2020 Schedule Preview: Texas Longhorns

Tom Herman replaced both coordinators this offseason but has nine starters back on defense, and Sam Ehlinger is back for his senior year
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Texas coach Tom Herman

Texas coach Tom Herman

Tom Herman changing both coordinators in one offseason might be regarded as a desperate move.

But at the moment Herman is just trying to navigate how to teach a new offense and a new defense to Texas players during a pandemic.

“You’re gonna run out of things to meet about at some point, right?” Herman said in a May 15 video interview with Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News. “The mental aspect is not a huge concern of mine. Our kids are gonna know this offense and this defense like the back of their hands, mentally.

“It’s going out and physically doing it. We’re gonna have to accelerate that learning curve as soon as we get back.”

Herman said the impetus behind firing defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and demoting offensive coordinator Tim Beck (since departed for North Carolina State) was born of his own shortcomings as the Longhorns “hit a bit of a dip” to an 8-5 record last year.

“The only way I knew how to fix it was to look at myself as the leader of this organization,” Herman told Carlton. “You know, how do we get to where we all believe that we’re headed?

“I had become a jack of all trades but a master of none. There are just so many things that tug at you as head coach at the University of Texas, that to be the best play-caller I could be, it was difficult for me to find the time to really dive into that. I was burning the candle at both ends.

“Being the primary play-caller on game day requires so much added time and film study that it was taking me away from the second part, which is managing the defensive side.”

Rather than blame a cosmic run of injuries at running back and defensive back and linebacker, Herman simply said Texas failed to meet expectations.

“Obviously, we did not perform to our expectations defensively,” he said. “ … We underperformed on both side of the ball, at times.”

Herman hired his old pal Chris Ash to coordinate the defense. They worked together at Iowa State and won a national championship as Urban Meyer’s coordinators at Ohio State. Ash spent the last four seasons as head coach at Rutgers, where he went 8-24 and directed one of the nation’s worst teams at the Power 5 level.

Herman said Ash had “numerous offers” from Power 5 schools as well as the NFL, and said bringing him in was “a no-brainer.”

Offensively, Herman hired a one-time rival: former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, “a guy that I’ve admired from afar for a long, long time,” Herman said. Yurcich directed some of the most prolific offenses in OSU history but acknowledged he needed time to grow into a big-time college football job after coming in from Division II Shippensburg State.

Herman said Yurcich also had “plenty of schools out there, Power 5, big-time jobs” that he could have gone to, but Yurcich chose Texas “because he believed in what we’re doing. He believed in the vision, he believed in our ability to win championships here.”

Herman called Yurcich “a big recruit for us.”

Yurcich will have one year to work with senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a four-year starter who has improved virtually every aspect of his game over the years.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger

Ehlinger has thrown for 8,870 yards and 68 touchdowns (with 22 interceptions) in his career, completing 63.2 percent of his passes. He’s also run for 1,526 yards and 25 TDs and gives Yurcich something he’s not really had as a D1 offensive coordinator: a true dual-threat quarterback.

The Longhorns hope to have all those injuries behind them as 2020 unfolds. Speedy Keaontay Ingram leads a talented running back room after rushing for 708 yards as a freshman and 853 yards last season. Roschon Johnson performed admirably last year after coming in as a true freshman quarterback and having to fill in at running back with 649 yards and seven TDs.

There are major holes to fill. Devin Duvernay was among the national leaders with 106 catches for 1,386 yards and scored 10 touchdowns in 2019, but graduated. Collin Johnson also spent his eligibility. Deep-threat Brennan Eagles is back, as is crafty Jake Smith, promising Malcolm Epps and tight end Cade Brewer.

The offensive line returns three starters: All-America left tackle candidate Samuel Cosmi, right guard Junior Angilau and right tackle Derek Kerstetter.

But Ash’s defense could be something of a work in progress in 2020.

Defensive end Malcolm Roach is gone. So is safety Brandon Jones.

Texas returns nine starters on defense, but the reality is all the injuries last season make it hard to quantify exactly what’s coming back and what’s not. For example, on the 2019 team start chart, eight different players opened games at middle linebacker, although much of that was necessitated by various safeties filling in between a 4-2-5 set and a 3-3-5.

The other side of that coin is that a lot of players got game experience last season.

Having 11 different players start at defensive back certainly hurt continuity on game days, but the good thing is that 10 of those players are back this year.

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai

So is junior linebacker Joseph Ossai, who emerged as Texas’ most dynamic playmaker on defense last season and led the Longhorns with 90 tackles, 13 1/2 tackles for loss, five quarterback sacks, two interceptions, nine quarterback hurries and even blocked a kick.

And kicker Cameron Dicker, already the author of a handful of game-winning field goals, is back for his junior season.

A year after winning 10 games and beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl and having Ehlinger declare on national television, “we’re baa-aack,” Herman’s team was somewhat humbled last season.

“The trajectory is right where we thought it would be when we came in,” he said. “You know, 2018, to be honest with you, our kids probably played well above expectations.

“Although we might have hit a bit of a dip (in 2019), I think it’s pretty easy to see the trajectory — the long-term trajectory — is headed in the right direction.”

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