AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas is back? The Longhorns should try winning a season-opener first.
Tom Herman’s first two years at No. 10 Texas got off to rough starts as the Longhorns lost twice to Maryland. So, no more first-game Power Five opponents the next few years.
Texas opens the 2019 season against Louisiana Tech of Conference USA on Saturday night. Despite being a heavy underdog, the Bulldogs might be a much tougher matchup than they’re given credit for with senior starter J’Mar Smith at quarterback and playmakers on both sides of the ball.
“Starting 1-0 would be nice,” Herman said this week. “That’s always the goal.”
That goal got flattened the last two years by Maryland. Texas recovered well enough last year to finish second in the Big 12 and go 10-4 with a Sugar Bowl win over Georgia.
“I feel like the first game is nerve-wracking, especially for the younger guys,” Texas senior wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “We have to play relaxed with a chip on our shoulder.”
Herman clearly likes this schedule setup better, particularly with No. 6 LSU coming to Austin a week later. Herman noted that Texas and Southern California were the only programs in the country in 2017 and 2018 that played 11 Power Five opponents.
There’s no point scheduling that way if the rest of the country isn’t doing the same, Herman said.
“Everybody wants to talk about expanding playoffs and this, that and the other, some form of unified scheduling model across all conferences is something, I think, we need to tackle much sooner than worrying about the playoffs,” Herman said. “And you’ve got teams in other conferences only playing eight conference games and four non-Power 5 schools. So you’re comparing apples to oranges when you talk about schedule and toll on these kids’ bodies.”
The 10-team Big 12 requires its schools to play a round-robin schedule and at least one Power Five non-conference opponent on future schedules.
“It’s something I expressed displeasure in as well that we’re hurting ourselves if we’re mandating all of these schedule issues,” Herman said. “You certainly want to do it week two rather than week one.”
Maybe that’s good for Louisiana Tech: Catch Texas early.
“I think it’s good for college football when Texas is winning,” Bulldogs coach Skip Holtz said. “I know what type of challenge we have in front of us.”
The Longhorns are hurting for running backs after a rash of training camp injuries left only two scholarship backs available. Starter Keaontay Ingram has fought through a knee bruise and has been held out of contact for weeks. Behind him is freshman Jordan Whittington. If either one gets hurt before Texas plays LSU, it could be big trouble for the offense.
At 6-6, 220 pounds, Johnson is a monster of a matchup for most cornerbacks. He’ll likely face the Bulldogs’ 5-9 Amik Robertson, who had four interceptions as a freshman. Texas also starts John Burt, who is 6-3.
“Their receivers are huge ,” Holtz said. They can reduce it down to one of their 6-6 wide receivers in a jump ball with a 5-9 corner.”
BIG PLAY BULLDOGS
Texas’ rebuilt secondary will have its hands full. Smith passed for more than 3,000 yards last season and his top target is Texas native wide receiver Adrian Hardy, who had 75 catches for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns last season. Herman called Hardy “a guy that can play anywhere in the country.”
Texas has two speedsters fielding punts. Senior Devin Duvernay and freshman Jake Smith both have the wheels to quickly get to the end zone if they can find a crack in coverage. Texas had one punt return for a touchdown last season, and the Bulldogs didn’t surrender any.
Turnovers can swing a game toward an underdog, but the Bulldogs might not get many chances. Sam Ehlinger threw just five interceptions last season and went a Big 12 record 308 consecutive passes without getting picked off.
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