Longhorns Football Preview
Story published in The Austin Chronicle. Online version here.
At Big 12 Media Day in July, Texas football coach Tom Herman boasted that 60 of the 2018 Longhorns can vertically leap at least 30 inches, 34 can squat over 500 pounds, and 42 can power-clean at least 300. Impressive? Yes. Significant of success? No. The Horns persistently lure top talent, but as of this decade, measurables aren't translating to wins.
Last year, an opening home loss against unranked Maryland replayed the despondent tone that has permeated the program since Mack Brown's departure. This year, a week-one rematch against the Terrapins is the team's first chance to change the losing tune.
For that to happen, consistent quarterback play is vital. Sophomore Sam Ehlinger was named starter with two weeks left still to the opener, something the team hopes will slow last year's ever-rotating shuffle between Ehlinger and junior Shane Buechele. With Aaron Rodgers-esque pocket wizardry, the Westlake native's ability to extend plays off his first read is special. At times, though, Sam's insistence on the big play leads to silly turnovers.
The Horns surround Ehlinger with as promising of a receiving corps that the Big 12 has to offer. Collin Johnson's six-foot-six frame makes him a red-zone magnet and someone Texas should look to target anytime he's faced with one-on-one coverage. Just two inches shorter, Lil'Jordan Humphrey has comparable ball skills to Johnson with the added shake and quickness of a running back. With seven players currently competing for carries, the Horns may consider putting Humphrey back there for some snaps.
Texas will have to lean on newcomers Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram to make an impact in the backfield right away. Watson, a Cal graduate transfer, has rare shiftiness while freshman Ingram comes in ranked as the top high school running back in the state. Combining elite vision with a tall and strong downhill running style, Ingram is the freshman to keep an eye on this season.
If the offensive line improves, Texas has the skills to score in bunches and the defense to do the rest. In 2017, coordinator Todd Orlando's unit was one of the top ranked in the Big 12, and fifth in the nation in terms of efficiency. With an uncertain front seven, however, it will be difficult to replace the playmaking ability of the departed lineman Poona Ford and linebacker Malik Jefferson.
Deshon Elliott's absence won't be as dearly missed in the secondary where Texas brings in the top three ranked freshmen in the country in B.J. Foster, DeMarvion Overshown, and Caden Sterns. It may be weeks, even months, before the young studs see significant playing time, though, as they'll be competing for snaps with an already deep group highlighted by senior cornerback Kris Boyd and the fast-improving sophomore safety Brandon Jones. The bunch will be counted on to stifle elite offenses on the schedule led by a week three tilt vs. USC.
Texas again has the talent to win the Big 12. Whether or not that happens depends on Ehlinger and the rest of the Horns improving on the mental lapses that cost them too many games a year ago. The table is set for Texas to turn talent into trophies once again; it's the 2018 Longhorns' turn to sit down and eat