Up against the count

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Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar

Texas football was in nearly this exact same spot last year. It was 6–2, coming off a road loss to a team that didn’t look that intimidating on paper. 2018, however, was filled with a six-game winning streak and a win over rival Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl — leaving the Longhorns in a good spot mentally. 

This year provides a completely different feeling. Texas fell 37-27 to TCU two weeks ago. The second half was a back-and-forth fight, with haymakers being thrown on every drive. Texas had the lead at halftime but was unable to get out of its own way. It came down to the last drive, but junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s final interception was the knockout blow. They are up against the count now. 

The upcoming schedule for the unranked Longhorns isn’t favorable. They have to face No. 16 Kansas State — who is coming off an upset of Big 12 leader Oklahoma and a blowout of Kansas. Following the penultimate home game, Texas has to travel to face Iowa State and No. 11 Baylor.

“I don’t think anybody’s oblivious to what’s in front of us in terms of our only long-term goal, which is competing for and being in the mix for a conference championship in the month of November and December, and that’s still all out there,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “We’ve left the margin of error very slim, and that’s okay.”

Texas’ situation is one it didn’t expect to be in. Following the proclamation of being “back” after beating Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, Texas was expected to be close to or even in the conversation for the College Football Playoff. Now, it is in a position where it must still clinch a bowl berth in the final four games. 

“You know, especially it being my senior year, you kind of have the way you want it to go in your head ... but man, it’s life,” senior wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “Things don’t go the exact way you want it to go.”

Despite the struggles, Texas had another chance to regroup with a second bye week. Players were able to rest and recover but also allowed for a rejuvenation in practice.

“I would say (for) the bye week, intensity levels were great,” Ehlinger said. “Having two bye weeks really allows us to segment each part of the season.”

The Longhorns’ struggles haven’t been all because of matters they can control, a phrase popular around the organization. The injuries that initially plagued the running back room shifted to the other side of the ball in the defensive back room. Nevertheless, things are beginning to look up for the Longhorns as sophomore safeties Caden Sterns and B.J. Foster are scheduled to make their returns.

With the return of key players in the secondary and a bye week to get things in order, the Longhorns have an understanding of the test ahead and feel confident.

“Our backs are against the ropes, as (Herman) would say,” Johnson said. “This is why you work day in and day out … You don’t work for when things are going amazing in season. You work for times of adversity, and you just gotta trust your training.”