Lorenzo Joe

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Tom Herman doesn't care to look and see what the betting line is on his upcoming game.

The Longhorns were 33-point favorites heading into Saturday night’s meeting against Kansas, a bottom-feeder program that is now 1-9 after Texas’ 42-27 win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“I didn’t know we were — I don’t ever know what favorite we are, no,” Herman said. “That’s a lot, though.”

Perhaps it was a lot for a Texas team entering Saturday with a 4-5 record, fresh off its worst offensive performance of the season last weekend against TCU in Fort Worth. Never mind the fact that the Longhorns shockingly lost to Kansas last November in Lawrence.

Kansas proved why it was a 33-point underdog from the opening kick, when it attempted to catch the Longhorns off guard in their own house.

After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Jayhawks boldly tried an onside kick. The plan didn’t work, however, as the Longhorns were ready for it and recovered the ball at Kansas’ 49-yard line.

“We’re always prepared for stuff like that,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “Going into this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

On Texas’ first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele delivered a 49-yard touchdown pass to Joe, who got behind the Jayhawks’ secondary.

The Longhorns were up 7-0 just nine seconds into the game. But fans would’ve been remiss to not draw flashbacks to last year’s meeting in Lawrence. Texas scored on its first play from scrimmage in that game as well to take an early 7-0 lead over the Jayhawks. The Longhorns went on to lose 24-21 in overtime, one of the worst losses in program history.

This night would not prove haunting for the burnt orange, though. Texas received boosts from a host of players in the first half to grab control of the game, never letting Kansas get firmly within striking distance.

Fifth-year senior defensive back Antwuan Davis needed just one half to turn in the best performance of his Texas career. Davis intercepted the Jayhawks twice, including a pick-six to put Texas up 14-0, and recovered a Kansas fumble on a punt return.

“It’s a great feeling to be out there with this defense, with this team,” Davis said. “I don’t want to be a missing piece. I want to be a part of this puzzle.”

Freshman running back Toneil Carter and sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey each rushed for scores in the first half. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who didn’t start despite being cleared from a head injury, came in late in the first quarter and tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Cade Brewer.

Early in the second quarter, Texas tried its hand at a 44-yard field goal, but senior Mitchell Becker missed wide left, another chapter in the Longhorns’ kicking woes this season.

Texas scored more points in the opening quarter on Saturday night — 28 — than it has total in five of its games this season. The Longhorns led 35-17 heading into halftime.

But the second half saw mostly offensive ineptitude.

“I think with such an inexperienced (offense) that we have right now, we’ve got to do a better job of not worrying about what the score is and not worrying about how the defense is playing and not worrying about ‘Oh, dang it, they stopped us, we have to punt,’” Herman said.

The biggest story out of Saturday night was simple — the Longhorns (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) got one win closer to bowl eligibility. One more win can help salvage what has been an erratic first season under Herman.

“There’s no lack of confidence, or there’s no issue with perception,” Herman said. “Winning for us right now is going to be hard, and that’s OK. That’s OK. As long as we win.”

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.”

Between a handful of injuries and two handfuls of suspended players over the past few years, the Texas football staff has learned to rely on more than just veteran players alone. 

As Shawn Watson, assistant head coach for offense, said, success doesn’t just require “work with ones,” but, instead, in the era of head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns look to “develop the team.” With this philosophy, the staff expects to reward freshman standouts who have already proven themselves in the offseason.

“We play with what we have, and we’re always looking to develop younger players so that they’re in place to play,” Watson said. “We always have that philosophy. During training camp, we work with ones, twos and threes so that we can bring the younger players along and increase our depth. It always works out in a formula for a season.”

Among the freshmen rumored to run the offense Saturday are wide receivers Armanti Foreman and Lorenzo Joe. Foreman, the No. 15 wide receiver in the class of 2014, according to ESPN, was a four-time district honoree at Texas City High School, recording 32 touchdowns throughout his high school career before he and his brother, freshman running back D’Onta Foreman, signed with Texas. Joe, an Abilene Cooper High School graduate, arrives in Austin with three all-district honors behind him, including the District 2-5A Offensive Most Valuable Player his senior year as quarterback. Behind center, he passed for 1,864 yards with a 58.3 percent completion rate and also rushed for 1,657 yards, averaging 8.1 yards per carry.

However, his high school performance only got him a spot on the roster. With Strong’s motto for earning privileges, Joe also needs to earn his spot on the playing field. Now, Watson believes Joe’s summer showing has proven that.

“Lorenzo Joe is going to be a factor in our season somewhere down the road,” Watson said. “When? It’s probably going to be when the opportunity presents itself, but he’s been prepared.”

Though he’ll no longer jog out to center, Joe has worked closely with junior starting quarterback David Ash throughout training. Ash said Foreman and Joe showed a “tremendous amount of dedication” that will translate to execution on the field.

“It was a hard camp,” Ash said. “It was a grind, and those guys came out every day, and they improved each and every day. They learned more and more, [showing that], beyond the shadow of a doubt, they have the capability and the ability to play football at this level. It won’t be long before they’re a huge part of what we do.”

Defensively, Strong anticipates freshman defensive back Jason Hall will also see playing time. According to Strong, ESPN’s No. 87 safety in the nation has positioned himself to contribute. The All-State 5A honorable mention tallied 57 tackles, six interceptions and six pass breakups his senior year of high school, claiming the compliments of Texas’ leading defensive back Quandre Diggs.

“He’s a guy that will come up and hit you,” Diggs said. “He’s rangy. He’s like 6-foot-2, 6-foot-3, and he’s smart. He’s instinctive. He’s a freshman who came in and worked his tail off. He’s always had a hunger for the game.”

Freshman running back Donald Catalon has also garnered recognition, although Watson anticipates giving him a little more time to develop before he hits the field.