The seat isn’t hot under Texas football coach Tom Herman, but he might be looking to turn down the thermostat.
Herman’s Longhorns followed a 2018 campaign where Texas won 10 games and a Sugar Bowl by falling back to earth. Texas was picked to finish second in the Big 12 last season and instead finished sixth, dropping November games to Iowa State and Baylor in the process.
The Longhorns rallied in bowl season to beat No. 11 Utah in the Alamo Bowl, but that wasn’t enough for Herman to avoid making major coaching changes. He jettisoned offensive coordinator Tim Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando for Mike Yurcich on offense and Chris Ash on defense.
Herman wants to return Texas to double-digit win territory and hopes those staff changes — plus the return of one of the nation’s top quarterbacks — can get that done.
Herman and Yurcich have one heck of an ace up their sleeves in getting the offense going — QB Sam Ehlinger returned for his senior season. His 3,663 passing yards and 32 touchdowns in 2019 were the second-best single-season totals in both categories in school history, behind only Colt McCoy in both. His talent and leadership will go a long way in keeping the Longhorns successful.
But the Longhorn offensive line will need to keep Ehlinger on his feet. Texas finished last season ranked ninth out of 10 Big 12 teams in allowing 36 sacks. The line should be able to improve. It returns center Derek Kerstetter, left guard Junior Angilau and left tackle Samuel Cosmi, an All-Big 12 second-teamer last season.
That should spell good news for Texas’ running backs, too. Last year’s leading rusher Keaontay Ingram comes back for 2020 after running for 853 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019. The Longhorns may get some help from a new face, incoming freshman running back Bijan Robinson. Robinson, a two-time Arizona Player of the Year, was the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit in the 2020 signing class.
While there are plenty of players returning around Ehlinger, one important one isn’t. Devin Duvernay caught 106 passes for 1,386 yards and nine touchdowns last season and now he’s a Baltimore Raven after the team took him in the third round of the 2020 NFL draft. Second-leading receiver Collin Johnson is gone as well. Look for Brennan Eagles (32 catches, 522 yards, six TDs) to pick up the slack there.
Texas’ defense has returning starters at every level, but the most important might be Joseph Ossai. Ossai led the Longhorns in tackles (90), tackles for loss (13½) and sacks (five). He’ll attack offenses from the edge in the “Jack” position in Ash’s defense. He’ll get plenty of help disrupting opposing backfields from defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham, who finished second to Ossai with 12 tackles for loss.
Overall, though, the Texas defense needs to make some major improvements. Orlando’s exit and Ash’s arrival came after the Longhorns finished 97th nationally in allowing 431.5 yards per game. They were even worse against the pass, allowing 292.5 yards per game and ranking 127th nationally. For perspective, West Virginia University’s Austin Kendall averaged 221 passing yards per game last season. He threw for 367 yards against Texas.
The Longhorns should be stout on special teams as well. Cameron Dicker returns after hitting 14 of 18 field goals with a long of 57 yards and two game-winners. D’Shawn Jamison, Texas’ interception leader at corner last season with three, also is a formidable returner. He scored on a 98-yard kickoff return and had a 71-yard punt return last season.
If anything could work in WVU’s favor against Texas, it may be the week before. The Longhorns play Oklahoma in their rivalry game seven days before they visit the Mountaineers.