The Tom Herman homecoming celebration lasted less than half a quarter. When Herman, a former Texas graduate assistant, left Houston to become the Longhorns’ head coach last November, it heralded the end of a prolonged swoon for a proud program with national championship ambition. The glut of talent left over from the Charlie Strong era, coupled with the fact Herman won 13 games with the Cougars in year one, laid the groundwork for a rousing start to his tenure in Austin.
But by midway through the opening stanza of Texas’s stunning 51-41 loss to Maryland at Darrell K Royal Stadium on Saturday, the Terrapins had responded to a 31-yard interception return for a touchdown from the Longhorns with a 25-yard rushing score from quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome. The unheralded sophomore added a passing score a little more than five minutes later, and then Maryland tacked on two more scores in the second quarter to go into halftime with a 16-point lead and 100-yard total offense edge after a late field goal.
With that, the elation over Herman’s hiring and enthusiasm about his capacity for restoring Texas to its rightful place atop the Power 5 hierarchy had given way to the sad realization that maybe this is going to be more difficult than expected. Herman, it turned out, could not wash away everything that has ailed the Longhorns during their decade of middling irrelevance in the space of one offseason. For one game, at least, Texas would need to scrap just to get past an opponent picked to finish sixth in its own division. It couldn’t, and now it will head into Week 2 looking to push the reset button on the Herman era.
The Longhorns undid much of the damage of a ghastly first half in the third quarter, as sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele led a pair of touchdown drives and freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps gave Texas its second special teams touchdown—to follow a blocked field goal return in the second quarter—by running back a punt 91 yards for a score. But the Terrapins responded with their own 62-yard return, setting up a 40-yard rushing TD from junior running back Ty Johnson.
A left-leg injury to Pigrome offered an opening for Texas, but his replacement, true freshman Kasim Hill, came up big in a critical spot, leading a seven-play touchdown drive to open up a 10-point lead on the Longhorns midway through the fourth quarter after they’d forfeited possession on a failed fourth down conversion attempt near midfield. Maryland forced a punt and then turned Texas over on downs to close the door, and then it followed up with another touchdown to notch a point total 25.2 higher than its average last season.
From here, things will get more difficult for Texas. After hosting Mountain West foe San José State in a week, the Longhorns travel to USC for a battle pitting two national heavyweights but, as we learned Saturday, only one serious national title contender. That game won’t be a barometer of the Longhorns’ progress as much as it will a reckoning of how much work they have to do to get where Herman is expected to take them. Even if it cuts out some of the mistakes that put it in a hole on Saturday, Texas won’t be at USC’s level for a while.
There’s time for Texas to make adjustments. The meeting with the Spartans next week, in particular, could be a good opportunity to flush away the frustration of a disappointing opener. Maybe the Longhorns get the pistons pumping at full speed on both sides of the ball with a two-way bludgeoning of San Jose State and head to Los Angeles with enough confidence to make the Trojans sweat for a while. At this point, that feels like a far more realistic possibility than actually pulling the upset.
A Week 1 dud doesn’t resign Texas to a disappointing debut season under Herman. This was a strange game with an unusually high number of consequential special teams plays, and it’s possible Maryland was underrated heading into this season. We’re still a few weeks removed from the beginning of Big 12 play. The Longhorns are working uphill now, though. They need to show what happened on Saturday didn’t reflect how they’ll perform over the next three months.