Following a 51-41 loss to Maryland, it’s time to see which Longhorns are seeing their stock rise and which have some work to do:
WR Reggie Hemphill-Mapps
Throughout fall camp, players and coaches praised the redshirt freshman for his consistency and ability to get open. Hemphill-Mapps was rewarded by being listed as one of the starters at slot receiver and the primary punt returner. He had a memorable debut on Saturday, catching 7 passes for 69 yards and breaking off a 91-yard punt return for a touchdown. After years of struggling in the return department, Texas seems to have its answer on punts, as Hemphill-Mapps showed elusiveness and a willingness to let his blocks develop. As a receiver, he was utilized in a variety of ways, catching several screen passes and showing the ability get open on underneath routes. Tim Beck and Tom Herman will have to continue to find ways to get the ball to one of the many playmakers that Texas boasts at the receiver position.
DE Charles Omenihu
Prior to the season, Tom Herman mentioned that Omenihu perfromed well when Malcolm Roach missed time at the beginning of fall camp. Todd Orlando echoed that praise prior to week 1, stating that he and defensive line coach Oscar Giles were working with Omenihu to use more of his length and play lower. Omenihu played perhaps the best game of his career against Maryland, recording 3.5 tackles and a sack. The 6’5″ junior was the only defensive lineman who caused constant disruption in the Maryland backfield and played the run game well. Texas may want to employ more 4 down lineman looks in an effort to try to get Omenihu more snaps.
WR Collin Johnson
Entering Week 1, it was well known that Johnson was the best wide receiver on the Texas roster, and the sophomore did nothing but back that up with his play on the field. Johnson reeled in 7 catches for 125 yards and a touchdown. Equally as impressive, his willingness to be physical as a blocker in the screen and run game showed as well. Despite the attention he garnered from the Maryland defense, Johnson consistently found ways to get open. Shane Buechele targeted the 6’6″ wideout early and often. His route tree is diverse, and he will continue to be a mismatch problem for every defense on the Texas schedule.
Honorable Mention: WR Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, WR Armanti Foreman, CB Holton Hill
K Josh Rowland
The junior college transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC was supposed to be the answer to the kicking woes that have plagued Texas for years. His debut was definitely a forgettable one, missing his first field goal attempt from 44 yards before having his next one blocked and returned for a touchdown. Tom Herman emphasized before the season that he felt comfortable with Rowland from 40 yards and in, but elected to not kick field goals on multiple occasions following the first two attempts. In general, Rowland must get more height on his kicks. Several extra points were also close to being blocked. Unfortunately, Tom Herman may be forced to go for it on 4th down more than he would like if the field goal kicking continues to be shaky.
The Offensive Line
It would be unfair to single out one particular player on a unit that had Shane Buechele running for his life most of the game. Returning 4 of 5 starters from a season ago had many pegging the offensive line as one of the strengths of the team, a statement that was echoed by Tom Herman in the week leading up to the game. They did not live up to expectations in week 1. The few times Texas tried to run the ball, they had minimal success at best. It was obvious that Tim Beck made an effort to try to run behind the left side of the line, where LT Connor Williams and LG Patrick Vahe play, but both struggled. In pass protection, there were simple miscommunication breakdowns and drive-killing penalties. RT Tristan Nickelson was called for an obvious holding penalty on a touchdown pass to John Burt, and Connor Williams was called for 2 holding penalties in the 4th quarter. Shane Buechele did not do the offensive line any favors, including self-sacking several times by running outside the pocket when he did not need to, but this was not the performance anybody expected from a unit that has to improve.
S Brandon Jones
In 2016, many fans clamored for Brandon Jones to get more time on defense. After earning one of the safety spots in fall camp, Jones struggled in week 1. The former #1 safety recruit in the country had problems in run support and shedding off blocks. Twice on Maryland’s first touchdown drive, including the the play that scored, Jones was cut blocked out of play by a running back. On Maryland’s final touchdown, Jones took a bad angle and completely whiffed on the ball carrier. After re-watching the game, I thought Jones did some very good things in pass coverage and I have no doubt he isn’t afraid to hit players, but he needs to improve on his angle pursuits and supporting the run.
Honorable Mention: WR Devin Duvernay, CB Kris Boyd, LB Anthony Wheeler