In his second season in Austin, Texas Longhorn coach Tom Herman is trying to follow in some very large footsteps. It is not the footsteps of a former Texas coach, or even those of his former boss Urban Meyer. Herman is looking to follow the path set by Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Nick Saban, and Jim Tressel. Each of these coaches took over a program with loads of tradition that were struggling to live up to their history of winning ways.
Tom Herman And The Long Road Back
Herman is trying to build Texas back into the national power. His first season ended with a bowl victory over the Missouri Tigers, allowing the Longhorns to finish with a winning record at 7-6. He has set the foundation for what he wants his program to be. Now he’ll need to build on that momentum to get Texas back to being a contender in the Big 12 and beyond.
Slipping From the Top
For nine consecutive seasons between 2001 and 2009, the Longhorns had ten or more victories. Twice they played for the national title. They have not won more than nine games since 2009, and have four losing seasons. Texas is just 53-48 since the loss to Alabama in the 2010 BCS Championship Game. Mack Brown’s successful tenure fizzled out after that loss, and the Charlie Strong experiment did not go as planned. Now Tom Herman is in his second season, hoping to take a huge step towards national relevance. To add to Longhorn fans frustration, the rival Oklahoma Sooners have taken control of the Big 12 in their period of demise.
Tom Herman’s Rise
Tom Herman has been coaching in or around Texas for most of the last 17 seasons. He moved from Texas State to Rice before getting his first shot in a Power Five conference. In 2009, he entered his first season as Iowa State offensive coordinator. By 2012 he was moving to Ohio State to run the offense. Herman was awarded the Broyles Award as the best assistant coach in the nation after guiding the Buckeyes fourth ranked offense to a national title. He then returned to Texas for his first head coaching job at Houston. The Cougars went 11-1 in his first season, winning the AAC title and defeating Florida State in the Peach Bowl. After a second successful season in Houston, Tom Herman made the three hour trip up U.S. Highway 290 to take over the storied Longhorns program.
2nd Season Jump
Stoops, Saban, and Carroll all had similar records in their first seasons at Oklahoma, Alabama, and Southern Cal, respectively. Just like Herman at Texas, they were at or around a five hundred winning percentage in their debut season. Each coach took a major step forward in year two. All three coaches led their teams to double digit wins in their second season, with Stoops making it all the way to the National Title. Texas will hope to take a similar leap in 2018. It’s unlikely that the Longhorns will make the same drastic leap in Herman’s second season, but not impossible. Getting to eight or nine wins and at least being in the conversation for Big 12 title contention would be a solid step forward.
If the Longhorns are to make a dramatic jump this season, they will need to find some play makers on offense. The Longhorns did not have a player gain more than 450 yards receiving or rushing in 2017. Sophomore Daniel Young had 373 yards on the ground, one of five players between 250 and 380 yards last season. Tom Herman is an offensive coach, so pinpointing who will feature in his offense will be key. Lil’Jordan Humphrey returns at receiver, as does Collin Johnnson who has played in 25 games over two years.
Sam Ehlinger won the quarterback spot early last season, and had 1,915 yards passing as a freshman. The dual threat quarterback also led the team in rushing with 381 yards. He split time with Shane Buechele last season, but has solidified himself as the starter heading into fall camp. The play of the offensive line must improve for Texas to take a step forward and be more consistent. If Ehlinger repeats as the team’s leading rusher, that will probably mean another disappointing season. The Longhorns have to find an effective running back corps.
Despite allowing 51 points to Maryland in the 2017 opener, the Longhorns defense was able to settle in and have a solid season. They allowed more than 30 points only one more time the rest of the year. In the Big 12, that’s of note. The Longhorns will have to replace their top two tacklers. Luckily, Texas will have an experienced secondary with Brandon Jones, Kris Boyd, and P.J. Locke III all returning. They were an extremely good tackling team a season ago and the return of their veteran defensive backs should help them continue that trend. Texas forced two turnovers a game last year and had 31 sacks. Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager each had four sacks in 2017 and both return along the front seven.
Texas will have a tough road if they are to improve on last season’s 7-6 record. They face Maryland and host Southern Cal in September out of conference. Road trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech will not be easy, nor will their annual rivalry game with the Sooners. Less than a decade ago the Longhorns were playing for a National Title. Now in his second season, coach Tom Herman is looking to lead this proud program back to the top.
Embed from Getty Images