Texas Tech

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

When the Longhorns have needed a victory this season, they’ve consistently turned to their senior pitcher Paige von Sprecken.

Looking to clinch an important series victory against Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon, Texas head coach Connie Clark once again called upon her steady senior leader, and again, she didn’t disappoint.

Von Sprecken dominated in front of the Longhorns’ largest crowd of the season at McCombs Field, striking out seven and allowing only two hits as the Longhorns (25–15, 8–0 Big 12) defeated Texas Tech, 3-0, to remain perfect in Big 12 play.

“I saw yesterday that they were struggling with off-speed (pitches), so I knew today that was going to be a big factor,” von Sprecken said. “I trusted (sophomore catcher) Taylor Ellsworth’s pitch calling, and we moved the ball around and it worked.”

The senior leader’s shutout was only the fourth time this season that a team had shutout the Red Raiders in a game this season. Clark said it was her ace’s ability to get ahead in the count that helped her cruise through the Texas Tech lineup.

“Paige can be really dominating at times,” Clark said. “She established tremendous pitcher’s counts today and was ahead the majority of the time, and then was able to get them to swing at her pitch.”

The main source of offense for the Longhorns came off the bat of sophomore first baseman Malory Schattle, who smacked the first home run of her college career in the second inning to give Texas an early 2-0 advantage.

Just an inning later, Texas added to its lead with savvy base running. With one out, junior right fielder Bekah Alcozer swiped second base in order to put runners on second and third. But a mishandled throw at second allowed Ellsworth to advance home and make it a 3-0 ball game.

The three-run advantage was all von Sprecken and Texas needed. The senior pitcher finished off the Texas Tech lineup by not allowing a single base runner to reach second base for the entire afternoon.

With the series win, the Longhorns shift their focus to complete the series sweep against the Red Raiders on Sunday, which will provide Texas an opportunity to maintain its perfect status atop the Big 12 standings.

“It was extremely important to get the series win today and a chance to get the sweep tomorrow,” von Sprecken said. “It will set us up for the rest of Big 12 really nicely.”

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

The weather was the exact opposite of last weekend’s series, but that did not change the result. The Longhorns beat Texas Tech, 5-2, Friday night in warm and muggy conditions, much different from last week’s wind and cold.

The Longhorns collected their seventh Big 12 victory, already tying last season’s regular season win total against conference opponents with 11 games left to go.

“We had a great practice yesterday, and I thought we brought that right into today,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “Texas Tech’s always been a scrappy team.”

Texas once again jumped out to an early lead, scoring four runs in the bottom of the first. Sophomore Kaitlyn Washington doubled in two runners to score the first runs of the game. She was followed by Sophomore Malory Schattle, who roped a double to drive in two more runs.

But Texas Tech came back to trim the deficit to two runs in the top of the third on a two-run double. While the sudden jolt of offense gave Texas a slight scare, junior captain Bekah Alcozer knocked in an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth to seal the win.

Texas Tech refused to go out without scoring at least one run against junior ace Brooke Bolinger, as she gave up both runs in a single inning.

“I think they’ve been shutout just twice this year,” Clark said. “I know they don’t get shutout a lot. They’ll play you hard the entire game.”

Bolinger collected her 10th win of the season as she continued to establish herself on the mound. She struck out eight and pitched a complete game, her fifth of the season.

Bolinger has already eclipsed her win total, strikeout total and innings total from last season. Needless to say, her adjustment after transferring from Nevada has been completed.

“I thought Brooke got better as the game went on, and she and Taylor found a little different way to set people up,” Clark said. “Their hitters had at-bats all over the place.”

Friday also featured a strong defensive performance from Texas, as the infield stepped up to protect the Longhorns’ lead. Sophomore Kaitlyn Slack had a strong performance all night at shortstop, while freshman MK Tedder made a tough out on a chopper to third with Texas Tech mounting a rally.

Texas’ defense has been the one part of the team’s game that has yet to develop alongside the solid pitching and vastly improved offense.

“I can’t go without saying Slack made some big plays,” Clark said. “Really solid defense for us tonight. We needed every bit of it.”

The Longhorns play Texas Tech on Saturday and will go for their fourth consecutive series victory. First pitch is 1 p.m. at McCombs Field.

Photo Credit: Jessica Joseph | Daily Texan Staff

Jatarie White went exploring.

The junior center typically roams the paint, scavenging inside for easy buckets no more than a step or two away from the rim. Texas Tech made them hard to come by early in No. 6 Texas’ 87-72 win over the Red Raiders on Wednesday night at the Frank Erwin Center.

Sophomore forward Joyner Holmes started in place of senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau, who was out with a bruised left wrist. Holmes doesn’t have the same outside touch as her injured counterpart.

White tried to share the interior with Holmes. But after fighting through double teams on her first two makes, White knew she needed to venture into mid-range territory.

With 4:45 remaining in the first quarter, White received a bounce pass from senior guard Ariel Atkins just above the free throw line and rose for a jumper. The ball rolled around, hung on the front of the rim for an eternity, then fell in. She hit another jumper from the left elbow, going 4-for-4 in the first quarter and scoring eight of Texas’ first 10 points. 

“I’ve been getting in the gym a little bit more with Coach Tina (Thompson) and working on my shooting form,” White said. “Also, noticing Coach (Aston) telling us that they were kind of closing in on the paint, flashing into the high post is just where I wanted to find the open space.”

The Longhorns still struggled. Texas couldn’t find the usual cracks in the defense without Caron-Goudreau’s floor spacing. The Red Raiders ended the quarter leading 19-16.

Texas head coach Karen Aston shook things up in the second quarter. She started sophomore wing Jada Underwood at the power forward spot to open things up on offense. It worked — but at a cost.

On Texas’ first possession, senior guard Brooke McCarty drove inside for an and-one layup and made the ensuing free throw. Texas Tech responded on the other end with a layup of its own.

The Red Raiders pummeled the Longhorns in the post. Underwood and Atkins were too small to contain Texas Tech’s 6-foot-4-inch senior center, Jada Terry, or 6-foot-6-inch sophomore center Erin Degrate. Terry and Degrate finished the half combining for 18 points.

“It’s frustrating as a player not being able to — kind of just giving up easy one-foot points,” White said.

Aston turned to 6-foot-3-inch freshman forward Rellah Boothe to plug the hole on defense. She thrived. Boothe was enough of a perimeter threat on offense to keep her defender from sagging off, and she had the size to slow down Texas Tech’s bigs on defense.

Boothe entered the game with 6:24 remaining in the half and Texas clinging to a three-point lead. Four different players scored on an 8-2 Texas run, including Boothe. The freshman came out a few possessions later at the 2:17 mark with the Longhorns leading 41-34. 

“Rellah played some valuable minutes,” Aston said. “When you have a night like tonight where people aren’t clicking as well as they typically do or you need to rest some players sometimes, things like that, that’s what a bench is about. I was very pleased.”

Texas went to a 2-3 zone defense in the second half, fortifying the paint and forcing more turnovers that led to transition baskets. McCarty pilfered the ball on back-to-back plays and racked up six points to cap off a 10-0 run by the Longhorns late in the third quarter. The Red Raiders trailed by double-digits the remainder of the game.

White finished with 11 points and one rebound. McCarty tallied 13 points, one rebound and one assist.

The Longhorns (21–4, 12–2 Big 12) will hit the road to take on No. 21 Oklahoma State in Stillwater on Saturday. Though Texas won its previous matchup with Oklahoma State at home by five points, White said the team can’t afford to lose its focus.

“I try not to think about the last game,” White said. “I try to think about what that team does and where they’re successful … Kind of knowing what they do already and not really focusing on how many points they score.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Make no mistake — Texas is just fine.

The No. 9 Longhorns entered Saturday’s road game against Texas Tech as losers of two of their last three games, pushing them to the edge of the nation’s top 10 for the first time all season. 

But with questions looming over the team, Texas delivered an all-caps response, dismantling the Red Raiders in a 90-39 victory.

The Longhorns made a commitment to winning through their defense in the opening quarter, employing a full-court press that resulted in eight forced turnovers.

Senior guard Ariel Atkins, meanwhile, did it all on the offensive end in the first quarter, lighting up Texas Tech for eight points on 4-5 shooting and crashing the glass for two offensive boards. The Red Raiders managed to keep it close, ending the quarter with a pair of buckets to only trail 19-13.

After feeling out Texas Tech, the Longhorns began landing haymakers in the second quarter.

The first one came in the form of a 7-0 run to start the quarter that left the Red Raiders reeling. The second was a dizzying 14-3 burst to go up 40-16 with 2:51 left in the half.

Senior guard Brooke McCarty led the ambush, finishing the half with 12 points and six assists as Texas headed into the locker room with a commanding 44-19 lead.

The Longhorns didn’t lose focus in the second half, keeping Texas Tech scoreless for the first four minutes and 25 seconds.

Junior guard Lashann Higgs found her touch as well, outscoring the Red Raiders in the third quarter on her own, 11-10. Texas also took advantage from the charity stripe, going 11-of-15 from the free throw line during the quarter to take a 73-29 lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation, where the Longhorns put the game on ice.

Atkins shined in the blowout with a game-high 22 points to go along with seven rebounds. Higgs kept pace, posting 19 points and five rebounds. Texas forced the Red Raiders into a whopping 29 turnovers on the day.

The Longhorns (15–3, 6–1 Big 12) took away the Red Raiders’ identity, out-rebounding a Texas Tech team that prides itself on winning the battle on the boards, 31-18. Texas Tech’s 39 points also marked the second-lowest total allowed by the Longhorns this season. Texas defeated McNeese State, 100-34, on Nov. 15.

Texas will need to maintain that level of defensive intensity when it heads to Waco on Thursday for a showdown against No. 4 Baylor at 6 p.m.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Tremendous, athletic dunks by freshman forward Mo Bamba, the return of junior guard Kerwin Roach II and shocking the No. 8 team in the nation — there were plenty of reasons the crowd at the Frank Erwin Center was on its feet Wednesday night.

The Longhorns not only competed but played an exciting brand of basketball to boost the atmosphere at The Drum in a 67-58 upset victory over eighth-ranked Texas Tech.

“The fans were great tonight, particularly the students,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “They made a huge, huge difference for our team. I really appreciated the way people in Austin, people in the UT community have rallied around our team in a difficult time.”

Bamba’s energy gave the Texas faithful a reason to get excited, producing highlight dunk after highlight dunk and rejection after rejection. The freshman finished with a loaded stat line of 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.

“I think he can block the moon and the sun,” Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard said. “He’s a lottery pick for a reason.”

But the most important dunk of the game belonged to Roach, whose right-handed flush down a wide-open lane mounted Texas’ lead to 64-52 with 2:06 remaining in the game. The 12,396 onlookers responded by achieving a maximum decibel level for the night.

It was a spectacular outing for the junior guard, who returned after a fractured left hand marked him absent for the last two contests. Roach shoveled in a season-high 20 points, and the 59.1-percent free throw shooter showed massive improvement by sinking 8-of-9 shots from the stripe on the night. 

Additionally, he thrived in his primary role as a defensive nuisance, holding Texas Tech senior guard Keenan Evans — who averaged 17.5 points per game entering Wednesday — to just 11 points.

“It was big for us,” Bamba said of Roach’s return. “Snoop (Roach’s nickname) really takes charge in our perimeter defense, and having him back in the lineup made all the difference. Keenan Evans is a really good player offensively, and Snoop really did his job on him tonight.”

Texas moved slightly away from the three-ball and played to its strengths. Smart’s team only attempted 15 shots beyond the arc. The Longhorns finished with 32 points in the paint instead. A high-percentage shot selection led the team to finish 51.1 percent from the floor as the Longhorns obtained their first top-10 win since February 2016.

Despite the ranking disparity and the absence of sophomore guard Andrew Jones — who is battling leukemia — Texas was in control for the majority of the 40 minutes. 

The Longhorns snatched an early 12-11 lead with 10:42 left in the first half and remained ahead until the final buzzer sounded. The Red Raiders provided a brief scare by cutting the margin to five with just under five minutes to go. 

But thanks to a barrage of late layups and dunks, Texas (12–6, 3–3 Big 12) prevailed in an urgent game, avoiding a losing streak while managing to stay competitive against the elite in a challenging Big 12.

“The thing about this league is teams being ranked and where they’re ranked will fluctuate some because people are going through a gauntlet of tough games,” Smart said. “There’s five or six teams in our league that could make an argument to be in the top 10, 15 or 20. 

“We’re not one of them yet; we’re trying to become one of them. Tonight was a good step in that direction.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Exactly one week ago at the Frank Erwin Center, the Longhorns upset then-No. 16 TCU in double overtime in what proved to be one of the more thrilling games in program history.

Three days later, the team fell to Oklahoma State on the road in disappointing fashion, surrendering a 12-point lead down the stretch with two of its starting guards, sophomore Andrew Jones and junior Kerwin Roach II, still sidelined.

The disparity in endings from the two contests just days apart highlights the narrow margin for error Texas finds itself playing with. Given the seven-man rotation, a poor performance by any Longhorn can mean the difference between a win and a loss in a fiercely competitive Big 12 conference.

“To win against really good teams in this league, with the guys we have out, you’re going to have to have the majority of our guys play well on a given night,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “And that’s what we had against TCU."

“Jericho (Sims) played well. Jase (Febres) played well and gave us eight early points. And of course Matt (Coleman) and Mo (Bamba) and Dylan (Osetkowski) — they all played well. And even then it took double overtime. So when you’re down a couple of guys, that’s what it’s got to be.”

Texas hopes to recapture the energy of the TCU win as it hosts No. 8 Texas Tech on Wednesday at 7 p.m. The Red Raiders are coming off a home win over then-No. 2 West Virginia, where they erased a late deficit much like the lead Texas saw disappear against Oklahoma State.

With a deep roster of returning talent, including four seniors, the physicality of the Texas Tech matchup could be a problem for a Texas team that lately has been starting all freshmen except one.

“There is something to be said for having guys — whether they’ve played for another coach or not — guys that have been in college and have winning experience and experience in the Big 12,” Smart said. “(Texas Tech) last year had a really good group of juniors that you knew this year were going to be a special team.”

The Longhorns’ lack of depth has forced the coaching staff to experiment with more unconventional lineups. Smart has opened the past two games with the big-man trio of Sims, Osetkowski and Bamba all starting.

While Osetkowski has demonstrated an ability to create and distribute like a guard, Texas’ lack of shooting has largely negated one of its strongest advantages: the interior. Opposing teams have the luxury of leaving the forwards open on the perimeter as they collapse on any post-up opportunity the Longhorns may create.

“Depending on who else you have in the game, teams may or may not have to guard our guys,” Smart said. “So for instance, when we have the bigger lineup in, the defenders are going to be sitting in (Osetkowski’s) lap, if not double- or triple-teaming him with Mo and Jericho’s men.”

The smaller rotation has been beneficial to some degree. Heavy minutes for role players like Sims and junior guard Eric Davis Jr. have led to a surge in production across the board. Three Texas players recorded career highs in scoring in the past week.

When Roach eventually returns from a fractured left hand, Texas will be a better fit for the smaller lineup. For now, consistency is the name of the game if the Longhorns hope to take down a deeper, more experienced opponent like Texas Tech.

“In general, our young guys, with the increased experience that they’ve had … all of them are getting better,” Smart said. “And that’s what you want from freshmen. They are making strides. It never happens as fast as you want it to, particularly when you are depending on those guys. But I do think they are much further along than they were maybe five or eight days ago.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Tech players stormed the field on Friday night while one Red Raider ran across the turf carrying a bright red flag that pierced through Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Longhorn players watched on as the Texas Tech sideline celebrated after spoiling Texas’ senior night. Several Longhorn players were seen laying on their backs, some threw their helmets in frustration, but most had the same, stunned look on their face.

Head coach Tom Herman and his team left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the last time this season and were forced to accept that they let yet another close game slip through their fingertips.

“I’m still stunned,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I’m just trying to get over that hump. It’s just super frustrating. I know how hard we work and everything we’ve done this whole year to achieve something and create a foundation for the future … 6–6 is not what we wanted to be. We should've won a lot more games. It’s very frustrating.”

Texas’ 27-23 loss to Texas Tech marks the Longhorns’ fourth loss by five points or less this season. But as the burnt orange look forward to bowl season, the only numbers that will be seen is their record: 6–6.

Texas Tech’s win over Herman and the Longhorns caught the Longhorn faithful off guard. The Red Raiders’ victory comes less than a week after Texas’ 28-14 victory over then-No. 24 West Virginia.

Herman was emotional following the game and during his press conference with the media on Friday night. Even he couldn’t explain Texas’ inconsistency issues and how his team went from the highs of beating a ranked team on the road and earning bowl eligibility to losing to a previously 5–6 team at home.

“I don’t know,” Herman said. “They're kids … But I don’t have an answer for you.”

Amongst the last few players to leave the stadium was junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has yet to announce whether he will return for his senior season or opt to enter the 2018 Draft. But he made sure to do one thing before leaving the field.

With a handful of people remaining in the stadium, Jefferson stopped and kissed the white Longhorn logo on the burnt orange carpet of the tunnel. Then, Jefferson continued up the tunnel and left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for what many believe was the last time.

“It's gonna be a hard decision because I look in the locker room, I look at those guys to the left and right of me and I just smile because I love the things that we’ve been through,” Jefferson said. “It’s been a tough past three years and guys understand the love that I have for them … I just didn't want to take any regrets or miss any opportunities that I have for this stadium and the love of these fans.”

Although Texas won’t play in Austin until next season, the Longhorns still have one game remaining. Herman admitted it was a bit tougher to reflect on the improvements within the program after the stunning loss.

But he did find a silver lining.

“The silver lining in all of this is that it’s not the last time these seniors will put on the burnt orange and white,” Herman said. “We have an opportunity to go play in a bowl game for the first time in three years here. We are dead set in making it our mission in life to make sure that these seniors go out with a positive experience, with a win in the bowl game, wherever that may be.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

It was a collapse — a catastrophic, epic collapse.

Yet, in a way, it was typical of a program that’s spent years wandering in no man’s land.

Friday night was primarily supposed to be about the seniors, who played their final game under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But above all else, it was supposed to be about continued progress.

The footprint on this game in the end was one of disaster, though. The Longhorns suffered a 27-23 defeat to Texas Tech after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“There's no words for it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “To come up short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game.”

Texas turned the ball over four times in the second half and never could put the Red Raiders away, despite many opportunities to do so.

The Longhorns led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter after junior kicker Joshua Rowland booted a 40-yard field goal.

And then it all went south.

Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek marched the Red Raiders down the field in six plays for a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Shimonek fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Vasher, who then flashed the Horns sign down which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Texas Tech closed the deficit to 23-20 and was firmly back in the game.

But with just over two minutes to play, Texas had a chance to put the game away for good.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger had led the Longhorns on a promising drive that was moving well into Texas Tech territory.

Ehlinger has been an unpredictable player all season long. He’ll make the head-turning impressive play one moment and then the head-scratching play at the next.

With the Longhorns ready to shut the door on Texas Tech, Ehlinger made Texas fans scratch their heads. On third-and-2 at Texas Tech’s 37-yard line, Texas elected to throw the ball, only for Ehlinger to make a catastrophic error. His pass was intercepted by Texas Tech defensive back Justus Parker, who returned it 55 yards all the way to Texas’ 14-yard line.

“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let down the team again, it's awful.”                           

Moments later, Shimonek lofted a touchdown pass to Cameron Batson to give the Red Raiders a 27-23 lead with 1:47 to play.

On the ensuing drive, Ehlinger once again marched Texas down the field and into Red Raider territory. Ehlinger had his chance to redeem himself and once again learn from his mistakes.

But with under a minute to play, he made another costly mistake. Ehlinger was intercepted a second time, this time by Texas Tech defensive back Douglass Coleman III, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes.

Texas players walked off the field with dejected looks on their faces. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was one of the last players to leave the field. He headed up the tunnel with tears in his eyes, knowing this was his last game at home.

Head coach Tom Herman sat at the podium with a stunned look on his face.

“Losing that way hurts,” Herman said.

The talk from Herman and the Longhorns during the week had been of progress. The Longhorns entered their bout with Texas Tech as 7.5-point favorites riding a wave of momentum from a road victory last week over then-No. 24 West Virginia. Texas had already clinched bowl eligibility. It had a chance to clinch a winning season against Texas Tech, too.

The Longhorns now have plenty of time to reflect on how it all collapsed on Friday night.

“We certainly felt like we had a lot of momentum — and we still will once the sting of this wears off,” Herman said. “We kept fighting. We’ll keep fighting throughout the bowl preparation.”    

Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

Dear bowl season, 

Oh, how Texas has missed you.

It’s been a long 35 months since the Longhorns were invited back to the party. Texas fans watched two whole bowl seasons from the couch and the worst part is they don’t even have a positive memory from the last bowl appearance. That 31-7 beatdown Arkansas handed them in the 2014 Texas Bowl still haunts them every now and then. 

The rest of the country simply forgot about Texas, even you. But that’s okay, no hard feelings. In fact, it’s not your fault. These past two years are all on Texas. Sorry I didn’t check in to give you an update on the program. 

I meant to write sooner but with work and class, it’s hard to keep up with everything. I hope you understand. But, Texas has good news: the Longhorns will be participating in the 2017 bowl season. However, they’ve changed their look from the last time you saw them. 

No, Charlie Strong didn’t grow his hair out. Texas and Charlie actually broke up last year. They just couldn’t make another 5–7 season work out. He got a good gig in South Florida and is in the middle of a 9–1 record, though. I’m happy for him. 

Texas found this new guy from the University of Houston, Tom Herman. He didn’t throw fairy dust on the team and magically bring Texas back overnight. Texas is just 6–5. It’s not pretty but hey, it’s better than 5–7. It’s improvement. That’s really all Longhorn fans wanted when he arrived in Austin. 

He chews an absurd amount of gum and confuses the Longhorn faithful with his decision-making when it comes to 20-yard field goals, but instead of complaining, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving by counting Texas’ blessings. In fact, here’s a list to catch you up: 

1. Texas did not lose to Kansas    

This might be confusing at first glance, but I have a confession to make. Last year Texas was one win away from earning bowl eligibility. With a 5–5 record and a game against Kansas remaining on the schedule, Texas appeared to be in perfect position to earn its sixth win. Well, Texas lost — in overtime. Internet trolls and endless memes on Twitter have made Texas fans’ life a living hell for the past 365 days.

But that nightmare is over. Although the 42-27 score was much closer than it should have been, Texas fans will take any victory over Kansas at this point, both on the gridiron and the hardwood. Now, you can happily look up the conference standings and see that Kansas has rightfully returned to its winless conference record. 

2. Texas finally found a quarterback with swagger 

Before we praise this guy, let’s make one thing clear: he’s not perfect. He fumbled in double overtime erasing any hope Texas had at upsetting then-No. 4 USC on the road. He threw a game-ending interception in overtime against then-No. 10 Oklahoma State, too. 

Now that that’s out of the way, the dude can ball. He’s not perfect. He’s a true freshman. At this point, everybody has accepted Sam Ehlinger and all he encompasses, for the time being.

He will make mistakes, but he’ll also run over an entire defense single-handedly. He brings a confidence that quite frankly, we haven’t seen since that guy named Vince Young went to school here.

3. Texas’ defense is back, folks

We told you about Tom Herman, but he brought with him a guy named Todd Orlando. There’s no hiding it, the Longhorn defense was bad — historically bad. Then, Orlando arrived. Whether you believe in miracles or not is beside the point. The defensive coordinator completely transformed a unit that would’ve given up 40-plus points to a middle school.

Now the offense struggles at times, but beggars can’t be choosers. Time and time again, the Longhorn defense has stepped up. In its performances against USC in Los Angeles and Oklahoma State at home, this defense gave Texas a chance to pull off two huge wins. It goes without saying — Texas needs to do all it can to keep Todd Orlando in Austin. 

But things haven’t been perfect, either. Texas ended up losing those two games against Oklahoma State and USC. Longhorn fans also watched Maryland walk all over that same defense I just mentioned.

At this point, Texas fans are just glad they’re invited back to the party. They know they won’t be expected to bring anything fancy to the gathering. If they aren’t aware, let’s make that clear. The Longhorns’ role this bowl season will not be significant to the majority of the country.

If we’re talking Thanksgiving dishes, the Longhorns will be the cranberries of the dinner. They are poured out of a can and into a bowl where they sit untouched in the middle of the table. Nobody pays too much attention to the dish except for the cranberry lovers. That will essentially be the case for the Longhorns this bowl season. The cranberry lovers are Texas fans, and the cranberries themselves are the Longhorns and a trip to a small, insignificant bowl. But hey, people appreciate things more once they’re gone, so these cranberries mean much more this season. 

Texas fans know they won’t be the main event this bowl season. They know they might not even be the main event in the next couple of seasons, but for now, they are just happy to receive any sort of invitation back to the party. 

Texas is back (to bowl season), folks.

Sincerely,

Your Longhorn football beat writer,

Alex Briseno

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

With one game left in the 2017 regular season, former head coach Charlie Strong’s metaphor from a year ago looks to be increasingly prescient. 

“The cake has been baked,” Strong said following Texas’ season finale in 2016, his last game as the team’s head coach. “The only thing you need to do now is put the icing on it and slice it.”

Strong was referencing Texas’ base of talent upon his departure from the program, one stocked with back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes in 2015 and 2016. And while the players from those classes failed to save Strong’s job, the former Longhorns’ leader believed they would serve the next head coach well. With a 16–21 record over three seasons, time ran out on Strong. But the program was far from broken.

Fast forward one year and the proverbial coat of icing has been applied. Yes, the Longhorns straddled .500 for much of 2017, but after Texas’ 28-14 victory over West Virginia on Saturday, the Longhorns are guaranteed a bowl appearance in head coach Tom Herman’s first season. And with a crop of youngsters starting at numerous positions, the burnt orange’s future appears bright. 

Let’s start on the offensive side of the ball. Texas should brace to lose All-American left tackle Connor Williams to the 2018 NFL draft — Williams projects to be a clear first-round pick — but the rest of the line will return. Add in a full offseason of practice for the likes of freshman right tackle Derek Kerstetter and sophomore Zach Shackelford, and an offensive line that spent much of its 2017 in flux could serve as a stout front for the Longhorns’ stable of offensive weapons.

And what a stable of weapons it will be. Texas projects to return all four of its running backs and its top three wide receivers, highlighted by sophomore Collin Johnson. Junior running back Chris Warren III will look to regain his spot atop the depth chart, while facing stiff competition from the pair of freshmen, Daniel Young and Toneil Carter. 

Then there’s the quarterback. Freshman Sam Ehlinger has made his fair share of rookie mistakes in 2017 — look no further than his pick-six against the Mountaineers on Saturday — but displayed an athleticism and talent unseen on the 40 Acres since the days of Colt McCoy. As Ehlinger refines his passing prowess to compliment his aptitude in the running game, he should eventually rise to the top of the Big 12 quarterback ladder.

Herman will most likely forge ahead in 2018 without the central ingredient of Strong’s cake, linebacker Malik Jefferson. The state’s No. 1 recruit in 2015, Jefferson was the top recruiting success of Strong’s tenure. His three seasons in burnt orange have been uneven, though a strong 2017 has vaulted Jefferson to a first-round
projection in the 2018 draft. 

But even with Jefferson’s potential departure, Herman and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando should have no trouble crafting another top tier defense in 2018. The Longhorns featured plenty of underclassmen defensively, led by sophomore defensive back Brandon Jones and defensive lineman Malcolm Roach. If junior safety and Longhorn interception leader DeShon Elliott returns as well, look out. Another year of cohesion in the secondary will wreak havoc on opposing passers.

This may seem like an overly rosy picture for a team just one game over .500, but don’t be fooled. The future of the Longhorn program is as bright as its been since the Mack Brown era. As Texas’ regular season draws to a close on Friday, keep an eye out for the Longhorns’ young talent. The icing on the cake has been applied. Now it’s time to enjoy the dessert.