Texas coach Tom Herman understands why the college football world is taking a wait-and-see attitude about his 21st-ranked Longhorns as they open the season against Maryland on Saturday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
After all, the Longhorns laid a huge egg against the Terrapins at home last year in their season opener, losing 51-41, and Texas didn’t exactly set the world on fire with a 7-6 season that ended with a win over Missouri in the Texas Bowl.
“Until we step out on the field and play a game, everything from our last game until now says that, you know, we are the last iteration of what you saw from us,” Herman said Monday in his first game-week press conference of the season.
“Do I feel confident in the fact that we’ve improved and developed, our kids, our players, our coaches? Do the people in that building feel confident that we have developed? Absolutely. But if I was Joe Fan, I would feel the same way.”
Texas has talent, and plenty of it, at every position and is more than capable of living up to its preseason ranking and making some noise this season.
But the first step toward reaching its goals is beating Maryland, a program that’s reeling from the preseason death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair and the suspension of coach DJ Durkin as the school concludes its investigation into the tragedy — but those problems will be left on the sidelines once the game begins.
“There’s a lot of guys on that team at Maryland that know that they’ve beaten Texas,” Herman said. “To assume that just because they’ve had some issues in their program that they’re not going to show up — they’re going to show up. They’re going to show up not just thinking they can beat us, but knowing that they can.”
Maryland finished 4-8 last season. While Durkin’s status and investigations into McNair’s death and the charges of a “toxic culture” within the program remain unresolved, kickoff against Texas is fast approaching. And for that, the team is relieved, according to interim coach Matt Canada.
“Our players are very excited that it’s game week,” Canada said. “We have a difficult opponent in Texas Saturday, as you all know. Our players did a tremendous job of focusing on each other, focusing on sticking together, obviously continuing to think about, talk about, grieve about and find different ways to play for Jordan.”
Either junior Tyrell Pigrome or redshirt freshman Kasim Hill — who were injured in the first and second game of last season, respectively — will get the nod at quarterback, but the key for both is not only staying healthy but remaining effective.
Maryland’s offense averaged 315 yards on the ground the first two weeks last year with Pigrome and Hill at the controls, then managed just 131 per game after both went down with knee injuries.
The Maryland defense will be bolstered by the return of senior Jesse Aniebonam, who was lost for the season in the opener last year against Texas, a blow that severely undercut the Terrapins’ pass rush. Five of the team’s 16 sacks came in against the Longhorns.
Texas leads the all-time series with the Terrapins, having won three of four games. Prior to last year’s high-scoring matchup in Austin, Texas had won all three meetings by a combined score of 102-0.
–Steve Habel, Field Level Media