If you were one of the nearly five million viewers who watched USC beat Texas in double overtime a couple Saturday’s ago, you got yourself a real treat. I was one of the 84,000+ people in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum that evening and got every penny’s worth of the price of admission.
There was a lot of talk immediately following the game about the performance the Longhorns had against the fourth-ranked Trojans, and I didn’t see or hear much negativity about it. In fact, walking out of the Coliseum that night, I hadn’t been more proud to be wearing my burnt orange since Texas dominated Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in 2015.
The reality, though, is the team still lost. I’ve harped over and over how this team simply doesn’t know how to win and the program will not be turned around until Tom Herman figures out how to turn them into winners. But this loss felt different at the time. It felt like progress.
For the first time in seemingly a decade, it looked like the players on the field cared more about the game than I did. That’s really all you can ask for as a fan.
But now, this program has a huge opportunity to build on the success they had against USC and learn from their mistakes. Will it happen this Thursday against Iowa State in Ames, or will Texas revert back to their old ways and play down to the level of their competition?
Speaking of that, on Tom Herman’s weekly radio show last week, he was asked about whether he was worried about his team playing down to their level of competition, and the possibility of complacency seeping into the locker room. His response was pure gold and refreshing to hear.
To summarize, he said he couldn’t understand why people were congratulating him after the USC game. Congratulations should never happen for a loss, because a loss is a loss, no matter what the effort looked like. He has no fear about his players playing down to their level of competition because Herman himself doesn’t even know what it means (of course, you know he does, but he’s just getting in the minds of the players and fans).
He also laughed at the notion of complacency in the locker room. How in the world can you be complacent after you lose? This team is 1-2 through three games, and the media is asking about complacency?
Herman continued by saying that notion was foreign to him. But honestly, he hasn’t followed this program in the last few years. Those questions were legitimate.
This team would get complacent at the most random times. If they beat OU, they would lose to Iowa State in the same year. If they beat Baylor, they would lose to Kansas. All because of complacency and playing down or up to the level of their competition.
Now, as good as Texas appeared to play against USC, there are still plenty of concerns, which have all been acknowledged by Herman. Let’s start with these:
- Texas lost their All-American left tackle for possibly the season due to injury, leaving them with only five offensive linemen with quality experience.
- Sam Ehlinger had four turnovers. More on this in a moment.
- Chris Warren had four carries. I’m not getting into running game issues today, but here are my thoughts.
- Against two Power-Five opponents, Texas has not scored a single offensive point in the first half of those games.
- The offense has no identity, which will hurt them tremendously going forward if it doesn’t change.
As for true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, we saw this guy grow up a little more and get better from quarter to quarter against USC. But we have to pump the brakes on him a little bit. I’m going to make a comparison here that would probably get fans riled up, but just know that I’m not suggesting anything negative.
Remember when Garrett Gilbert was thrown into the national championship game against Alabama and was praised for an admirable performance in a loss? He had four turnovers that game, just like Ehlinger had against USC.
For the record, I’m not comparing Ehlinger to Gilbert at all. I make the point just to say we can’t anoint a freshman quarterback based on one performance. Could Ehlinger be the answer? It wouldn’t surprise me. Let’s just let this play out before calling him the savior of the program, like what happened to Gilbert. This program can’t afford yet another quarterback bust.
The bottom line is Texas has to go out and validate their performance against USC by completely dominating Iowa State on the road Thursday night. There were plenty of positives to take away from that game, but losing is losing and the team has to get better. Effort alone nearly beat the fourth-ranked team in the country, so cleaning up some issues and fixing some mistakes make this team’s ceiling very high.
This week is yet another challenge that Herman hasn’t faced with his team yet. He should seriously take the media questions and the fans reactions to heart. He may not think complacency is possible after a loss, but it has been with this team.
Fans are telling the players how well they played. National media are saying good things about the program. All of it can make complacency creep in. Take it to heart, Herman, because we will clearly see how good of a job you did the last couple weeks when your team takes the field on Thursday.
There may not be five million people tuning into this game, but you can bet the fans that do tune in will want to see nothing less than the fight, intensity, and effort put up against USC.