It was a start the Longhorns could only have dreamed about — a pick-six on the opening series for the Texas defense.
A tipped pass fell right into the hands of junior cornerback Holton Hill, who ran it back to the house to put the Longhorns up early. What could possibly go wrong from there?
But everything that could go wrong, seemingly did go wrong after the Longhorns took a 7-0 lead early in the first quarter. The head-scratching mistakes that doomed the Longhorns under former head coach Charlie Strong reared their head once again at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday as Texas fell to Maryland, 51-41.
“We’re our own worst enemy right now,” head coach Tom Herman said. “So I told our guys to never get used to this feeling, but that if we all thought that we were going to come in here and in nine months, sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we’ve arrived, then we’re wrong.”
There were miscues abound on defense, including four touchdowns allowed of more than 20 yards. And there were agonizing special teams errors, too. The Longhorns had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown and also fumbled a kickoff. Multiple Texas players said postgame that the feelings of last season never crept back into their minds, but regardless, the team’s errors crippled their chances of beating the Terrapins.
“It doesn’t feel like last year,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I think it’s a lot of self-inflicted wounds. You can’t point any fingers because it was all over the field.”
Maryland didn’t flinch after Hill’s opening interception. The Terrapins unleashed 27 unanswered points to grab complete control of the game. At one point, the Longhorns attempted a 44-yard field goal before a dose of deja vu hit like a bad headache. The Terrapins got a hand on junior Joshua Rowland’s kick, and Maryland’s Antoine Brooks returned it 71 yards to the end zone.
Minutes later, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome found Taivon Jacobs for a 46-yard touchdown pass to put Maryland up 27-7 midway through the second quarter.
Texas would steal back some of the momentum a couple minutes later, thanks to none other than Hill. Texas blocked Maryland’s own 31-yard field goal attempt, and Hill raced toward the house with the ball, cutting the deficit to 27-14.
For a while, Hill was the only spark the Longhorns could muster. Texas sputtered on offense for most of the day, failing to finish off drives for points. The Longhorns were 0-4 on fourth down. Costly penalties and sacks took life out of the Texas offense throughout the day.
“We got down there to the 30- to 35-yard line and would have a holding or a pass interference call,” sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele said. “That’s just what hurt our drives. We were moving the ball well. That shouldn’t be taken away from our offense.”
In the second half, Texas got within three points after redshirt freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps got loose for a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. With 5:20 left in the third quarter, the Longhorns trailed only 30-27. However, similar to last season, Texas couldn’t get over the hump.
The hype attached to this team since Herman arrived in Austin was nowhere to be found after Saturday. It was the same song, just a different verse.
“It just turns my stomach,” Jefferson said. “It’s that same feeling every time you lose. You just hate it because you know you work so hard through offseason, through camp, through everything. And to come out there short is very frustrating, especially when you know you’re killing yourself and you don’t know how to fix it.”