2017 brought a lot of hype to the Texas football program, but that’s really nothing new. Expectations were high with Tom Herman coming in and taking over the program, and to most people, those expectations didn’t come close to being met.
There were plenty of positives throughout the season, but we’ve seen this story before. Herman’s job this offseason is to build on those positives and eliminate the negatives. Previous regimes haven’t been able to do so successfully, and the result has been a below average team for the last several years.
Here are my thoughts on how each position unit graded out for the Longhorns in 2017.
I believe Texas found it’s quarterback in Sam Ehlinger. Shane Buechele is a good quarterback, but he just can’t stay healthy enough to be relied upon. With that being said, Ehlinger is essentially the sole reason for three out of the six losses Texas had. He fumbled the ball in double overtime against USC, threw a dumb interception in overtime against Oklahoma State and made a terrible mistake by throwing the ball on a third down late in the game against Texas Tech that resulted in an interception.
Eliminate those three plays and Texas finishes the season at 10-3 instead of 7-6. That’s a brash statement, but it’s just an indication of how close the Longhorns were to meeting expectations. It was clear to me that the coaching staff sent a message to Ehlinger during bowl practices that he has to be smarter on the field. He tries to do too much at times and it hurts his team. I saw a smarter quarterback in the Texas Bowl against Missouri, so there is some promise that he could build on his maturity over the offseason.
There’s no question this Longhorns team wouldn’t have won seven games if it weren’t for Todd Orlando’s defense. In fact, this is probably a three- or four-win team if the defense hadn’t played stellar all season. The Texas defense faced a top-tier quarterback week in and week out, and pretty much contained them as much as possible.
Consider this list of names Texas faced: Sam Darnold, Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield and Drew Lock. Three of those quarterbacks will be selected in the upcoming NFL draft, and the fourth likely will be next year. The common theme is Orlando’s defense held those quarterbacks in check and did not allow them to take over the game, as they do against other opponents.
It appears Herman and the UT administration is working on a contract extension and a raise for Orlando, which could be the best thing they do all offseason.
Special Teams: B-
The only reason I’ve given this high of a grade for this unit is because of punter Michael Dickson. There’s a reason why he’s a Ray Guy award winner for the best punter in the nation. He was the best offense in many games for Texas, with his ability to flip field position and put the defense in a better position to succeed. The Longhorns are going to miss his leg next year as he heads off to the NFL.
Special Teams would have received an “A” grade if it weren’t for the field goal kicking woes. Herman was forced to either go for it on 4th down or punt numerous times instead of attempting a long field goal. In some cases, he passed up field goal attempts of under 30 yards because he couldn’t trust his kicker. Look at every good Texas team in the last 15 years and you’ll recognize the name of the kicker. It’s a critical part of the success of any program, and the Longhorns didn’t have it this year. Hopefully, Herman will solve the kicking woes in recruiting this offseason, because it was clearly an issue in 2017.
2017 was mostly a year to forget but could be a turning point for the program as well. Stability within the UT athletic department could be a sign of good things coming for Texas, and bringing back a pretty decent amount of experience will help. Herman now knows how fragile of a group he was working with all year, especially from a mental standpoint, so now he has to go to work to address those issues. Otherwise, we will be talking about a similar story at this point next year.