For both Texas and TCU, Saturday signals the beginning of the Big 12 season, and an important step in asserting themselves of being contenders in a conference that many see as Oklahoma and everyone else.
To get a bead on just how good Herman’s Horns are, we talked with Gerald Goodridge of the excellent Burnt Orange Nation, who gave us insight into Sam Ehlinger, the new fan experience under Chris Del Conte, and much more.
Frogs O’ War: It has been another up and down season in Austin, and the reviews are decidedly mixed regarding Tom Herman as he enters his 17th game as head coach of Texas. But after a disappointing start to the season, the Horns blew the doors off of a (stupidly) ranked USC team. Are people coming around on Herman being the guy to lead UT back - for real?
Gerald Goodridge: While I think the performance against USC did a lot to stem some of the tide that was moving in on Tom Herman, I think if Texas suffers a few ugly losses, fans will probably be right back to calling for his head. I said in my season preview that this feels like a Texas team that will lose a game it shouldn’t (checked that one off early), and win a game that it shouldn’t, specifically TCU, WVU or OU. If Texas wins one of those games big, or two of them close, I think it will go a long way to softening people’s hearts to Coach Herman.
FOW: Texas is coming off a big win, while the Frogs are trying to shake off a pretty painful loss. Does this give the Longhorns any extra measure of hope/confidence heading into Saturday?
GG: Herman said in his press address Monday that one of his biggest goals for the team and coaching staff is to focus on going 1-0 each and every week, and as cliched as it sounds, I think it’s the truth. As a team that is - another cliche alert- learning how to win, focusing on anything other than the task at hand is a fool’s errand. From an outsider’s perspective, the score against Ohio State is not truly indicative of how tight that game was, but there are hopefully things that Ohio State did against TCU that Texas can try to replicate.
FOW: Sam Ehlinger has a penchant for the bad turnover, something that hurt the Horns several times last year and again in the opener against Maryland. But, he threw for over 200 yards and no picks in the win over ‘SC last week. Is he good enough to win games consistently in the Big 12, or is he still needing to prove himself week in and week out?
GG: Excluding the fourth quarter against Maryland, Sam Ehlinger is 48-82 (58.5%) for 651 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. At this point I think the fourth quarter against Maryland was the exception, rather than the rule. No excuses, but after a 90-minute rain delay spent thinking about not throwing the game away, it seemed he reverted back to some bad tendencies and forced some passes. In the other three quarters of that game, and in the contests since, he has done an incredible job of reading defenses pre-snap, calling audibles into favorable matchups and going through his progressions rather than one read and run. He’s on his way to proving himself, but there are still a lot of things to prove through the grind of Big 12 play, especially as some of the games will be offensive battles where he’s called upon to win the game, rather than not lose it.
FOW: Texas has signed a bunch of four and five star running backs over the last few years, but has little to show for it when it comes to the running game. Tre Watson, the self-proclaimed ‘best running back in the country’ has been fine in 2018, averaging just over 4.0 ypc - but has yet to get into the end zone. Is this a recruiting problem, a scheme problem, or an o-line problem? And how do Herman and co get more out of their running game?
GG: In the past, it has been a development problem and in 2017 it was definitely an offensive line issue, as that unit was decimated by injuries. I think Watson is an incredible third down back, both blocking and catching out of the backfield, and as much as I love the confidence, he may not be the best running back on the team. Freshman running back Keontay Ingram, who missed the USC game due to an injury, is probably the most talented back on the team and has the potential to be something special if the coaches decide to use him. He’s only had 16 carries this season, but is averaging 6.31 yards per carry and leads all running backs with two rushing touchdowns. Personnel-wise, the Texas running game has been the best when they’re able to rotate Watson and Ingram early, and then bring in the bruiser Daniel Young late to punish tired defenders.
FOW: It was recently said by Adam Rittenberg that “he talked to a scout that said MAYBE 5 Texas players could crack the starting lineup at TCU”. On the 10/12 Podcast earlier this week, you took umbrage with that assertion. So, which players/positions do you feel Texas has an advantage at? Or which players need to stand out for the Horns to beat the Frogs?
GG: The first two players that immediately jump to mind are Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey, because I honestly think those two guys are talented enough to start on most teams in the country. The old adage “You can’t teach size” springs to mind with those two. As far as players that need to stand out against TCU, I think Texas’s front six guys, specifically Charles Omenihu, Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler, three players with NFL aspirations. If they can slow down the TCU run game and keep Shawn Robinson from getting too comfortable in the pocket, the defense should look more like it did against USC rather than Maryland.
FOW: TCU-Texas has been a pretty one-sided affair over the last four years, but this is a much different Longhorns team playing in a much different stadium environment Saturday. Is this the year that Texas casts out their purple demons? Give us your prediction for the game.
GG: I can’t get a read on how this one is going to go. I honestly think Vegas is spot on with a three-point margin, especially now that Texas has a kicker it can trust. If I have to make a score prediction, which I am openly terrible at, I’ll say 24-21 Texas.
FOW: BONUS: Chris Del Conte is trying to replicate at Texas what he did at TCU - ie: bringing the “Disney” experience to football games. What are the early returns on the ADs performance/the new game day experience? What are your expectations long term for CDC’s tenure?
GG: I think the proof is in the pudding. With a record number of fans against USC and a full student section an hour before the game, times are changing. I went to school during the Vince Young and Colt McCoy days, and I could count on my fingers the number of games the student section was full at kickoff. Long-term, I would love to see his plans for the improvements to the athletic facilities come to fruition, and as they do, I believe the level of talent that Texas can bring in will continue to raise and Texas can return to prominence on the field.