Texas’ 41-34 victory over then-No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday didn’t show head coach Tom Herman anything he didn’t already know about his team.
Herman said in a Tuesday press conference that as long as the team plays with the level of effort it did last Saturday afternoon, Texas will have a chance in any game. But the Longhorns experienced the same problems in Stillwater that have plagued them in their two losses this season: egregious penalty yards, iffy pass protection and a need to get the ball out of senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s hands as quickly as possible.
“I don’t know if any of those (areas) qualify as a concern,” Herman said. “(But) they are areas we need to improve on and opportunities we need to continue to take advantage of and get better at.”
Although it has been a long-standing problem, Texas’ inconsistent play has been magnified by a pair of losses to TCU and Oklahoma this season. Since Herman began coaching on the Forty Acres in 2017, ranked Longhorn football teams have lost to more unranked opponents than any team during that stretch. After earning its first road win over a top 10 opponent since 2010, Texas jumped back to No. 22 in the AP Top 25.
This week with unranked West Virginia, No. 22 Texas will once again be a Top 25 team playing against a program in its rebuilding stages. Herman said the team doesn’t discuss rankings, and he hopes his players aren’t caught on them.
“(Rankings) are very subjective. They’re opinions, right? They’re not fact. We don’t get too caught up with people’s opinions,” Herman said. “Would we like to play more consistently? Yeah. But we also know that when you come to a place like Texas, you’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”
That best shot includes West Virginia, which has gone 4–4 against Texas since joining the Big 12 eight years ago. Last season, the Mountaineers, who finished 5–7 with a first-year head coach and a rebuilding offense, only trailed the Longhorns by four points entering the final period. Two seasons ago in Austin, West Virginia drove what appeared to be a dagger in Texas’ Big 12 Championship hopes with a 2-point conversion in the game’s final seconds.
This year’s Mountaineers are far different from West Virginia teams of years past. The usually up-tempo gunslinging play style of former head coach Dana Holgorsen has been replaced by an emphasis on an elite defense ranked No. 4 in the nation in total defense and No. 1 in the Big 12. Last week, the Mountaineers manhandled a stingy Kansas State team riding a four-game win streak and are now receiving votes for the AP Poll for the first time since 2018.
Beating unranked opponents is something Herman continues to emphasize, and he said there are plenty of very good unranked teams like West Virginia.
“I think there’s a ton of parity in this league, as demonstrated by the records and margins of victories,” Herman said. “These Big 12 games are all coming down to the wire, and they all seem to be one- or two-possession games. That’s the way it’s going to be probably throughout the season of 2020, and we’re prepared for that.”