AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — There’s an informal new course at the University of Texas: American Literature with Tom Herman.
First on the syllabus: comparing a second straight loss to Maryland with the works of Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck.
Texas, Herman said Monday, was like the simple but brutish Lennie Smalls from Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men.” The Longhorns tried so hard to win they killed their chance to do it.
“Lennie wanted so badly to touch the rabbit and play with the rabbit, he squeezed it so hard he killed the rabbit,” Herman said, noting he told linebacker Gary Johnson to read the book. “I know that seems maybe out there a little bit. I think that’s what the first quarter was. We wanted it so badly, we got in our own way quite a bit.”
Herman mangled the analogy a bit. In the novel, Lennie kills a puppy, a mouse and a woman and only dreams of rabbits. And Lennie gets killed at the end.
But at 7-7 over his first 14 games at Texas, too many more losses could prompt lectures on other Steinbeck titles, such as the “The Grapes of Wrath” or “The Winter of Our Discontent.”
“This one game will not define us. How we grow from it and respond to it will,” Herman said.
Herman faces an angry fan base yet again after Saturday’s 34-29 loss to the Terrapins was punctuated by the same problems of last season’s 7-6 finish. The Longhorns trailed big early, lost a lead late and had three turnovers in the fourth quarter, two by sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Nationally, much is expected of No. 23 Texas in Herman’s second year. The coach insists this year’s team is different and better, even if the early result is exactly the same.
“The reason we played so poorly, in my opinion, is actually a good reason, because of how close this team has become, how badly they wanted to perform for each other, for their coaches,” Herman said. “Everybody still believes in what we have spent the last year and a half building here.”
Texas got off to another slow start and trailed 24-7 early. Herman put the offense into an up-tempo attack and Texas rallied to within 24-22 by halftime.
A week ago, Herman said his players were enjoying being in the same offense for the second consecutive year after having multiple coordinators in recent seasons. But after the loss, Herman said they were overthinking the game early, calling it “paralysis by analysis.”
“We got on the headset and said these guys are thinking way too much,” Herman said. “We felt like the best way to get them to stop thinking so much and being so tentative was to go play.”
Ehlinger slid back into his old turnover habits with fourth quarter interceptions. The last one with a minute left came on a throw that sailed high over his receiver’s head. After the game, Ehlinger said “you have to put the ball up in a risky situation.”
Herman said he won’t bench Ehlinger for junior Shane Buechele this week when Texas hosts Tulsa and will be heavily favored to win.
“Sam didn’t play perfect but nobody did. His errors weren’t egregious enough to just dump him on the depth chart. You start doing that, you’re riding the roller coaster,” Herman said.
Herman also said it was his call to not give the ball to freshman running back Keaontay Ingram in the second half against Maryland. Ingram averaged a team-high 6.2 yards per carry and a touchdown on six rushes in the first.
Herman said wanted veteran players on the field late in a tight road game. Graduate transfer Tre Watson fumbled in the fourth quarter and junior Kyle Porter dropped a pass the play before Ehlinger’s final interception.
Texas fans will remember Herman’s mentor Mack Brown keeping freshman Cedric Benson out of a loss to Oklahoma game in 2001. Benson would go on to become one of the top rushers in NCAA history.
Herman insists good things are coming.
“The sky is not falling. The sun is going to come up, hopefully, tomorrow,” Herman said. “If it doesn’t come up, we’re kind of all screwed on that.”
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