Oozing Optimism Redux

Remember the excitement and optimism surrounding the Longhorns after their season-opening victory over Notre Dame last year? That optimism was reinforced by the national polls that elevated the Longhorns to # 11 after that game. How’d all that work out? Texas’ almost victory over USC Saturday night seems to be inspiring in UT fans the same kind of optimism as the Notre Dame win last year.

The all-out effort in the USC game was something we haven’t seen out of Texas since the OU game in 2015. For me the effort didn’t inspire optimism it inspired, “About f’ing time!” It’s not a given that we will see this kind of effort for the remainder of the season. If we do—with remaining games against top 10 teams Oklahoma and Oklahoma St., #16 TCU, West Virginia in Morgantown, and Longhorn nemesis Kansas St.—Texas still might be lucky to get six wins on the season for a number of reasons.

1. Texas is offensively challenged. They didn’t score an offensive touchdown in the first half against Maryland or USC. In the USC game, the Texas offense scored only 17 points in four quarters and two overtimes. Tom Herman tried to explain away why Chris Warren III had only four carries against USC, but his explanation was disingenuous and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. And, I might add, his explanation was delivered in a prickly and condescending manner in his Monday press conference, indicating to me that he knows he has a problem with the play calling. He better get it fixed if he wants to beat anyone beyond Kansas and Baylor.

2. The injury to left tackle Connor Williams adds to the woes of an underperforming offensive line. I can’t emphasize the magnitude of this problem enough.

3. To my deep disappointment, Herman hasn’t improved Texas’ terrible special teams. After Reggie Hemphill-Mapps stupidly fielded a punt on the 3 yard line, he went ahead and caught another one on the goal line just a few minutes later. Texas was lucky to avoid disasters both times. After Texas took the lead with 45 seconds remaining in regulation, Josh Rowland failed to get the kickoff into the end zone and the coverage team allowed USC to return it to the 35. If Rowland could have forced a touchback or if the coverage team could have held USC inside the 30, Texas probably wins the game in regulation.

4. As well as the defense played, breakdowns in the secondary at the end of the first half and at the end of regulation essentially cost Texas the game. Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph must be salivating.

5. In my opinion, Herman’s in-game decision making has been suspect. Against USC, on Texas’ first possession of the game, with fourth and two from the USC 17, if Herman opts for a field goal attempt instead of going for the first down, Texas probably wins. Granted, Josh Rowland converting a 34-yard field goal attempt was not a sure thing, but he did make a 37-yarder in the third quarter. Herman made the same type of decision on UT’s opening drive of the second half against Maryland. By opting to try to convert a fourth and goal from the 5-yard line, he eschewed what would have been a 22-yard field goal. A field goal there would have changed the complexion of that game greatly.

We’ve already discussed the abandonment of running back carries against USC, which also goes in the Herman in-game decision making column. Herman-Beck did the same thing in the Maryland game.
All that being said, Texas looked like a different team against USC from the one we saw in 2016 and in the Maryland game. The defensive front seven is the strength of the team, and if they keep playing like they did in the USC game, Texas will have a chance to win most, if not all of their remaining games. A healthy Shane Buechele and or a more-experienced Sam Ehlinger down the line should give the offense a reasonable chance to improve.

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Asked whether he thought Texas’ off-week was coming at a good time, Herman answered that it was. He said that counting the five weeks of preseason workouts and three games, his team was half-way through the season. Eight weeks down, nine weeks to go. In the spirit of having the first half of the season behind us, I decided to review our readers’ answers to a couple of the queries on the preseason questionnaire I posted before the Maryland game.

1. Predict Texas’ final regular season record.
More than half of the contestants predicted Texas would go 9-3 or better. I’ll bet none of them contemplated a loss to Maryland. I’d take 8-4 today and run like a bandit. One contestant who shall remain nameless (Mark Adams) had Texas going 12-0.

2. Name the starting quarterback for the OU game.
Every contestant picked Shane Buechele. In formulating that question, I was pretty sure—one way or another—the quarterback situation would get interesting by then. Would any of the contestants like another shot at the question?
Below, I’m giving readers another opportunity to answer these two questions.

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Kurt Vonnegut

On a totally random note, I read an interesting tidbit about Kurt Vonnegut in Dan Jenkins memoir,” His Ownself.” In the mid-fifties Vonnegut worked at Sports Illustrated for one week. Jenkins met Vonnegut at a party and asked him if the story he had heard about the ending of Vonnegut’s brief tenure at SI was true. Vonnegut confirmed the following. For his first assignment at SI he was given a set of photos of an equestrian event and told to write a 100-word test block to go with the photos. Unable to think of 100 words. Vonnegut submitted the following piece. “The horses jumped over the fucking fence. I quit.”

And so on.

Hook ‘eM,

W.E.

2017 Season Predictions Redux

What Say You?