By Steve Habel, Senior Contributing Writer
AUSTIN, Texas — Texas coach Tom Herman spent the better part of his weekly media availability on Monday trying to assuage anxiety and pull Longhorn fans back to a positive frame of mind after his team’s 34-29 loss at Maryland in its season opener Saturday.
Yes, the loss was a difficult one, Herman explained, and no, the Longhorns did not play up to anyone’s expectations. But there were plenty of things they did well in the loss, as well, despite the “funeral home” feeling that lingered Sunday around the Texas football complex.
“I said post-game, and I said today in the Big 12 teleconference, and I'll say it again here: although the outcome is similar to last year's opener, this one feels much different,” Herman said. “The reason we played so poorly, in my opinion, is actually a good one: because of how close this team has become, how badly they wanted to perform for each other, for their coaches.
“We have to learn how to manage expectations. We have to learn how to manage self-inflicted pressure. We have to learn to manage a lot of things, and that's our job as coaches to make sure we are capable of doing that.
Herman said quarterback Sam Ehlinger played well overall, but also said that his sophomore signal caller forced some throws late in the game that he didn’t need to. Herman also said there was no thought about a switch as quarterback to Shane Buechele.
“Like the entire team, Sam was a bit tentative early, but I think as the game progressed, he gained a lot more confidence,” Herman said. “We made a decision, and we've got a tremendous amount of confidence in Sam.
“Certainly, Sam didn't play perfect, but nobody did, and his errors weren't egregious enough to merit just dumping him on the depth chart. If you start doing that, you're going to start riding a roller-coaster and you're going to wind up in the same situation that you were in last year.”
Herman said he told Ehlinger during their Sunday film session that he needed to throw away the pass that was intercepted on the final UT drive.
“We told him that, on third down, you don't need to take that chance,” Herman said. “Throw it away. Give us a chance on fourth down. On that one throw, yeah, he made a mistake. There were 70-something other snaps where he played really well and didn't make a mistake. So, I was pleased with his performance, save for that one decision.”
The Longhorns got beaten by Maryland because of a slow start, a horrible finish and some bad penalties throughout the game. Texas made a game of its and took the lead in the third quarter by doing the things that will eventually make it a winning team: executing on offense, especially when it went up-tempo, and inflicting its will on defense.
Herman said he wants to make sure that that fact doesn’t get lost in the hand-wringing after the loss.
“There were a lot of reasons that went into why we lost, and you address the why,” Herman said. “The kids know the what, just like everybody knows the what. You address the why, and you just be very honest with them.
“It's not going to define us — it's not. Week one will never define anybody. How you grow from it and how you respond to it is going to be paramount. We have 11 more of these guaranteed to us, 11 one-game seasons, and we've got to learn from it and move on.”
Herman said the team was not taking the loss well, but added that the sky is not falling.
“We expect to win every game,” Herman said. “We're extremely disappointed when we don't. (But) the sun is going to come up. Hopefully tomorrow, we're going to get to practice. If it don't come up, we're all kind of screwed on that deal, right? (Laughter).
“We are going to continue to get better. We are going to continue to improve. We are going to continue to develop. If we get this tentativeness issue fixed, that we're going to be fine. We failed to meet expectations for one game, and it's not Armageddon. We're going to learn from it, and you should see a much-improved team this Saturday against Tulsa.
Texas and the Golden Hurricane will play for the first time ever at 7 p.m. Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Other items addressed by Herman on Monday:
An update to injuries to defensive backs Davante Davis (neck), Brandon Jones (ankle) and Kris Boyd (ankle).
“If we were in the NFL right now, Kris Boyd would be probable,” Herman said. “Both Davante and Brandon would be questionable, and John Burt would be out — probably not going to see John Burt for another week. It's Monday of game week. Obviously those (Davis and Jones) are starters, so we're going to continue to evaluate them throughout the week.
Part of the reason Texas failed on two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game late in the second period is that the ball was spotted by game officials in the middle of the field rather than on the left hashmark as Herman had requested.
“We told the referee to put the ball on the left hash prior to the drive, even,” Herman explained. “We said, we are going to go for two, and want the ball on the left hash ... and they put in in the middle.
“By the time we realized it the play clock was under 25 (seconds) and you can't move the ball once it's under 25. So, we had to run a play that we hadn't practiced from the middle of the field.”
Ten true freshmen played in Saturday's game at Maryland, including wide receiver Brennan Eagles and safety Caden Sterns, who earned starts.