For the second year in a row the Longhorns fell to the Maryland Terrrapins, and for the second year in a row the Texas staff and players find themselves trying to figure out what went wrong in the season opener. The frustration was obvious in the post-game availability with players and coaches, but this frustration is something that Longhorn players and fans alike have come to know for several years now.
Like last year, the Longhorns will have to find a way to put this tough loss behind them and circle the wagons as they prepare to take on Tulsa the week before hosting USC. I know folks are going to focus on the negatives after a game like this, but I am going to try to highlight some of the positives to take away from today’s game.
I”ll start with a positive observation. While the offensive line struggled to consistently open holes and establish a new line of scrimmage, I can say the pass protection certainly looked much better in week one this year compared to last year. Sam Ehlinger didn’t find himself under constant pressure, and when he did he was typically able to use his feet to escape and make a play or get rid of the ball. The lone sack appeared to to be a coverage sack in which Ehlinger was forced to hold the ball much longer than he would have liked, and pressure eventually got him.
The offensive line obviously still has a lot of work to do in the run-game, but seeing them doing a good job of giving Ehlinger a consistent pocket to work with is encouraging to see early on.
Responding To Adversity
With the game starting how it did I have to say it was encouraging to see the team buckle down and claw their way back into the game when things could have easily gotten out of hand. It may have not have resulted in a win today, but the team showing that they are willing to scrap and continue to fight to the final whistle is something you want to see. I know this will sound like a moral victory or something of the like, but I was worried things were going to spiral early and get ugly. The team showed they could bow their neck and hit back after taking it on the chin early.
Turnovers and Penalties
Okay it’s time for some negatives. Turnovers and penalties were absolute killers. I started praising the offense because they did a good job of protecting the ball in the first half, and then they turned turned it over three consecutive times on the final three drives of the game. They had plenty of opportunities to take the lead late in the game. One of those a was an interception in which Ehlinger’s hand was hit as he threw, so I will give him a little bit of grace. But Ehlinger’s second interception and the fumble by Tre Watson are things that just can’t happen at that point in any game. Those mistakes were absolutely brutal considering the Longhorns were moving the ball down the field. Those turnovers ended up being the deciding factor at the end of the day, and it will be something that will frustrates the staff and players when they turn the film on tomorrow. Also, this team is developing a bad habit of turning the football over in crunch-time and that has to stop if they expect to start pulling out some of these nail-biters.
Regarding penalties, the most impactful one was Gary Johnson’s targeting called. Johnson was ejected as a result and wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game. There were also several other penalties that extended drives for Maryland. At the end of it, Texas had 10 penalties that went for 102 yards. In a game as tight as this one was, that can be a killer.
The Running Back Rotation
One of the more popular topics following today’s game was the use, or lack thereof, of true freshmen running back Keaontay Ingram. Ingram showed some flashes early on in the game, rushing 6 times for 37 yards with a long of 18 yards. Coach Herman said in his post game press conference that he opted to lean on his 5th year senior RB Tre Watson with the game being tight. While I agree it’s a tough spot to put your rookie running back in considering it’s his first college game, I think you still have to try to mix him in there given he was able to find some success early. While there wasn’t a consistent push from the Texas offensive line, it was clear that Watson and Ingram were the most effective of the backs that got touches today.
Obviously it won’t matter if the line doesn’t get better and open holes consistently, but the talent is definitely there and I expect Ingram to become more involved as he gets his feet wet. I’m much more excited about this group than I was last year as a whole.
Third Down Efficiency
3 of 15 on third down conversions will not win you many football games. The must improve drastically in this area and needs to find a way to keep drives alive, or they will end up putting the defense back out on the field often. When facing teams like Maryland, who is content to pound the rock and work the clock as they nickel and dime you up and down the field, you have to find a way to keep the ball out of their hands and give your defense a rest. This ties back into the lack of execution and Texas shooting themselves in the foot, both of which seemed to happen far too often at critical points in today’s game.
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