In terms of up follow-up performances, the Longhorns’ 2019 campaign was a flop compared to the Hollywood blockbuster ending provided by the Sugar Bowl win to cap the 2018 season.
Texas suffered through a rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball and at times just plain couldn’t stop anybody. The offense was left to try and play catch-up most times and quarterback Sam Ehlinger was unable to pull off enough Houdini-esque escapes to help the Longhorns turn in another 10-win season.
Instead, Texas fell to 8-5, but a dominant showing against Utah in the Alamo Bowl offered a glimpse of the possibilities in store for 2020.
Head coach Tom Herman is looking to reload and make big waves in his fourth year on the 40 Acres, but for the season to be successful, there are several keys on both sides of the ball.
The Longhorns are led by Ehlinger, who has enough experience, toughness and competitive will to give Texas a shot to win every time out. More on the senior signal caller later.
Up front, the offensive line is anchored by left tackle Sam Cosmi, who is considered a lock to be a first round NFL draft pick in 2021. Senior Derek Kerstetter will be back as well and may make the move to center, although he was graded as the nation’s top returning pass blocker following his 2019 season opposite Cosmi at right tackle.
The running game features the toughness of Keaontay Ingram and the intrigue of freshman Bijan Robinson. Roschon Johnson, who moved from quarterback to running back last season, will provide depth and versatility as well.
With Collin Johnson and workhouse Devin Duvernay now training for their first NFL seasons, the wide receiving corps will need an overhaul. Luckily, Brennan Eagles and Jake Smith return, as does Joshua Moore. Former Cuero standout Jordan Whittington is also present and could become an instant star, while transfer Tarik Black brings maturity to the WR room.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: It all starts with the running game for the Longhorns. In 2019, the Longhorns were 0-4 when rushing for less than 150 yards. In Herman’s tenure, Texas is a perfect 9-0 when rushing for more than 200 yards in a game.
Texas struggled mightily on defense last season and were lit up by more than a few explosive Big 12 offenses. Heck, even Kansas racked up 569 yards and 48 points against the Horns.
A strategic change will take place in 2020 as Texas goes from a 3-4 to a 4-3 look. The Longhorns return nine starters on defense and look to have a very formidable front four featuring Joseph Ossai (DE/LB), Keondre Coburn (DT) and Ta’Quon Graham (DT). Defensive end Marqez Bimage opted out of the 2020 season and likely left a vacancy for sophomore Moro Ojomo to step into this fall.
At linebacker, Juwan Mitchell is back after deciding to stay in Austin. DeMarvion Overshown is also back practicing with the team after a hiatus during which he advocated for changes within the university.
The secondary is absolutely loaded with talent thanks to the return of safeties Caden Sterns, B.J. Foster and Chris Brown. Cornerbacks Jalen Green, D’Shawn Jamison, Josh Thompson and Kenyatta Watson II are all back after seeing a strong amount of playing time last year.
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR: The dismal 2019 defense allowed a total of 5,609 yards and were routinely burned in the air. The Longhorns gave up 6.1 yards per play last season and 7.9 per pass. An added element of pressure up front will be needed to make life much more uncomfortable for opposing QBs, who were afforded far too much time to scan the field in 2019.
All of the stars seem aligned for a truly special season from Austin’s own Sam Ehlinger.
The former Westlake Chaparral has always had the ability to pull the ball down and run with his own signature blend of quickness and power. As a passer, though, Ehlinger has put in the time and has been able to improve his completion rate every year as a starter.
In 2019, Ehlinger completed over 65% of his throws and accounted for 4,326 total yards and 39 TDs.
The senior’s leadership and drive can’t be measured by statistics, but they’re two big reasons why Ehlinger has already earned a spot on Longhorns history. In 2020, he has a chance to cement his legacy even further if he’s able to become only the third Texas player to hoist the Heisman trophy.
However, it’s too early to tell Ricky and Earl to make room in their exclusive fraternity just yet.
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