The Tom Herman era got off to a disastrous start at Texas, as Big Ten also-ran Maryland beat the stuffing out of the Longhorns in their season opener. UT has shown incremental progress since then, especially in hard-fought losses to Oklahoma and USC.
Moral victories only take a team so far, though. Herman’s ‘Horns are still looking for a signature win to prove he’s every bit the coaching prodigy Texas fans were promised when he was hired.
Offensive MVP: QB Sam Ehlinger
Even as he has split time with sophomore Shane Buechele, Ehlinger (above, right) has left little doubt that UT’s offense runs best when he’s at the controls. Ehlinger’s ability to take off running has added another dimension to an attack that is still struggling to find its footing. As he gets more comfortable throwing the ball to a talented crop of receivers, Texas’ offense will start to take off.
Defensive MVP: LB Malik Jefferson
Jefferson arrived on campus three years ago as one of the best high school linebackers produced by the state of Texas in years. He’s finally finding his groove as a junior in Todd Orlando’s aggressive defensive scheme. In addition to leading the team in tackles, Jefferson is creating chaos in opposing offensive backfields when turned loose by Orlando.
Best Moment of the First Half: Beating Kansas State
The Wildcats historically have UT’s number, but not this year. Texas needed double overtime to secure a 40-34 win, but it still marked a step forward for a program that hasn’t seen many in this decade.
Best Newcomer: QB Sam Ehlinger
The fact that his teammates have responded so well to Ehlinger in his first six games as a Longhorn suggests Herman has his quarterback of the future (and present).
Biggest Surprise: Maryland’s offensive explosion
Who could have seen the Terrapins rolling up a stunning 51 points on Texas in the first game of the season? Anyone who thought Herman could enact a quick fix in Austin got a lesson that day.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Igniting the running game
Aside from Sam Ehlinger, Texas doesn’t offer much in terms of a ground game. Chris Warren is good for a few hard yards every game, but he’s not a feature back. Meanwhile, young backs Kyle Porter and Toneil Carter are producing a little more than 50 yards combined per game. Of course, a patchwork offensive line opening some holes would help.
2. Straightening out the secondary
UT’s defensive backfield is loaded with potential in prospects such as Holton Hill and Kris Boyd. They’re also accumulating a disturbing number of busts so far this year. Texas’ offense doesn’t have enough pop to make up for those kinds of mistakes.
3. Protecting Ehlinger
UT’s freshman quarterback needs protection from oncoming pass rushers. That falls on the shoulders of his offensive line. He also needs protection from himself. Tom Herman and his staff should convince Ehlinger to let go of his tendency to expose himself to punishment.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 4 at TCU
Much like KSU, the Horned Frogs have acquitted themselves well against the Longhorns since joining the Big 12. It helps this year that Gary Patterson is fielding one of the better teams in the country. UT will be a clear underdog here.
2. Oct. 21 Oklahoma State
The Longhorns don’t have much time to feel sorry for themselves after their near-miss against OU. They have a date with the Big 12’s other Oklahoma resident this week.
3. Nov. 18 at West Virginia
The Mountaineers’ relentless offense will test the Texas D. Given the state of WVU’s defense, the Longhorns might have more success than usual running the ball.
4. Nov. 24 Texas Tech
Tech’s jet-fueled offense will force UT to keep up. That’s a tough ask for an inconsistent O.
5. Oct. 28 at Baylor
As people around the Lone Star State are well aware, Burnt Orange partisans haven’t made their elation over the demise of the Bears much of a secret. Baylor is coming close to biting someone, though. The Longhorns should watch out.
6. Nov. 11 Kansas
UT will have revenge on its mind when lowly KU visits Austin in November.
— 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.