptions and ran 163 times for 663 yards (4.1 ypc) and seven TDs in 2019.
Offenses have surged everywhere Yurcich has been, and he went 5–1 against Texas while calling the offense at Oklahoma State from 2013-18. He’s hoping to do for Ehlinger what passing game coordinator Joe Brady did for Joe Burrow at LSU last year.
Gone are leading receivers Devin Duvernay, whose 106 catches and 1,386 receiving yards both ranked in the top five nationally, and 6'6" Collin Johnson, who came up with big catches in critical situations.
Ehlinger will look to new slot receiver Jake Smith and outside receiver Brennan Eagles, both of whom had six touchdown catches last season.
Five-star recruit Jordan Whittington, who played in one game at running back last season as a freshman before season-ending sports hernia surgery, is moving to slot receiver and should be a versatile weapon.
Texas also returns promising outside receiver Joshua Moore from a year-long suspension in 2019. Herman also brought in some maturity and experience in Michigan graduate transfer receiver Tarik Black.
Texas has to find two new starters on the offensive line but returns second-team All-Big 12 left tackle Samuel Cosmi and versatile senior Derek Kerstetter, who is expected to move from right tackle to center.
At running back, Texas has depth thanks to junior Keaontay Ingram, who ran for 853 yards (5.9 ypc) and seven touchdowns last season; quarterback-turned-running back Roschon Johnson (649 yards, 5.3 ypc, seven TDs); and incoming five-star freshman Bijan Robinson.
Previewing Texas’ Defense for 2020
The defense, which is moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 under Ash, has nine returning starters and figures to be a strength of the team.
Texas hopes it finally has a dominant defensive line with senior Marqez Bimage at end; senior Ta’Quon Graham at the three-technique defensive tackle; redshirt sophomore Keondre Coburn at nose tackle; and junior Joseph Ossai as a standup defensive end, known as the “Jack” in Ash’s defense.
Ossai, who could have an NFL decision after this season, played the Jack in Texas’ 38–10 upset of Utah in the Alamo Bowl and finished with nine tackles, six tackles for a loss and three sacks.
One reason Herman let Todd Orlando go as defensive coordinator was Orlando’s reliance on the blitz to get pressure. With Ossai, the team’s best pass rusher, playing up on the line, the hope is that Texas can get pressure rushing four.
Cornerbacks Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson and Kenyatta Watson II picked up valuable experience last season, as did nickel corner and Chris Adimora.
Texas is loaded with NFL prospects at safety, led by juniors Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster as well as senior Chris Brown.
Previewing Texas’ Specialists for 2020
Junior kicker Cameron Dicker, who became a Texas legend with a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left to beat Oklahoma in 2018, continued to be clutch in 2019 with game-winners with no time left to beat both Kansas and Kansas State. Junior punter Ryan Bujcevski, cousin of former Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson, needs to pick it up from his 41.7 yards-per-punt average in 2019. Jamison, who scored on a 98-yard kick return in 2019 and had a 71-yard punt return in the Alamo Bowl, is a weapon.
Despite overhauling his coaching staff, Herman has the talent to threaten Oklahoma’s five-year hold on the Big 12 title. The Longhorns have to find two new starters on the offensive line and are unproven at inside linebacker. But Texas has solid leadership on both sides of the ball, led by Ehlinger, Cosmi and Ossai.
The Longhorns will be tested early with a road trip to LSU on Sept. 12. The Red River Showdown on Oct. 10 and a season-ending road trip to Oklahoma State figure to be defining tests.
Herman is not coaching for his job in 2020, but another sub-par season could turn up the heat heading into the fall of 2021.