For every week in the 2019 season, it seemed like a new challenge posed itself to the Texas Longhorns. A series of injuries to running backs and defensive backs left both sides of the ball hanging on by a thread for stretches of the season.
Texas failed to meet its lofty expectations, both internal and external, which left the Longhorns in the Alamo Bowl and eventually led to both offensive coordinator Tim Beck and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando being relieved of their duties before the bowl game.
“Distractions are only that if you choose to let them be, and these guys did a great job of tuning out the noise,” head coach Tom Herman said on playing New Year’s Eve.
Focus was evident against then-No. 11 Utah. The Longhorns went into the Alamodome for the final game of the decade and dominated, 38-10. If only for a night, Texas lived up to its potential.
“We just finally put it together,” sophomore safety Caden Sterns said. “When we go out there and we play free and not timid, … you saw today we (were) just out there flying around.”
The Longhorns, who were the healthiest they’d been in months, were dominant on both sides of the ball. Defensively, the 10 points allowed speak for themselves. Offensively, each of the top three skill position players — senior wide receivers Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay and sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram — all scored touchdowns. Even the special teams got in on the action, with sophomore defensive back D’Shawn Jamison returning a punt for 71 yards in the second quarter.
Herman and the Longhorns moved to 3–0 in bowl games since Herman took over the program in 2017. Whether it be extra motivation or added preparation time, there’s just something about the bowl season that tends to bring out the best in the Longhorns.
“Our talent can take us pretty far,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “Then once you add in mistake-free football, watch out.”
The 2019 Alamo Bowl mirrored aspects of Texas’ Sugar Bowl win over Georgia on Jan. 1, 2019 — Texas was the underdog to a team left out of the playoff. The Longhorns responded in exactly the same way. They were able to out-physical one of the most physical teams in the country.
“This was a great game,” sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai said. “It gave the guys a lot of confidence in what we can do and what we stand for, what we can be on defense (and) how dangerous we can be on defense.”
In the same way the Sugar Bowl victory raised expectations along with morale for the program, the Alamo Bowl win does little to temper the hype of the Longhorn faithful. However, having already been through a season following a bowl victory, Texas knows it has to take the success with caution.
“We had our ups and downs with that crew throughout the season,” Herman said. “But I think throughout not just the four hours tonight, but throughout the bowl preparation, I think the light bulb went on as to what it takes to win at a championship level, and I’m excited to carry over those lessons into the offseason.”
The offseason will bring big changes for Texas. Nearly the entire coaching staff has had turnover, new offensive and defensive coordinators have been hired and five of its six captains are leaving.
Texas is going to be left with a senior Sam Ehlinger and young playmakers, but that won’t be a viable excuse if the Longhorns are going to finally reach new heights as a program.
“We’ve got to develop that depth, and it’s my job to make sure (that happens),” Herman said. “I don’t have all the answers right now on New Year’s Eve, but I’m excited for the offseason to challenge these guys to understand what they’re capable of.”