There is a mysterious and ironic connection between the football programs of Texas and Kansas that started on 11-19-2016.
That was the day that the Jayhawks beat (no, it wasn’t an “upset”) the Longhorns, 24-21, in overtime. If Charlie Strong’s tenure was already destined to end after three seasons, the loss in Lawrence sealed the deal. The defeat of Big Bad Bevo was hailed as a turning point for second-year coach David Beaty, whose first season was an 0-12 debacle.
Opening day of 2018 illustrated how nothing has changed. Texas lost for the second consecutive season to a Maryland program that isn’t supposed to be beating Blue Bloods. A few hours after the Longhorns were shipped home from Fed Ex Field, Kansas lost at home in overtime to FCS Nicholls State. It was a win turned loss that cost $450,000.
More than likely, Beaty will be fired after the season – if he makes it that far. Kansas plays at Central Michigan Saturday and will try to end a 46-game road losing streak. Beaty’s record is 3-34 and the victory over Texas is the only one over an FBS team.
A Kansas law professor took to Twitter Saturday night to make the case that the school should drop football because its loses games and wastes money.
What’s the argument for continuing KU football (serious question)? It’s an enormous money loser for a cash-strapped university. Life-altering injuries and cumulative brain damage are inevitable. Wouldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere (e.g. more scholarships)?
— Corey “law boy” Yung (@CoreyRYung) September 2, 2018
When you’ve lost the law department is there any hope of returning to bowl eligibility?
Bowl eligibility is what Texas earned in its first season under Tom Herman, Strong’s replacement (see, the Jayhawks’ victory in 2016 helped UT land its Forever Coach). Herman spent last season trying to install his version of winning football. This decade of mediocrity, the story went, had taught UT teams how to lose. Last season, five of the six losses came by less than seven points and two were in overtime. Four times, Texas failed to hold a fourth-quarter lead; it led Maryland 29-24 going into the fourth Saturday.
A spring practice, an off-season of conditioning and pre-season practice has changed … nothing. At least through Game One. Overrated and ranked No. 23, Texas face planted with a 34-29 loss to a Terps program in turmoil.
What was galling to Burnt Orange fans was that Texas was déjà vu all over again. A spotty running game, stupid defensive penalties, failure to convert convertible third downs, turnovers – it was a replay of 2017. Your Veteran Scribe, comfortably encamped in Sony Stadium, has a favorite three-word description for frustrating UT plays – Jesus (Expletive) Christ. That phrase probably reached double figures during Saturday’s game.
After the game, Herman’s comments were somewhat maddening.
“A lot of people are going to want to say this feels a lot like last year,” he said. “It doesn’t to me.” Asked how a big a setback the loss was, he responded, “Not very.”
Jesus (Expletive) Christ.
Coach Mensa’s “smartest guy in the room” attitude is wearing thin. Look, fans and the media are admittedly ignorant to the nuclear physics brain power it takes to win football games. But we also watch the damn games and ask pertinent questions. (For a slap down of Herman, check out this great column from Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express News.)
Herman’s calm demeanor was reflected in his players. No helmet tossing, no temper tantrums. After all, one loss is no reason to hit the panic button (right, Jim Harbaugh?) But when your boss weighs in on the post-loss demeanor, that might not be panic button pushing but it’s red flag waving.
“He was talking to 18-to-22-year olds,” UT athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “Tom is plenty upset and hurting. That whole coaching staff is. You got to understand kids read the paper. I know you’re looking for fire and brimstone, but we have 11 more games.”
Jesus (Expletive) Christ. Kids do not “read the paper.” Adults don’t read the paper.
Of course, that’s taking one sentence to task. But at Top Shelf Programs like Texas, everything word is parsed. When things aren’t going well, every pimple requires plastic surgery. Herman is now 7-7 at UT. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley is 13-2 and opened his second season with a 63-14 romp over Florida Atlantic. One of his post-game questions involved why he switched from visor to ball cap at halftime.
As Finger deftly pointed out, Herman wants everyone to know that he can explain everything, that there’s no question he can’t answer. His answer is always the right answer because he says so.
- One of Herman’s first hires was Tim “Old Three And Out” Beck as offensive coordinator was curious and last season’s uneven play calling seemed to prove the skeptics – not the coach – correct. Herman called plays in the Texas Bowl victory and has been dodging play-calling questions ever since. He said this season the offense would be run by committee. But after a desultory first quarter Saturday, Herman took over play calling.
- If Herman was calling the plays, he failed in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns had 22 offensive snaps and 17 were Sam Ehlinger passes. There were three running plays (Ehlinger scrambled for gains twice. Maryland was dropping eight into coverage. UT’s last two possessions started with 4:35 and 2:12 remaining. YVS who knows nothing about football wonders if a draw or a screen pass might have worked.
- Freshman running back Keaontay Ingram had 37 yards on six attempts but didn’t play in the second half. Kyle Porter was at running back on UT’s last two possessions while grad transfer Tre Watson, the team’s leading rusher with 52 yards, lost a fumble in the fourth quarter. Herman explained Ingram’s lack of use to his inexperience. Translation: His ability to pass block is in doubt. That’s reasonable, but one of the reasons Ehlinger earned the starting job is his mobility and scrambling talents.
- Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6-4 junior) and Collin Johnson (6-6 junior) are huge – literally and figuratively – receivers. The pass-catching talent, at least according to Herman and his sycophants, is all 4-star and 5-star quality. Either Ehlinger misses open receivers, the Longhorns WRs are incapable of working themselves open, or the playbook doesn’t scheme clever routes. YVS sees other teams’ receivers get open but rarely see a UT WR running free. Herman got testy when asked about targeting Humphrey and Johnson, asking the questioner about Maryland’s coverage scheme. Uh, that’s up to the coaching staff, right?
Herman referenced John Steinbeck, saying that the Longhorns were like Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” and they wanted to win so bad, “they killed the rabbit.” Texas started slow because … wait for it … Herman and his staff had a team too ready to play.
“The reason we played so poorly is actually a good reason. It’s how badly they wanted to perform.” He said. “It’s coaches’ jobs to figure out the why. The why is where coaches make their living. “This one game will not define us. How we grow from it and respond to it will.”
Instead of reasons/excuses/explanations, it’s past time for Texas to shift out of neutral. Stop talking and start winning.
Based on my observation of all the Longhorn messages boards the fans have turned on Herman far quicker than they did on Strong. Arrogance always gets push back quicker IMO
— Mike: We Suck Until We Don’t (@MBHORNSFAN) September 3, 2018
Saturday night after his team’s 26-23 overtime loss, KU’s Beaty said this: “The sun is going to come up tomorrow.”
Herman at his weekly news conference Monday, said this: “The sky is not falling, and the sun will come up hopefully tomorrow … If it doesn’t come up we’re all kinda screwed on that deal, huh?”
To double-down on the Texas-Kansas irony, the teams close the regular season in Lawrence. Figurative sunrise not included.