"Keep your swagger to yourself." That was Coach Tom Herman’s assessment when quarterback Sam Ehlinger declared that Texas football was b-a-a-a-ck after the Longhorns humanely put down the Georgia Bulldogs in the most recent Sugar Bowl. But Longhorn Nation has its chest out.
There hasn’t been this much excitement at the start of the Texas Longhorns football season since Colt McCoy’s senior year in 2009. For the first time ever, all 63,000 season tickets have been sold, as if each purchase came with a Popeye’s chicken sandwich, and the Associated Press has ranked Herman’s Helmets No. 10 in the preseason poll.
Just as a freak shoulder sting ended the Horns national title hopes against an inferior Alabama team nearly 10 years ago, this coming campaign will rely on a healthy quarterback. We need a new SOS preservation organization to “Save Our Sam.” The 2019 Texas Longhorns will have the season that Sam Ehlinger has. A fullback who throws, No. 11 has got everything two-time national champ Tim Tebow had at Florida, except maybe his virginity.
Not yet 1-0...
It’s ironic that Herman’s mantra at UT is “1-0” — meaning just win the game you’re playing — and yet he has failed to accomplish that record $12 million into his salary. Instead of scheduling the usual cupcakes to open the season with a win, the Horns went crabcake and lost two years in a row to a mediocre University of Maryland.
After the Horns crapped the Casper in Herman’s debut at home in 2017, the coach said it was because the players loved each other too much and therefore tried too hard. The men in embarrassed orange lost again to “Scaryland” in 2018, with turnovers in the final three possessions. Ehlinger, more like “meh-linger", didn't have fans booing, they were yelling “Buechele!”
Astonishingly, Texas would turn the ball over only eight more times the rest of the season. A fire burned inside the kid who lost his hero, his father, at age 14, and so tanking to a basketball school on a football field wasn’t going to wreck him. It was going to make him stronger. The rest of the team fell all-in with that philosophy (though Breckyn Hager still thinks Nietzsche played linebacker for the Green Bay Packers).
A defeat to 20-point underdog Louisiana Tech — a tuneup before No. 6-ranked LSU comes to DKR on September 7 — is about as likely as the Longhorn Network (“must mute TV”) producing a clever in-house commercial. Terry Bradshaw’s alma mater, which has won five consecutive bowl games under Coach Skip Holtz, are advised to keep their bulldog mascot the hell away from Bevo. Likewise, senior QB J’Mar Smith will want to steer clear of B.J. Foster, the nickel back whose ferocious play makes you forget about that lame band from Canada. I envision a blowout.
Who to watch
Carthage sophomore Keaontay Ingram has us all a little nervous — and not just because his hometown sounds like something a running back can tear. Number 26 is the only scholarship halfback left standing, though his backup Jordan “Juke Boy” Whittington, the frosh prince of Cuero, has converted nicely from wide receiver. Texas hasn’t had a scoring play of 50 or more yards in Herman’s first two seasons here, but Whitt should get lit for fiddy about three times this year.
But if he goes down, the third-string halfback is QB Roschon Johnson, a freshman from Port Neches Grove. The Longhorns backfield is resembling the drum seat of Spinal Tap.
We don’t really know how good this Horns team will be, but Herman (who’ll make $6.75 million more than the players this year) and his coaches have put together top five recruiting classes in the past three years, bringing studs like defensive backs Caden Sterns and Jalen Green, defensive tackle Keondre Coburn and linebackers Joseph Ossai (who pissed in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl) and Ayodele Adeoye III (“Dele Tre”) to help the defense of Todd Orlando bloom.
Two of the true freshmen expected to make an immediate impact are out for the season: Georgia running back Derrian Brown is recovering from a stroke, and LB De'Gabriel Floyd was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. Then there’s wideout Bru McCoy, the homesick five-star recruit who went back to USC.
The Horns don't need “Bolt McCoy,” as they’re stacked with pass-catchers, including top NFL prospect Collin Johnson and speedy senior John Burt. Devin “the Dude” Duvernay and freshman Jake “the White Dude” Smith should give fans flashbacks to Quan Cosby and Jordan Shipley. Gatorade High School Player of the Year Smith will also be returning kicks.
But Joshua Moore, who caught a big touchdown against USC last year, will not play due to a stretched waistband. It’s not an injury, but a jury that might keep the Yoakum sophomoron out for the season on an unlicensed weapon charge. Freshmen Malcolm Epps and Marcus Washington will be coming off the bench with those promising receiver names.
The collision ballet known as the offensive line has six solid starters for five positions, but it gets mighty thin after that. Left tackle Samuel Cosmi and center Zach Shackelford are the beasts UT can least afford to lose. There’s an Okafor, too, Denzel this time, plus Georgia Tech grad transfer Parker Braun will park his all-ACC brawn at guard.
The depth chart for defensive backs has to be continued on another page, so full of exciting names it is. Senior Brandon Jones is the leader, but those athletic young bloods are out of control, in the best way possible. Don’t be surprised if one of them ends up running the ball by the end of the year. I think at one point Coach Herman even checked to see if Matthew McConaughey had any eligibility left. It’s a good thing the movie star didn’t. Can you imagine all those delay of game penalties?
The unpredictability of injuries makes predictions meaningless at this point. But if everyone stays relatively healthy, the Big 12 may have a new champ by year end. And Texas, which hasn't had this much swagger since the Vince Young years, may get another crack at Alabama. The season opener against Louisiana Tech will broadcast live on Saturday, August 31, at 7 pm on the Longhorn Network.