Spring game gives peek at Herman era

Steve Helwick

Tom Herman rounded up his players into a tight ring Saturday afternoon at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. The offense gathered around in white jerseys, and the defense donned burnt orange. 

Herman called two at a time to participate in the circle drill, a competitive offense-versus-defense shoving match popularized by head coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State.

It was an atypical start to Texas’ annual Orange-White Spring Game, but plenty has been out of the ordinary since Herman took over the reins as head coach in November. Herman, set on transforming the culture at Texas while engaging the fans, captivated the audience and drew rounds of applause by beginning the game with the mano-e-mano physical drill.

“We use that everyday to open practice,” junior offensive tackle Connor Williams said. “It gets the team ready for what to expect in practice. It’s one-on-one and there’s no hiding anything.”

The game itself was defined by an unconventional scoring system that rewarded points for 12-yard gains, tackles for loss and three-and-outs. Herman gifted the orange team with a 3-0 lead by winning the majority of the fights in the circle drill. But the offense quickly responded with the first of sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele’s two touchdown passes on the day to sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson.

“I thought the first drive by the one offense set the tempo, not just offensively, but defensively too,” Herman said. “I was pleased with the progress we made throughout the
entirety of spring practice.”

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger took turns with Buechele, but the second-year quarterback fared much better. Ehlinger played against a feisty first-team defense. At the start of each possession, the entire defense sprinted to their positions at full speed instead of jogging, a new tradition in the Herman era.

“Talking with coach Herman, he shows how a defense takes the field is going to strike fear into the offense,” senior defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “You look juiced up and ready to go, so it’s kind of hard to attack someone who’s ready for you.”

Through six possessions in the first half, Buechele’s unit finished with two touchdowns, two field goals from transfer kicker Joshua Rowland and two punts. 

But the day didn’t belong to Buechele, Rowland or any of the other players on the field. All eyes were on Herman to see what unusual twist he’d bring next.

Herman recruited Texas legends, such as Colt McCoy and Marquise, Goodwin to test their athletic abilities against students for halftime entertainment during the game’s midway point.

“We build relationships with them because I firmly believe that if I’m a current football player at the University of Texas and I see those players walking around — they’re successful husbands and fathers and players and businessmen and entrepreneurs — and I have that role model each and every day, then how does not motivate you?” Herman said.

The game itself ended in a 51-51 tie — much to Herman’s disliking.

He decided to continue until there was a clear winner. He placed the ball on the two-yard line, pairing first team offense against first team defense for a sudden death play. Buechele handed the ball to freshman running back Toneil Carter, who was stifled at the 1-yard line. A crowd of orange jerseys immediately rushed the field and hoisted a black championship belt with a giant Texas logo plastered on it.

“We compete in everything that we do that,” Herman said. “I heard the PA announcer say the game ended in a 51-51 tie, but we don’t have ties in this program. There’s no such thing. We’re gonna keep going until a winner declares himself.”