By Steve Habel/Senior Editor
AUSTIN, Texas — Here are a few of the things we are looking for from the No. 23 Longhorns in their game against Maryland, which kicks off at 11 a.m. CDT Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium:
NOTES, QUOTES, PLAYERS TO WATCH
• Sophomore Shane Buechele started all 12 games a season ago, becoming the first true freshman quarterback in school history to do so. He guided the Longhorns to five victories, tied with Bobby Layne (1944) for the most wins ever by a true freshman quarterback at UT, and he became the first Texas quarterback (any class) to pass for 2,500 yards and 20 touchdowns since Colt McCoy did so in 2009.
• Junior running back Chris Warren III is eager to return to the field after suffering a season-ending injury last year against Oklahoma State. Despite playing in just three-and-a-half games a season ago, Warren ran for 366 yards and three touchdowns on 62 total attempts. As a freshman, Warren ran for 470 yards and four touchdowns, the bulk of his production coming in the season's final two games. Against Texas Tech in 2015, Warren rushed for a UT freshman-record 276 yards and four touchdowns. The following week he had 106 yards in a win at Baylor.
• Senior nose tackle Poona Ford finished fourth among UT defenders with his 54 tackles a year ago despite playing on the interior defensive line. He added 5.5 tackles for loss, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two blocked extra points. Ford is one of the Longhorns' strongest players and also one of its most athletic across the board, standing at 6-foot-0 and 305 pounds. He power-cleans 330 pounds, squats 600 pounds and bench presses 380 pounds, in addition to his 28-inch vertical jump which is inside the top 20 pound-for-pound in the program.
SERIES HISTORY: Texas leads the all-time series against Maryland, 3-0. The two programs last met in the 1978 Sun Bowl, a 42-0 Longhorns' victory.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “The best way to sum it up is being sick and tired of being sick and tired. When the coaching staff got here, there was no resistance. The other way we did it got us five wins and seven losses [last season]. We were all pretty much open to what he had to say.” – Texas linebacker Naashon Hughes on whether the Longhorns have bought in to new coach Tom Herman and his staff.
Scouting the running game: The Longhorns expected junior Chris Warren III to take over the starting running back job from last year’s Doak Walker award winner D’Onta Foreman, but Warren has battled injuries and sickness in the offseason and preseason. That has allowed sophomore Kyle Porter to lay claim to his share of chances in the run game. Warren and Porter are both listed as starters on the UT depth chart for the Maryland game. Whoever runs the ball for Texas will do so behind an experienced and talented offensive line that features All-America left tackle Connor Williams.
Scouting the passing game: Quarterback Shane Buechele is one of the most accurate passers in the nation and has a bevy of receivers to whom he can throw, including Collin Johnson, a 6-foot-6, 220-pound sophomore who is Buechele’s security blanket. Texas coaches love the two players listed as co-starters at the H receiver spot — redshirt freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps and sophomore Lil’Jordan Humphrey — and the Z spot is occupied by two of the fastest receivers in the nation: sophomore Devin Duvernay and junior John Burt. Big-play potential abounds in the Longhorns receiver corps.
Scouting the run defense: One of UT's strengths is its defensive line, buoyed by nose tackle Poona Ford and defensive end Malcolm Roach, but head coach Tom Herman has been gushing over the progress of junior Charles Omenihu, who has been one of the surprises of preseason practices. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s scheme funnels runners into the middle of the field, which is where linebacker Anthony Wheeler roams.
Scouting the pass defense: The Longhorns are known for producing great defensive backs and once again they have a stout group looking to come together under the new staff. Junior nickelback P.J. Locke may be the best of the bunch, but junior Kris Boyd looks ready to take the next step forward and become a true lockdown cornerback — if he can keep is emotions in check.
Scouting the special teams: Junior Australian punter Michael Dickson was an All-America last season and shows no signs of letting up in 2017. Texas went out and got placekicker Joshua Rowland from the junior college ranks and he’s been ultra-solid in preseason practices. The Longhorns will have speed, speed, speed at the return positions with Duvernay looking to do some serious damage on kickoff returns and Hemphill-Mapps or Armanti Foreman handling punts.
• Left tackle Connor Williams: He has the bell cow for Texas’ experienced and nasty offensive line and the protector of the Longhorns quarterbacks’ blind side. Williams was the only returning tackle to log more than 370 snaps in pass protection last season and allow fewer than five quarterback pressures. His Pass Blocking Efficiency was 98.2, tied for the best mark in the country, and he allowed just one sack in 423 pass block snaps during 2016.
• Nose tackle Poona Ford: He’s the man in the middle for Texas, a quiet giant who commands the room when he does speak up. Herman said Ford has practiced better than any player on the team in the offseason and preseason and leads by example on the field.
• Linebacker Malik Jefferson: He has come to work in 2017 after having what many would say was a disappointing season in 2016. Jefferson is another Longhorn who had complete buy-in to the new coaching staff throughout the offseason, and has the numbers to back it up in the weight room: he power-cleans 330 pounds, squats 530 pounds and bench presses 430 pounds, and boasts a vertical jump of 36.5 inches
• The Longhorns' 2017 team captains, as voted on by the team, are senior nose tackle Poona Ford, senior linebacker Naashon Hughes, junior defensive back P.J. Locke III and junior offensive tackle Connor Williams.
• Texas has gotten stronger and faster since new strength coach Yancy McKnight arrived and put the team through his offseason training program. The Longhorns lost 525 pounds of body fat this offseason, while gaining 385 pounds of lean muscle mass. The team increased its vertical jump average to 30.3 inches, power clean average to 279 pounds, back squat average to 467 pounds and bench press average to 315.
• Texas returns three players who earned All-America notice last season: offensive tackle Connor Williams was a consensus All-America, punter Michael Dickson also was an All-America while offensive lineman Zach Shackelford earned freshman All-America honors.