DeShon Elliott

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

They say one loss doesn’t define a season, but it can sure alter one.

Right when the Longhorns thought things were figured out in a road win over West Virginia, they blew a lead late in the fourth quarter less than a week later and lost to Texas Tech, finishing the regular season 6–6.

But that’s all deep in the past now as far as head coach Tom Herman is concerned. The Longhorns have a date with Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston to prepare for.

“We’re a resilient group,” Herman said on a bowl conference call Sunday evening. “I think the sting is gone already. We’re looking forward to this.”

The good news for Texas right now: the Longhorns are going bowling for the first time in three years, returning to the same bowl as their last appearance in 2014. Playing in the postseason also gets Texas a few extra weeks of practice — something it hasn’t experienced the past two years.

“That is critical,” Herman said. “This is a team that has not had that kind of development and for the last two winters has basically gone home for four weeks, five weeks. That development is critical in terms of staying with your competition that are going to bowl games.”

But then there’s the bad news for Texas.

It began last Monday with the announcements of junior running back Chris Warren III deciding to transfer from the program and junior left tackle Connor Williams declaring for the NFL Draft, opting to also skip the bowl game.

It continued on Thursday with junior safety and Thorpe Award finalist DeShon Elliott announcing his decision to declare for the draft and skip the bowl game. Junior cornerback Holton Hill, who was suspended for the rest of the season following the TCU game for a violation of team rules, announced on Monday that he was declaring for the draft, too.

Many people suspect that junior linebacker Malik Jefferson will be next in line to jump ship for the draft. Junior cornerback Kris Boyd could also leave early.

But as of right now, Herman said he doesn’t know what Jefferson and any others will decide. A lot will depend on the draft grades players receive from NFL scouts. Herman said players could know their draft grades this week.

“I think the rest of them are waiting to get their grades back and make some informed decisions based on some of the NFL stuff,” Herman said.

The loss of Elliott and Hill, and the potential exits of more defensive players, is unfortunate timing for Herman. The Longhorns will square off in the Texas Bowl with a Missouri offense that is ranked in the top-10 in the country in both scoring and total offense.

After a 1–5 start to the year, Missouri (7–5, 4–4 SEC) rides into bowl season on the heels of a six-game winning streak.

“They’re playing some of the best football in the country right now,” Herman said. “They’re playing really, really well offensively.”

It’s difficult to label a bowl game like the Texas Bowl, insignificant in the College Football Playoff picture, a must-win game. But the Longhorns, who sit at 6–6, can avoid a fourth consecutive losing season with a win.

A loss to Missouri and Herman would finish his first season at Texas with the same record that former head coach Charlie Strong finished with in his first year in 2014.

Asked on Sunday how critical it is for Texas to finish this season with a winning record, Herman said it’s important but not a huge difference-maker.

“I don’t think one number difference on either side is really gonna make or break anything in our program,” Herman said. “We’re gonna stay the course, and we’re gonna continue to develop our players. We’re gonna try like heck to win the thing and prepare as such.”

Injury updates

Herman said on Sunday that he expects junior nickelback P.J. Locke III and sophomore linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will be back for the bowl game. Locke hasn’t played since the Baylor game on Oct. 28, in which he suffered an ankle injury. McCulloch injured his ankle against TCU on Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since.

Herman also said he’s “hoping” that junior left guard Patrick Vahe will be able to return from injury as well. Vahe sprained his MCL during the West Virginia game on Nov. 18.

Junior offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez, who suffered an ankle injury in preseason camp and hasn’t played this season, was cleared for the Texas Tech game and could work his way back into the starting rotation for the bowl game, Herman said.

Other notes

Texas will be down to just graduate transfer Kendall Moore at the tight end position for the bowl game. Freshman Cade Brewer had surgery for his torn ACL, and Warren, who was Texas’ makeshift tight end the past couple games, is transferring. Herman also doesn’t want to burn redshirts on freshman Reese Leitao and senior Andrew Beck, who fractured his foot in preseason camp and has missed the entire season.

As far as the quarterback situation goes, Herman said on Sunday that he hasn’t addressed who the starter will be for the bowl game. Freshman Sam Ehlinger and sophomore Shane Buechele have “rotated reps with the ones and twos evenly” in Texas’ two practices so far, Herman said.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Add junior safety DeShon Elliott to the list.

The Jim Thorpe Award finalist, awarded to the nation’s best defensive back each year, will forgo his senior year and plans to declare for the NFL Draft, Texas announced Thursday afternoon. Elliott will also skip Texas’ bowl game to begin preparations for his professional career immediately.

“It was a very difficult decision that I put a lot of thought into,” Elliott said in a statement. “I want to thank my coaches and teammates for the support and all they’ve done to make an impact on my life. I really appreciate Coach Strong giving me the opportunity to play and grow as a player and person at Texas. Coach Herman has been amazing, and I’m really excited about what he’s building here. I know that Longhorn football is in good hands.”

The end of the regular season concludes what was a breakout season for the junior safety. Elliott got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, recording two interceptions against then-No. 4 USC and even returning one for a touchdown.

Elliott picked two passes off the following week against Iowa State as well, making him the first player with two interceptions in back-to-back games since 1947. Elliott finished the season with six interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and 63 tackles.  

Now, one week after the conclusion of the regular season, Elliott said his farewell to the Longhorn faithful.

“To the awesome Longhorn fans, you have made every game in DKR an experience like no other, and for that, I thank you,” Elliott said. “And most of all, thank you to my parents for molding me into the athlete and person I am today. I couldn’t have done it without you. I am excited about the future but will forever be a Longhorn.”

Elliott is now the second Longhorn to forgo his senior season and Texas’ bowl game in order to declare for the NFL Draft. Junior left tackle Connor Williams announced his departure on Monday afternoon. This news also comes after junior running back Chris Warren III announced that he will transfer from Texas.

Linebacker Malik Jefferson has not announced his plans regarding the NFL. Texas continues to play the waiting game with the junior, a possible first-round pick in April’s draft.   

For Elliott, the junior safety won’t be on the field for Texas’ final game of the season. He will represent the burnt orange for the final time when the Thorpe Award is presented at The Home Depot College Football Awards. The ceremony in Atlanta will take place on Thursday, Dec. 2.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Some players call him old man, others just call him ‘Twuan, but Saturday night, fifth-year senior Antwuan Davis was just the next man up.

Texas adopted the slogan “next man up” in response to players who are forced to step up when the team loses a player to injury. However, with the news of starting cornerback Holton Hill’s season-long suspension combined with the injury of junior nickelback and team captain P.J. Locke III, it begged the question, who is that next man?

That question found an answer when Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley released the ball from his own end zone. The ball left Stanley’s fingertips and right into fifth-year senior Antwuan Davis’ hands. Davis returned the interception all the way to the corner of the endzone to give Texas an early 14-0 lead.

And just like that, Texas found its next man up.

“Once I had the ball, all I could see is the end zone,” Davis said. “I saw the whole d-line blocking, I saw a cornerback come over and throw a block and I said ‘Man thank y’all. This means the most to me.’”

This wasn’t just any ordinary pick-six for Davis, though. This was his payoff for the hard work he put in not only on the field, but in the class.

The defensive back found himself in a predicament last season. After getting redshirted in his his first season at Texas, Davis technically had one fifth and final season of eligibility.

However, in order to play, he needed to graduate.

“This is a guy that needed to pass an ungodly amount of hours in the spring and summer to graduate, and he needed to graduate to be eligible to play this season,” Herman said. “(Safeties coach) Craig Naivar dove into his life and prodded him and taught him and mentored him.”

Davis said he was forced to take five classes during one session, followed by one during an off period and another four during the summer –– all for one more season of eligibility.

As the summer came to a close, Davis received his diploma.

“The day that my diploma came in at the end of the summer and I was cleared for the season, I hugged coach Naivar and I hugged coach Herman because these guys really helped me get all the way through to where I am,” Davis said. “It was such an appreciative moment.”

Several months have passed since Davis got his hands on his diploma, but he said the younger guys on team still ask him about his five-year journey at Texas.

“These guys hung in here with me from spring from two years ago,” Davis said. “Some of the freshman are like, ‘Man how do you do it?’ I’m like man you’ve just got to be patient. You've just gotta wait till your time comes.’

Davis’ time happens to be now. Between Locke’s injury and Hill’s suspension, Davis was asked to step up. And he did. The fifth-year senior recorded a second interception in the second quarter and even recovered a fumbled punt.

After the game, junior safety DeShon Elliott saw Davis walk by.

“What’s up, old man?” Elliot asked.

Despite the teasing, which Davis promises is out of love, Elliott wasn’t surprised by the performance from that “old man.”

“He balled. I knew he could ball,” Elliott said. “I’ve been sitting behind him for two years. I knew when he got in the game, he was gonna take advantage of the opportunity and was gonna do his job and that’s what he did.”

Now, Davis can see the end of his Longhorn career. After the game, the fifth-year senior reflected on his journey on the 40 Acres and expressed his gratitude to his teammates and coaching staff for the help and opportunities along the way. 

And for these last two games, the Longhorns are just asking Davis for one thing in return: be their next man up.

“I tell these guys all the time, I cherish them,” Davis said. “I cherish the guys that I’m in here with. Seeing these young guys develop, I’m like man I wonder what the older guys think of me now. Old man ‘Twuan out there with them young guys. It’s just a real appreciative moment. Having my last one in two weeks, it’s gonna be tough but I really feel like I’m ready for it.”

Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

Hours before his team took the field at McLane Stadium in Waco and routed a winless Baylor team, 38-7, head coach Tom Herman had already seen exactly what he needed to see.

For a team coming off back-to-back, gut-wrenching losses, with its season teetering on an unstable pendulum, Texas could not afford to look past the now 0-8 Bears.

“We had talked all week about this being the most important game of the season,” Herman said. “Not because of what had really happened in the past or who we were playing or what their record was but the fact that it was the next one.”

And so at 5:45 a.m. at Texas’ team hotel, Herman saw words put into action.

“I was shocked,” Herman said. “A 5:45 a.m. wake-up call — there was no dopey-eyed guys, there was no ‘wipe the sleep out of their eyes.’ None of that stuff. They were intense and ready to go from the word ‘jump.’”

In a game that they could not afford to lose, the Longhorns (4–4, 3–2 Big 12) wore down Baylor with another solid defensive outing coupled with a relatively steady offensive performance.

The Longhorns’ defense came up huge on just the third play from scrimmage.

Baylor quarterback Zach Smith’s pass over the middle on third-and-8 was a little high as it tipped off of his intended receiver’s hands, which left safety DeShon Elliott in the right place at the right time. The ball fell right into Elliott’s hands for his team-leading sixth interception of the season. The junior returned it to the house for a touchdown to put the Longhorns up 7-0 early.

From there, Texas stayed in control in a game that was never really close.

“I don’t know if you can get started any better than that,” senior safety John Bonney said. “We took that momentum that DeShon gave us and just kept rolling with it the rest of the game.”

Texas took a 21-7 lead into halftime after two more touchdowns in the second quarter. Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele — who made his third start of the season in place of injured freshman Sam Ehlinger — scrambled to find sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown pass.

Later, after a fumble by Baylor punter Connor Martin set the Longhorns up at Baylor’s own 28-yard line, Buechele kept the ball on a zone read, sprinted up the middle and raced past Baylor defenders for a touchdown, putting Texas up 21-7. Buechele even sprinted all the way up the tunnel in the northeast corner of McLane Stadium.

“He showed us a little speed,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “He kept on running through that tunnel. We started joking around calling him Forrest Gump. That was big for him.”

A couple of freshman running backs helped put things completely out of reach in the second half. Toneil Carter and Daniel Young each dashed for touchdowns, and junior kicker Joshua Rowland tacked on an 18-yard field goal to help the Longhorns shut the door in Waco.

While Saturday was a step in the right direction for the Longhorns, it was a small one in the grand scheme of things. But Texas avoided what it couldn’t afford to do — suffer a colossal letdown against a struggling opponent — and handled business. Next Saturday is another big one, as the Longhorns head to Fort Worth for a showdown with No. 10 TCU.

Asked after the game where he thinks the Longhorns are headed with four games left on the schedule, Herman avoided any bold prophecies. He just stuck to his mantra.

“Oh, I don’t know. I just want to go 1-0 this week,” Herman said. “The big picture is irrelevant right now.”

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

In the northwest corner of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the only thing some Longhorn players could do was simply kneel down and process another agonizing loss.

The play that had dashed Texas’ hopes of a breakthrough victory over No. 10 Oklahoma State was just too excruciating to accept.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger stood bewildered and pointed in the direction of where everything came crashing down. He couldn’t believe what he had just done.

Ehlinger’s pass into the corner of the north end zone on third and four in overtime was nowhere close to a Longhorn receiver. Oklahoma State safety Ramon Richards had no trouble intercepting Ehlinger’s gift of a pass, the final play of Texas’ 13-10 overtime loss to the Cowboys.

“I feel like we're in every game,” junior safety DeShon Elliott said. “We don't know how to finish. We'll get to that point. We'll keep digging and eventually we'll get to diamonds.”

As Oklahoma State players began to storm the field, senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe dropped straight to a knee.

Senior wide receiver Dorian Leonard crouched down in disgust, then was consoled by injured senior tight end Andrew Beck.

Junior linebacker Malik Jefferson also went down to the turf. Jefferson had said earlier in the week that the Longhorns just needed one more turn for Texas to break through. But on Saturday afternoon, Texas took a turn back into the wrong direction, dropping to 3-4 on the season and 2-2 in Big 12 play.

It was the third time this season the Longhorns went into overtime, and it was the second time they came up a play short.

“It’s tough — I have no words for it honestly,” Jefferson said.

Fellow junior linebacker Breckyn Hager was the first to console Jefferson.

Hager turned in one of the best performances of his career on Saturday. The Austin Westlake High School product set a career-high in sacks with two, tallied three tackles and had a quarterback hurry. Hager said after the game he wanted to bounce back after dropping a crucial red-zone interception in the third quarter of last week’s loss to Oklahoma in Dallas.

“I just knew there was a lot of opportunity out there for me, and I had to take it,” Hager said. “I felt real down on myself about dropping that OU (interception).”

On a day when the Longhorns held the No. 1 offense in the nation to just 10 points in regulation, Texas still couldn’t close out another game. After the loss, few words were used to describe the pain of yet another gut-wrenching result.

The one question seemingly hanging over the Longhorns’ minds after Saturday’s defeat was simple: when will things finally turn around?

And maybe that was the question so many Longhorn players on bended knee were trying to answer in the wake of another painful loss on Saturday afternoon. The upperclassmen in particular — Joe, Leonard, Elliott, Jefferson and Hager — have spent their entire Texas careers confronting that question and dealing with frustration.

And they know time is running thin.

“This upper class — it’s special,” Hager said. “We’re tired of talking about it to you guys and saying that. But we are special, and we are bringing positives out of these negative outcomes.”

But the only positives that haven’t followed are the ones that teams are ultimately judged by — wins.

“We’re very close. It’s still not over with,” Elliott said. “Because we believe in each other. The defense believes in the offense, the offense believes in the defense and we believe in our coaches. We’re a family. So eventually, we’ll rally together and get things right.”