Let’s face it. Until the day comes when Texas and Texas A&M get back on the same football field for a regular season game, this topic is never going to die. In the latest example of proving you can set your offseason calendar to the moment anyone from Texas or Texas A&M merely mentions the dormant rivalry, Longhorns head coach Tom Herman suggested reviving the rivalry with the Aggies would be a part of his ideal football schedule in Austin.
“In my perfect world, you would play one big-time Power 5 [non-conference] opponent,” Herman said in SiriusXM ESPNU Radio interview with Andy Staples and Rick Neuheisel this week. “To me, there’s a very logical one an hour-and-a-half east of us.”
Herman was clearly referring to Texas A&M when mentioning a logical option just 90 minutes east of Austin. Herman also expressed a desire to be able to play a true rivalry game at home in an alternating series similar to other Big 12 schools like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State playing each other and Iowa State playing in-state Big Ten rival Iowa. Texas A&M would fit that bill Herman is trying to address.
Of course, this is all the same old stuff we have been talking about since Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the SEC and the rivalry was put on ice after the 2011 season. Fans of both schools appear to have a much greater desire for the series to be revived, and coaches who have come and gone make it a routine to sound off on wanting to play their old rival to win fans over. But the fact remains the powers that be at both Texas and Texas A&M are standing firm on not wanting to play the other school again, even if there is a hint there are higher-ups who would be interested in seeing the series continue.
Both the big 12 and SEC require their members to schedule one game against another power conference opponent in non-conference play. It seems to be a perfect way for the rivalry to resume for both the Longhorns and Aggies. Instead, both schools continue to line up non-conference schedules without including the other, as is the case now through 2020 for sure, and likely for years beyond that with other matchups against power conference teams already lined up for years.
This did not go according to plan for Tom Herman. In his coaching debut in Austin, Herman was unable to clean up enough mistakes and shaky play from his team as No. 23 Texas (0-1) dug a big hole early at home against Maryland (1-0). Despite a wild second half, Texas just could not get past Maryland as the Terrapins answered every threat from Texas down the stretch and delivered a knockout blow midway through the fourth quarter in the form of a Kasim Hill touchown. Hill’s fourth-quarter touchdown pushed Maryland’s lead to 44-34, which would end up being the final score. Maryland, who entered the game as an 18-point underdog, celebrated a 51-41 victory.
Hill scored the late touchdown, but the Terps were strong on the ground with Ty Johnson leading the charge with 127 yards and a score, averaging 11.5 yards per rush on the Texas defense, which may not have been as solid as anticipated at the start of the season. Maryland quarterback Tyrell Pigrome also got involved running the ball with 64 yards and a score to go with his 175 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. It was more the kind of performance you would expect from a quarterback coached by Herman. Longhorns quarterback Shane Buechele had a productive afternoon with 300 passing yards and a touchdown and 21 rushing yards and a score, but too many poor passes soaring high or behind receivers led to near-interceptions and stalled any progress late in the game for a possible comeback.
Special teams gaffes and a defense unable to seize momentum were crippling for Texas (Maryland recovered a kickoff fumble and returned a blocked field goal for a score — although, so did Texas), but the offense was the most disappointing part of the Texas effort on Saturday. The Longhorns scored just 13 offensive points. Holton Hill gave the Longhorns a lead just three plays in the game with a 31-yard interception return for a score, and Hill returned a blocked field goal for another score later on. Reggie Hemphill-Mapps brought the Longhorns within three points in the third quarter with a 91-yard punt return for a score, but the teams traded blows from there to keep Maryland out in front the rest of the way. Texas hurt itself with over 100 yards in penalties as well.
So the Tom Herman run in Austin has some work to do. Transforming Texas into a Big 12 contender was not going to happen overnight anyway, and there are still 11 more games to play. Odds are we will still see a good number of positive developments from Texas moving forward, but a loss at home to Maryland is still a sour way to get things started. One thing you can say about a game like this from Texas is you have a laundry list of items you now know can be addressed. Let’s see how much of that laundry gets cleaned up in the next few weeks.
Maryland, however, showed some more reasons to be optimistic about the season than many probably thought possible. Wide receiver D.J. Moore (133 receiving yards) showed why he is one of the top receivers in the Big Ten, and Pigrome ran the offense well to keep things mixed up. This is a team that is still not on the same level as Ohio State or Penn State or Michigan, but it could end up being a team that could cause a few problems for any of those three at the top of the Big Ten East. This was a solid victory for D.J. Durkin.
Texas will host San Jose State next week before preparing for a major road test in Week 3 at USC. Maryland will be home next week for a home opener against in-state FCS opponent Towson.
Three plays into the Tom Herman era in Austin, the Texas defense put the Longhorns on the scoreboard. An interception by Holton Hill was returned 31 yards to the house for a quick Texas lead, but it has been a special teams disaster for Texas in the first half against Maryland. Up 14-7 in the second quarter, Maryland blocked a Texas field goal attempt and Antoine Brooks picked it up and ran 71 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 21-7. The Terps are spoiling the Herman debut with a decisive 30-14 lead at halftime in Austin.
Texas also had a lost fumble on a kickoff return that gave Maryland a chance to put more point son the scoreboard with a 27-7 lead, but the Texas defense held firm on 3rd and one and forced the Terrapins to try a field goal from the Texas 13-yard line. What goes around comes around as Hill got in on the scoring once more as he returned a blocked field goal attempt for a touchdown.
This has been far from what Texas was hoping to see in the first game under new head coach Tom Herman. A pair of turnovers by the Longhorns and not a single offensive point on the board after one half at home against Maryland is demoralizing at best. So there is a lot of work to do in the second half, but Maryland has been playing aggressive and well.
The college football season officially gets underway this week, but Tom Herman has another week to make some decisions about the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns. If he had to make that call right now, Shane Buechele would be getting the starting nod in Austin.
“I’ve said over and over again that if we played a game tomorrow Shane Buechele would start,” Herman told reporters on Saturday, seemingly a bit frustrated with the question once again being asked, according to The Dallas Morning News. “We’ll get a depth chart to make it Facebook official, I guess. Is that what we’ve got to do?”
It is expected Herman will make a decision on his starting quarterback within the next week ahead of Texas’ season opener at home against Maryland of the Big Ten. Buechele was the full-time starter for the Longhorns last season, but a new coach taking over at a program tends to wipe the slate clean to start from scratch. Buechele has faced his stiffest competition for the job from freshman Sam Ehlinger, who enrolled in January and was able to work with the team in the spring.
Whatever his decision ends up being, Herman has not been overly optimistic about his offense. Instead, Herman has been praising the defense as the key to the upcoming season. For a team that allowed 448.3 yards per game last season to rank seventh in the Big 12 in total defense, and 31.5 points per game (8th in the Big 12 ahead of only Kansas and Texas Tech), Herman is either suggesting the defense has taken some strides in practices this year or the offense really does have a long way to go.
It should probably not come as a great surprise Texas may be better off on defense, given the brief Charlie Strong tenure. Strong was always known more for his defense so the seeds for a reputable defense may have been planted in Austin prior to Herman’s hiring. Now it is up to Herman to get the offense in gear.
Considering the overall value of the Texas football program, it may come as a bit of a shock the Longhorns have never paid an assistant coach $1 million prior to now. That is no longer the case in Austin after Texas regents put their stamp of approval on contract terms for defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. Orlando will join the ranks of handsomely-paid assistant coaches with over $1 million attached to his contract.
According to the Austin American-Statesman, Orlando’s contract will net him $1.09 million annually through the end of March 2020. That puts Orlando just ahead of Alabama’s Jeremy Pruitt according to the database of coaching salaries organized by USA Today, going off the 2016 numbers. Orlando joins a growing list of assistant coaches being paid at least a million dollars in 2017. Michigan will be paying three assistants $1 million or more this upcoming season.
Texas has plenty of resources at its disposal, and it is clear the university is committed to supporting head coach Tom Herman and his staff financially. Orlando’s predecessor in Austin, Vance Bedford, was paid $800,625 in total pay in 2016. Bedford was certainly experienced prior to joining Charlie Strong at Texas, with assistant coaching experience dating back to 1987 at the college level. That’s a few more years than Orlando has under his belt, but Orlando and Herman have been together since Herman brought him to Houston in 2015.
“I mean, I’ve seen Todd Orlando make chicken salad out of some lesser parts, so I have a lot of confidence in that staff and what they’re able to do with whatever talent that we’ve inherited,” Herman said recently, per the Austin American-Statesman.
Texas making a move to pay an assistant coach this richly speaks volumes. When an assistant coach receives a $1 million (or more) contract, the message resonates that the program is invested in providing stability and competing with the best of the best. Remember, this is also the same school that just splurged on TVs above players’ lockers. Now, Texas is showing they are willing to spend money on the assistant coaches as well like never before.
In addition to Orlando’s sizable contract being approved by Texas regents, seven other contracts for assistants were approved. Among them was a three-year contract for offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who will be paid $790,000 per year.