Texas started off its season as College Football Playoff hopefuls, and junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger as a Heisman contender. Now, they enter their seventh game sitting outside of the AP Top 10 with a 4–2 record.
They have faced some of college football’s toughest competitors in No. 2-ranked LSU and No. 5 Oklahoma, but have been riddled with injuries on both sides of the ball. However, players nor coaches are in a state of panic.
After all, the Longhorns will likely be favored in every game for the rest of the season. Translation: The Longhorns’ Big 12 hopes are still alive and well.
“I don’t know if change is the right word. Get better, improve, develop — those are all words that come to mind,” head coach Tom Herman said at a press conference on Monday. “We’ve got to let our guys play fast. We’ve got to let them play fearless, unafraid to make mistakes. That’s probably the biggest thing. We’ve got to be able to get those guys playing fast and not thinking, and the only way to do that is if they’re 100% sure (of) everything that they’re doing.”
Texas’ main issues have come from injuries on defense. Key players such as junior safety Chris Brown and sophomore cornerback Jalen Green have been sidelined with injuries. Brown, who was injured during the loss to Oklahoma, is expected to be out for six weeks with a fractured forearm, while Green has been out with a dislocated shoulder.
This has put pressure on Texas’ young defense. With a weakened arsenal, players need to perform while remaining healthy. Some members of the defense have also been moved around to add depth in various positions. Their inexperience showed on Saturday against Oklahoma, where missed tackles contributed heavily to Texas’ loss. Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando understands how these sudden changes have affected young players, but is not using it as an excuse.
“The shuffling of the deck and with some of the injuries, it’s not an excuse, but you get into a point where some of these guys are moving around and doing quite a bit,” Orlando said. “We’ll end up doing the same thing this week, and just stabilizing things — that’s the biggest thing we have to do, just stabilize the guys in their positions and go play fast.”
In the past, Texas has been able to survive games like the win over Oklahoma State thanks to its offense. But against Oklahoma’s defense, the Longhorn offense was kept out of the red zone until the second half. According to Herman, Texas’ offense has carried the young defense on its back all season, but against Oklahoma the roles were flipped.
“We had been able to carry our young defense for most of the season by playing (with a) sound, explosive at times, offense, and (this time) we didn’t. So that was discouraging,” Herman said. “Then I think the positive was our red-zone defense continues to play well. We got two turnovers and did not turn the ball over, which is why we were in that game.”
In college football, one or two losses can define a season. It can make or break a team’s chances for a bowl game or national championship title. But for Ehlinger, their two losses won’t matter when they take on Kansas on Saturday.
“I think if you’re immature about the way you go about your business, you let past events affect how you prepare,” Ehlinger said. “Honestly, it should have no effect if you maturely approach it. So no, I don’t think that it should be harder (to come off a loss) … we’ll approach everything with a winning mentality.”