On November 27th, 2016 Tom Herman was introduced as the 30th head coach in Texas football history. Now we fast forward just over two years, and Herman’s Longhorns are preparing for the Big 12 Championship game this Saturday. I look back at some of the highs and lows of Herman’s tenure at Texas. I’ll also note what I think was the single biggest moment in Texas’ rise in 2018.
2017 Recruiting Close
The “transition class” is never up to standards at most blue blood programs. Schools like Texas are used to signing top 10 recruiting classes every year. When a head coaching change is made after the season, that recruiting class isn’t usually up to par with what’s expected due to the lack of relationships with the new staff. That was no different with Tom Herman. He was able to hang onto key commitments from guys like Sam Ehlinger, Josh Thompson, Ta’Quon Graham, and others. He added quite a few under the radar recruits that he had been close with at Houston in Marquez Bimage, Daniel Young, Cade Brewer, and Samuel Cosmi. Herman and company also landed a few big name guys like Gary Johnson and Toneil Carter. Little did we know how big of an impact Johnson would have in Austin.
2018 Season Starts On A Sour Note
With the Longhorns ranked in the preseason poll, Texas lays an egg in Herman’s home debut vs Maryland in a 51-41 loss. Todd Orlando’s defense gave up nearly 500 yards and Herman’s offense led by Shane Buechele threw the ball 53 times as there was no running game and Buechele was sacked five times. There was already some finger pointing going on and it looked like we could see true freshman Sam Ehlinger in the following week after Buechele was banged up in the loss.
The Stretch of “What Could Have Been”
Following a 56-0 win over San Jose State behind freshman Sam Ehlinger, a big five game stretch faced the Longhorns. At USC, at Iowa State, vs Kansas State, vs Oklahoma, and vs Oklahoma State. Texas went 2-3 in that stretch, but their combined three losses were by a total of 11 points. We all remember the fumble in double overtime by Ehlinger vs the then #4 team in the nation in USC with Sam Darnold at quarterback. The Longhorns followed with a 17-7 win in Ames vs Iowa State and a double overtime win vs Kansas State that had one of Ehlinger’s first signature plays in the burnt orange.
— Joey Hayden (@_joeyhayden) October 8, 2017
The quarterback controversy was over, at that time. Texas went on to drop a 29-24 game in the Cotton Bowl vs Oklahoma, then a 13-10 game in overtime at home to #10 Oklahoma State that Texas should’ve won. The game ended with Ehlinger throwing a horrid interception.
ALGUÉM ME EXPLICA ESSA DO SAM EHLINGER?
Passe pra ninguém, INT e Oklahoma State vence Texas no OT por 13-10! pic.twitter.com/hijGObXXMC
— collegefootball.com.br (@collegefootbr) October 21, 2017
Let the quarterback controversy begin, again.
Will Texas Miss A Bowl Game Again?
Sitting at 3-4 going into the home stretch of the regular season. Texas went 2-1 behind Shane Buechele with wins against Kansas and Baylor, and a loss in dominating fashion at the hands of Gary Patterson and TCU. Texas then gained bowl eligibility in Morgantown with a win vs West Virginia after Will Grier went down with a broken finger early in the game. Texas could finish the regular season with wins vs solid Big 12 teams in West Virginia and Texas Tech and have a chance at eight wins with a bowl game. Then the Red Raiders came to Austin and Sam Ehlinger saved Kliff Kingsbury’s job as he threw interceptions on Texas’ final two offensive possessions in Tech territory. Texas finishes the regular season at 6-6.
The Turning Point
Texas was preparing for the Texas Bowl vs Missouri when three of the Longhorns best players in Malik Jefferson, Connor Williams, and DeShon Elliott announced they were going to skip the bowl game and prepare for the draft and to avoid injuries. Obviously the Texas staff wasn’t happy, no staff would be. So they went forward with things without their cornerstone offensive tackle and arguably their two best defenders. Texas won 33-16, led for all 60 minutes. Both Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele threw touchdowns, and the Texas defense forced four turnovers including one for a touchdown.
This was the turning point for Texas under Tom Herman. Most will remember Herman mocking Missouri quarterback Drew Lock as the Longhorns went on to win. While it isn’t a great look nationally, you have to know his players loved this from him.
ICYMI: Texas coach Tom Herman appeared to mock Mizzouri QB Drew Lock's TD dance after the Longhorns iced their bowl win. pic.twitter.com/QGEIlIExBg
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 28, 2017
Breckyn Hager even went on to say in 2018 that after this game was when he and the other leaders of Texas’ team looked around and knew Tom Herman was the guy for this team. They were all in heading into 2018.
Texas had momentum coming off a bowl game win, then Tom Herman and company signed the #3 recruiting class in the nation to kick off 2018. Guys like Anthony Cook, Caden Sterns, BJ Foster, Casey Thompson, Ayodele Adeoye, Cameron Rising, and Ryan Bujcevski all enrolled early and most of those guys were expected to make impacts as freshman.
It sounded like this was going to be Sam Ehlinger’s team in 2018, was he going to take the next step? There was lots of off season hype around wide receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson, were they going to take the next step? There are high expectations for senior defenders in Kris Boyd, Davante Davis, Gary Johnson, Chris Nelson, Breckyn Hager, Anthony Wheeler, and Charles Omenihu. Are they going to step up for Texas to take the next step and challenge for the Big 12 crown?
Two Weeks In, And It’s More Of The Same
In week one Texas falls to a Maryland team, who was without their head coach and there was lots of drama surrounding the program. Sam Ehlinger throws two 4th quarter interceptions and things seem more and more like 2017. Texas gets their first win of the season the following week vs Tulsa, but it was a 28-21 win. Against a team like Tulsa, that wasn’t a good win for the Longhorns. With a tough stretch approaching, most people aren’t feeling good and lots of fans are calling for Sam Ehlinger’s job.
Texas is sitting at 1-1 with USC, TCU, Kansas State, and Oklahoma coming up on the schedule. After seeing the Longhorns play in the first two weeks, I don’t think anyone could confidently pencil any of those games in as a win. It was only week three, but it already looked like make-or–break time for Texas. And boy did they make a statement.
Texas 37 #22 USC 14
Texas 31 #17 TCU 16
#18 Texas 19 Kansas State 14
#19 Texas 48 #7 Oklahoma 45
I will be the first to say that USC and TCU didn’t end up being anywhere close to as good as most expected in 2018. But USC was a statement win, and Gary Patterson has dominated Texas for the last four-plus year. Manhattan, Kansas is never an easy place to play. And Oklahoma is, well, Oklahoma.
Sam Ehlinger totaled 1,143 total yards with 12 touchdowns and ZERO turnovers in that four game run. He shut up every doubter with his performance in out-dueling OU’s Kyler Murray in the Cotton Bowl.
— Kyle Jordan (@KyleLive5) October 6, 2018
Texas is ranked #6 in the nation sitting at 5-1 heading to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State. College Gameday is in town for the game. All eyes are on the Longhorns for the first time in most of the current Texas players’ career. And the Longhorns stumble.
Kris Boyd and Davante Davis are suspended for the first quarter and the Texas defense gives up 24 points in the first 20 minutes to put Texas in a 24-7 hole in a hostile environment. Texas claws back to bring it within three points two times in the fourth quarter but they can’t pull it off and fall 38-35.
The next week #13 West Virginia and Will Greir come to Austin. Sam Ehlinger throws for 350+ yards and three touchdowns and adds another one on the ground. But West Virginia head coach Dana Holgerson makes one of the calls of the year and goes for two with 16 seconds remaining and West Virginia wins it 42-41. Texas is now 6-3, could they squander a 5-1 start?
Bounce Back, Big 12 Championship Bound
6-3 Texas takes on Texas Tech under the lights in Lubbock and Lil’Jordan Humphrey has his Michael Crabtree moment with a game winning touchdown catch with 21 seconds left to save Texas’ chances for a Big 12 title game appearance.
— Dean Straka (@DWStraka49) November 11, 2018
The next week #23 Iowa State comes to town and this was when everything clicked for Texas. They win 24-10 in their most complete game of the season, but Sam Ehlinger has a banged up shoulder.
Texas beats Kansas to end the season 9-3. Sam Ehlinger isn’t 100% but Texas is set to play Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship this Saturday.
Texas clinches a birth in the Big 12 championship with a win and so far so good! 🤟 pic.twitter.com/9dbkLEeXF3
— No Huddle College Football (@NoHuddle_CFB) November 23, 2018
Since I got in this industry, I haven’t seen Texas have much success. There have been some ups, and lots of downs for Texas fans. But Tom Herman has come in and put a product on the field that we haven’t seen since maybe even 2009. After the way they started the season, the team, the staff, everyone could’ve crumbled. Instead they finished the season 8-2. Tom Herman, his staff, and the players deserve all the credit for turning things around. And I’ll just say I hope you all have enjoyed the ride.