Year two of the Tom Herman era — along with hype, expectations and postseason hopes — begins Saturday as No. 23 Texas takes the field against Maryland at FedEx Field.
This weekend’s game is a rematch of last year’s season opener, when the Terrapins spoiled Herman’s Texas debut with an upset victory in Austin.
The Longhorns have brought back most of their main contributors on offense, but lost playmakers such as DeShon Elliott, Poona Ford and Malik Jefferson to the NFL. Now, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando will look for a new set of leaders to fill those gaps.
Let’s get right into how this week could play out for the Longhorns:
Texas Wins If …
… the quarterback steps up. Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger has the keys to the Texas offense for week 1 and all the expectations that come with it. As the team’s leading passer and rusher last year on a stagnant offense last season, he’ll look to distribute the workload this go-around. If Ehlinger can find his big targets, junior wide receivers Collin Johnson and Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, and find a rhythm early, the Longhorns will leave Maryland with a much better result than last year’s opener.
… it gets a fast start. Before Texas could blink in last year’s game, it found itself down 27-7 in the second quarter. While the Longhorns nearly closed the gap, the deficit proved too large to overcome. This Terrapin team likes to run the ball. A quick start in Texas’ favor could force Maryland to throw the ball much more than they are comfortable doing, which could force mistakes and potential turnovers.
… special teams and defense force the issue. Three of Texas’ six touchdowns against Maryland came in the form of a blocked field goal, punt return and a pick six. These scores kept the Longhorns in the game when the offense couldn’t and will be crucial as the season goes on. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s group is stout but will need more than just broken up passes or short-yard gains.
Texas Loses If …
… it can’t pressure the quarterback. Most college quarterbacks are mobile. They can use their arm at will, and their legs if necessary. That’s why containing the quarterback in the pocket, especially a mobile one like Tyrrell Pigrome or Kasim Hill, is paramount. If pass rushers such as senior defensive ends Charles Omenihu and Breckyn Hager can’t contain or get after the quarterback, things might get interesting.
… receivers don’t show up. Texas has always had a receiver to catch the home-run ball, but it has never found a way to get it to them consistently. Junior wide receiver Collin Johnson and sophomore wide receiver Lil’ Jordan Humphrey headline this list with the ability to go up and make a play on almost any ball. If Texas’ offense experiences last year’s inconsistencies, Ehlinger is going to be running around a lot more than he’s throwing, and that could spell trouble for Texas.
… its running game stagnates. One of Texas’ biggest question marks right now is the run game. Maryland out rushed Texas last year, 263-98, and controlled most of the game as a result. If Texas can’t find a spark or a go-to running back in the backfield, Ehlinger will have to put himself in the line of fire, which will create issues in the game plan for the offensive staff.