…to bowl eligibility! For the first time since the 2014 season, Charlie Strong’s first year at Texas, the Longhorns are eligible to participate in college football’s bowl season. While this should be an insignificant accomplishment, it is far from it at this point.
With Texas’ win on the road at West Virginia, the Longhorns now sit with a 6-5 record with one home game remaining against Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving. A chance to win seven games in the regular season hasn’t happened since Mack Brown’s final year as head coach. Again, the standards should be higher at Texas, but this is something fans should celebrate as improvement.
I finally saw one of the most complete games of the season for the Longhorns in all three phases of the game against West Virginia. Shane Buechele started the game at quarterback and moved the ball somewhat efficiently, but the Longhorns didn’t get on the scoreboard until Sam Ehlinger came in and finished the game from the second quarter on.
But the real difference was in the running game. Texas had three players average more than 7.0 yards per carry on a combined 28 attempts among those three (Ehlinger, Daniel Young and Kyle Porter). The team ran for 233 total yards, which is about 100 yards over their season average.
The difference maker? The return of All-American Connor Williams at left tackle.
Combine Williams’ return with the emergence of a new H-back role for Chris Warren III, and the Longhorns running game actually looked like something a decent football team would have. It’s the first time this year that I actually saw some promise for the unit against a decent opponent, and it seemed like Tom Herman finally found an offensive line combination that can work for the rest of the year.
There are still plenty of issues to clean up, but this was a team that looked like they gained more confidence with nearly every snap.
And let’s talk about the defense for a bit. I wrote last week that Texas needed to have a good game from cornerback Kris Boyd to have a shot at winning. Fans who watched the game didn’t hear Boyd’s name called much on Saturday, which means he did his job. He held West Virginia’s best receiver to two catches for 47 yards. Bravo, Boyd! Now continue to play up to your potential like that on a weekly basis.
Now, what does getting to a bowl game mean for Texas? It means the team gets 15 additional practices after the conclusion of their season on Friday. The more organized repetitions you can get for Ehlinger and some of the other young playmakers, the better off the program will be in the future.
It’s really not about the bowl game they’ll be playing in or their opponent. We know it’s not going to be a great game, and it’s going to be against another mid-tier team in another conference. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important to win against Texas Tech and then go on to win the bowl game.
The prospects of winning eight games looked bleak just a couple weeks ago, but after pulling off the upset against West Virginia, it’s not out of the question now. Herman will be able to preach improvement all offseason long, players should have some newfound confidence and recruits will hopefully take notice.
Texas still has a long way to go to be considered “back” to national relevance, but qualifying for a bowl game is a big first step for a fragile program that has been struggling for years.