The metaphorical chair head coach Tom Herman found himself sitting in following a 24-7 loss to No. 8 TCU in Fort Worth on Saturday night was not a comfortable one.
The seat’s cushion may have felt fine, but sitting at 4–5 with three games left was by no means pleasant or welcoming. Still, Herman didn’t waver when asked about the Longhorns’ chances of making a bowl game, needing two wins in their last three games to accomplish that feat.
“Yeah, I’m very confident,” Herman said. “If we keep playing defense that way, we’ll find a way to gut out a couple wins here.”
Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson felt the same way about Texas’ chances.
“Very confident,” Jefferson said.
Former head coach Charlie Strong sat in the unwelcoming position that Herman now sits in every year he coached on the 40 Acres — fighting to make a bowl game.
In 2014, the Longhorns were 4–5, and two straight victories over West Virginia and Oklahoma State helped Texas get to six wins. But a 48-10 home-stomping at the hands of TCU on Thanksgiving night left a bitter taste before Arkansas dropped the Longhorns 31-7 in the Texas Bowl.
In 2015, it was that same position. Four and five. Win two of the last three. But Texas dropped its next two games against West Virginia and Texas Tech to effectively end the season. A 23-17 win over Baylor in Waco to close the year was meaningless.
In 2016, Texas was in a much more favorable position at 5–4, but the result was still the same as 2015. The Longhorns lost three in a row to West Virginia, Kansas and TCU to miss out on a bowl for the second straight year.
Now, Herman is tasked with making sure that doesn’t happen for a third straight year.
“These seniors deserve to go to a bowl game,” Herman said.
Herman was brought to Texas in hopes that the Longhorns would no longer have to be in situations like these — that better days lay ahead and a restoration to Mack Brown’s tenure was just around the corner.
One of the three players on this current Texas team still around from Brown’s last season, fifth-year senior defensive back Antwuan Davis, has seen some of the darker days.
“After the game, I told each one of the guys, ‘I appreciate playing out there with y’all,’” Davis said. “Sometimes they don’t realize, as a senior, you got to be appreciative of these moments right here.”
Just two weeks removed from their worst offensive performance of the season — a 10-point effort in an overtime loss at home to then-No. 10 Oklahoma State — the Longhorns may have outdone themselves on Saturday night.
In 14 offensive drives at Amon G. Carter Stadium, the Longhorns never reached the red zone. Texas punted nine times, turned it over on downs three times and junior kicker Joshua Rowland missed a 47-yard field goal that had nowhere near enough distance.
At this point in the season, the Longhorns are what they are on offense. The offensive line is struggling playing without both of its starting tackles in juniors Connor Williams and Elijah Rodriguez. On Saturday night, the Longhorns were also without their starting center in sophomore Zach Shackelford.
The running game is nonexistent. The Longhorns rushed for a grand total of nine yards on 26 attempts against TCU. And Texas can’t keep the same quarterback on the field due to injuries.
With three games remaining, and with the current issues that plague this Texas offense, the Longhorns have a tall task to get to six wins. Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech remain on the schedule. For seniors like Davis, there are three games left to salvage their careers.
“Yeah, my time’s ticking,” Davis said. “But we’re going one game at a time. We’re getting to a bowl game. That’s the ultimate goal right there.”