This time, the Longhorns are headed to Maryland, playing at FedEx Field Saturday at noon, and looking for atonement after last season’s 51-41 loss in the first game for coach Tom Herman.
Maryland’s coach, DJ Durkin, won’t be in attendance this time, suspended indefinitely in the fallout from the death of sophomore lineman Jordan McNair this June from heatstroke. The Terrapins, under interim coach Matt Canada, are anxious just to focus on football after the tumultuous offseason that is still rocking the program.
“We’ve all had grieving processes and things like that to deal with so we’re helping each other,” Canada said. “If somebody is having a tough day we try to help each other out. I think everything (the players have) dealt with they’ve done the best job they possibly could. I think we’re as ready as we could be given the situation.”
The Terrapins need to be ready against nationally ranked Texas, a squad that still remembers last year’s upset at Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. Maryland smashed the Longhorns up front, rushing for 263 yards and four touchdowns. Even after starting quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome went down late in the third quarter with a knee injury, true freshman Kasim Hill came on to lead a couple of late scoring drives and salt away the big road win, the highlight of Durkin’s career.
Hill is expected to start Saturday over Pigrome.
“This is a team in Maryland that they don’t think they can beat you: They know they can beat you, because they have,” said Herman. “There are a lot of guys on that team at Maryland that know that they’ve beaten Texas.”
While no one outside of the meeting rooms and practice fields at Maryland is sure who will start at quarterback Saturday in the first game in Canada’s pro offense, fittingly being played in a professional stadium, Herman & Co. won’t take the Terrapins lightly.
“You’ve got to contain them,” said Herman of the quarterbacks he saw beat his team last year when the Terps came to Texas. “The offensive coordinator last year (Walt Bell) … is now the offensive coordinator at Florida State. So now you’re a little bit unsure.”
Herman said the ‘Horns had watched tape of what Canada’s offenses did at LSU, Pittsburgh and NC State, but the Texas defense would have to “take some educated guesses” until they saw exactly what the Terrapin attack looked like.
Canada isn’t helping with a depth chart that listed three wide receivers, two tight ends and two running backs, including co-starters at one spot in Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison. That duo combined for 177 yards against Texas last year, Johnson carving out 132 yards on 12 carries, the most Texas allowed to any runner all season.
Meanwhile, Herman had to make a QB call, too, opting for sophomore Sam Ehlinger over junior Shane Buechele, last year’s opening day starter. “Shane made it very difficult to make that decision, probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make as head coach and coordinator,” said Herman. “We feel extremely good about our QB situation.”
Last year, Ehlinger came on to become the first Longhorn quarterback to lead the team in both passing and rushing since Colt McCoy in 2008.
“Texas has some great talent,” said Canada. “They do every year. It’s going to be the second year for their staff. They certainly continued to get better last year on both sides of the ball. (They have a) very talented quarterback. He can run the ball, do certain things with the ball in his hand. I know our guys on defense realize what a great challenge this is.”
The Terrapins defense was horrid last year after their best defensive lineman, senior end Jesse Aniebonam, broke his foot in the game at Texas. Aniebonam had nine sacks in 2016, and without him, Maryland registered just 16 sacks total as a team all season while allowing 29.5 points and 427.1 total yards per game.
Those are the kind of numbers, along with losing your three top quarterbacks over the course of the season to injury, that led to a 4-8 record despite such a thrilling opening win.
Texas bounced back from the loss to Maryland to finish 7-6.