Tom Herman

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON – Head coach Tom Herman and President Gregory Fenves climbed the steps of the Texas Bowl stage propped up dead center in the middle of NRG Stadium. The most popular punter in the country stood directly between them.

It wasn’t either of the quarterbacks in Shane Buechele or Sam Ehlinger. It wasn’t junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler who returned a fumble for a touchdown and it wasn’t even freshman running back Daniel Young who led the team in rushing and receiving. It was the Ray Guy Award recipient junior punter Michael Dickson, the first non-offensive player to be named MVP in Texas Bowl history.

Herman hoisted the Texas Bowl trophy following the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri, marking the burnt orange’s first bowl win since 2012. But that wasn’t what received the loudest reception.

It didn’t happen until the Most Valuable Player of the Texas Bowl was announced.

That’s when junior punter Michael Dickson stepped to the front of the stage, causing a dramatic eruption not only from his teammates who cheered directly in front of the setup, but the thousands of fans who stayed for the award ceremony.

“It means so much,” Dickson said on the stage after being awarded MVP. “I would never have thought that it would end like this. But it’s the most incredible experience. All the greatest things that could've happened, happened. I'm just so happy that I got to experience it with all these guys that are yelling at me right now.”

But the award came with little drama. Dickson’s performance throughout the entirety of the season allows him to say he’s the best punter in college football — he has a Ray Guy Award to prove it. Wednesday night in Houston was no different after yet another eye-catching performance. But he still couldn’t believe it when they announced his name as the 2017 Texas Bowl MVP.

“I didn't believe it when they told me at first, or at second,” Dickson said. “When they were leading me up the stage I was like ‘Wait why am I going on stage?’ They said ‘You’re the MVP,’ and I didn't believe it. They said it again and I still didn’t believe it. It’s still kind of sinking in now.”

The Texas defense was able to hold a potent Missouri offense averaging over 50 points in the last 6 games, to 16. And it all boiled down to field position, with Missouri having an average starting field position on its own 15-yard line.

The Australian punter booted 11 punts total in Texas’ victory. All but one received a noticeable ovation from the crowd of 67,820. Dickson punted three times in the first quarter: he pinned Missouri back to the 3-yard line, 9-yard line and 12-yard line in each of those.

This was just the beginning of Texas’ dominance on defense and special teams, and his defense was sure to show appreciation.

“He’s a real brother of mine. He’s one of my best friends on the team,” junior linebacker Breckyn Hager said. “When I see him go out there and punt, I mean I should be getting him a steak dinner every night, being a defensive guy and all. He just flips the field so I never really have to worry.”

But he wasn’t done. Dickson finished by pinning 10-of-11 punts inside the 14-yard line and 8-of-10 inside the 10. After the game, Herman was asked if he’s ever had any punter affect a game the way Dickson affected this one. Herman didn’t even let the reporter finish the question before giving his answer.

“I’ve never even seen one affect a game the way he did tonight,” Herman said. “I'm glad he's on our team.”

But Herman still refused to do one thing –– call Dickson by his name. This dates back several months ago to the Big 12 media days when Herman continued to call Michael Dickson “the punter.”

Herman later explained that he won’t call a player who is only on the field for a handful of plays by their actual name. Despite Dickson’s game-changing punts all season, especially during the Texas Bowl, Herman still refuses to say his name until he does one thing.

“When he gets his degree from the University of Texas (I’ll call him by his name)” Herman said after the game. “You guys aren't gonna bait me into it. We laugh and cut up but all those guys know that’s the deal.”

There appears to be no hard feelings from Dickson’s end of the bargain. He later said he isn’t offended by his name, or lack thereof. However, it isn’t clear when the junior will receive his degree.

On Dec. 21 the punter announced that he plans to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft and will forgo his senior season as a Longhorn.

“Everything felt like the right time,” Dickson said. “I talked with family, I talked with friends, I talked with Breckyn (Hager). I talked with a lot of guys on the team and it just felt right. When you feel a certain way about something, I felt like I needed to act on it. I felt that way about coming here to Texas, it felt right when I was in Australia and it felt right about declaring early. It’s very bittersweet because I love the team so much and I love being able to represent the Longhorns each week. It just felt right so I just had to jump on it and catch the wave.”

But Dickson did what most players who declare for the Draft don’t do –– played in the bowl game. The punter said it was important to him to put on the burnt orange and white one final time Wednesday.

“It meant so much to me,” Dickson said. “ I didn't even really know what the Texas Longhorns were about three years ago. The amount of love I have for this school and this team and each player individually has grown exponentially over the past couple of years. I understand the tradition. I understand how much this means. To be able to wear the burnt orange and white one last time in front of all these fans that appreciate us all and are really loving it just means so much  and I'm so happy that we could do it and get a win.”

Michael Dickson left NRG Stadium as a Longhorn for the final time, bearing one last piece of hardware to reflect on during his Texas career. But this isn’t the last you’ll hear from Dickson.

His stock only continues to rise and will soon play on Sundays, but Texas received good news as well. His cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who is also from Australia, recently signed with Texas.

For now, Longhorn fans will just have to thank Dickson for his three years in Austin and wish him good luck in the NFL. It seems that’s what his teammates have already started to do, too.

“I love this guy and I'm gonna miss him,” Hager said. “But I understand he’s gotta go get that money.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON – As the clock struck zero at NRG stadium on Wednesday night, the Longhorns’ seniors experienced a pair of firsts: a bowl victory and a win in their season finale.

In Texas’ previous three seasons, the burnt orange ended the year on a sour note. A 2014 Texas Bowl loss was followed by back-to-back years without a postseason contest, paired with dispiriting defeats to end the season. But as Wednesday night bled into Thursday morning, the bitter memories faded, and the Longhorn seniors clutched onto the Texas Bowl trophy at midfield.

"I couldn’t be prouder of this senior class,” head coach Tom Herman said. “They were the glue that held this up-and-down season together. I think they knew what was ahead for this program, and they wanted to make sure that they left their mark on this next chapter of Texas football and they did.”

Six senior took the field for the Longhorns on Wednesday night, with four coming on defense (linebacker Naashon Hughes, defensive backs Jason Hall and Antwuan Davis and nose tackle Poona Ford) along with two receivers, Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman. Each made a contribution in the 33-16 victory, capped by Foreman’s 18-yard dash to the end zone to seal the win late in the fourth quarter.

Foreman’s final play of his Longhorn career put an exclamation mark on a largely disappointing senior season. The Texas City product entered 2017 a year removed from leading the Longhorns with 34 catches, but found himself tethered to the bench for much of Herman’s first season. Foreman tallied just seven catches over a six-week stretch, failing to find the endzone in any game.

But both Foreman’s final contest in Austin – a five-reception, one-touchdown performance against Texas Tech – and his final effort for the burnt orange on Wednesday salvaged his final season in Austin. And the fourth-quarter touchdown was the icing on the cake.

“We wanted to make sure if we were to call a reverse that it would have been (Foreman) because he’s a senior and he has played well for us here down the stretch,” Herman said. “He deserved it by how he’s prepared and how he’s practiced. My hats off to him. He’s had a really, really good last month of the year. We hope he has continued success. Hopefully playing this game for quite some time.”

On the other side of the ball, the Longhorn defense was its usual stout self, halting a Missouri attack that led the SEC in both yards and points per game in 2017. But while the defense’s performance in Houston mirrored the standard set by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, it was a far cry from the woes that plagued the Longhorn defense under former head coach Charlie Strong.

In the final two years of Strong’s tenure, Texas ranked No. 91 and No. 87 in the nation in total defense, surrendering over 30 points per game in 2015 and 2016. Seemingly every facet of the Longhorn defense struggled to keep up with the potent offenses in the Big 12, allowing a slew of big plays while failing to generate stops in key moments. Under Strong, Texas’ defense gave up over 40 points 10 times.

But the tide turned under Orlando in 2017.

Save for an opening-day loss to Maryland – in which the Longhorns allowed 51 points to the Terrapins – Texas held opponents to an average of 18.8 points per game, a mark that ranked No. 15 in the NCAA. And following a 16-point, four-turnover effort in the Texas Bowl, the Longhorn seniors believe they’ve laid the foundation for a fearsome defense in years to come.

“The sky is the limit for this defense,” Hughes said. “There’s a lot of guys returning, a lot of guys coming in, a great recruiting class coming in. This can be another top 10 defense, easily.”

The senior class departing from Texas will take with them one of the roughest stretches in program history. A 23–27 record, three losing seasons and three years without a bowl victory.

But that didn’t matter at the final buzzer on Wednesday night. The Longhorn seniors left NRG Stadium with a bowl victory, a win in the season finale and the first winning season in their time on the 40 Acres.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — It was the triumphant, defiant play that Texas craved so badly.

Late in the fourth quarter and deep in Missouri territory, leading by 10 with seemingly the Texas Bowl already in hand, the Longhorns opted for a reverse play. Sophomore running back Kyle Porter took a handoff from freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, only for senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman to take it back the other way.

As Foreman turned the corner and bolted upfield, Ehlinger charged in front of him and delivered a key lead block. As he’s exhibited so often this season, Ehlinger was unafraid to dish out some contact of his own, mutating from quarterback to bulldozer.

Foreman sprinted for the goal line and absorbed one final hit, plunging into the corner of the end zone. It was an exclamation point like no other — one that helped cap off the Longhorns’ 33-16 victory over Missouri on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

And it was one that delivered Texas its first winning season in four years.

“You can’t overstate it,” head coach Tom Herman said. “It’s really important for these guys to call themselves a winner... Again, it wasn’t gonna be life or death. We would’ve been just fine next year, but this was a big step forward.”

Texas players celebrated jubilantly on the field after the game. Herman embraced his wife and kids. Junior punter Michael Dickson, who declared for the NFL Draft last week, staged a punting clinic in his final game for the Longhorns and was named the game’s MVP.

It was noticeable by everyone’s emotions how important, and defining, a bowl win was for this long-struggling program.

On the outside looking in, it may have been just a victory in the Texas Bowl. This wasn’t a national championship win or anything remotely close to it.

But this is a program that won a bowl game for the first time since since 2012. It’s a program that finished with a winning record (7–6) for the first time since former head coach Mack Brown’s last season in 2013.

It’s a program searching for any sign of tangible momentum, and any sign of a real turnaround under Herman.

“I think tonight, Coach Herman won the locker room. 100 percent. Hearts out,” junior defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “He now has our hearts as a team.”

If there were any questions as to which team would set the tone early, it was all settled on the first drive.

The Longhorns’ offense opened with the ball and took advantage of three costly Missouri penalties — a pass interference, holding and face mask — to move deep into Tiger territory.

Sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele found a wide open Daniel Young for a 22-yard touchdown pass. The freshman running back scored with ease and Texas was in front early, 7-0.

Despite not starting, Ehlinger proceeded to enter the game on Texas’ third possession. He put the Longhorns completely in the driver seat on his second drive.

Ehlinger scrambled to his left and found junior wide receiver John Burt in the corner of the end zone for a seven-yard touchdown pass to put the Longhorns up 14-0 in the first quarter.

Missouri’s offense, which ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense entering the game, was shut down for most of the first half. The Tigers didn’t cross midfield until early in the second quarter. But on that drive, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock and the offense finally found some life. Running back Ish Witter scored from four yards out, and the Texas lead was cut to 14-7.

But right when Missouri appeared ready to find its footing in the game, Witter coughed up the ball after junior defensive back P.J. Locke III knocked it loose midway through the second quarter. Junior linebacker Anthony Wheeler scooped it up and returned it 38 yards the other direction for a touchdown, delivering a mean stiff-arm to a Missouri tackler along the way.

“They say never run out of bounds, so either get tackled or score, and I just went to go to the end zone,” Wheeler said. “It was just instincts to do (the stiff-arm). I really don’t have too many moves. I just went with the stiff-arm.”

Texas was in front 21-7 and seemingly had all of the momentum.

The momentum for the Longhorns continued on Missouri’s ensuing possession when the Tigers fumbled again. Hager — who wore No. 60 on Wednesday night in honor of the late, legendary Texas linebacker Tommy Nobis — recovered the fumble.

“It’s more than a number to me, to be honest,” said Hager, who was selected by Herman during Texas’ last bowl practice to wear the number. “It was emotional, and I’m so happy that it happened in my lifetime. It’s a great accomplishment.”

Texas was in complete command heading into the locker room at halftime up 21-7.

But on the first play of the second half, Missouri wide receiver Johnathan Johnson got behind senior nickelback Antwuan Davis. Lock hit Johnson in stride for a 79-yard touchdown pass. After a mishandled snap by the placeholder, Missouri trailed 21-13.

The Tigers tacked on a field goal midway through the third quarter to cut the deficit to 21-16, but that was all they could muster the rest of the way.

The Longhorns scored 12 unanswered points to put the game away, including a safety, a 41-yard field goal from junior kicker Joshua Rowland and Foreman’s late touchdown.

Moving forward, Texas now has a full offseason to digest the whirlwind that was the 2017 season. It began with a complete thud in early September with the loss to Maryland.

It showed signs of progress against USC and Oklahoma. It spotlighted a highly-inconsistent offense against Oklahoma State and TCU — an offense that still has plenty of question marks heading into 2018.

And it took a dark turn against Texas Tech — a game that nearly defined the season.

But the taste of an all-important bowl victory will be the last memory in the minds of the Longhorns.

“Anytime you can get confidence, give confidence to a fragile group of guys, that’s big. That’s big,” Herman said. “I think it gives us a lot of hope, but the confidence part of it is the biggest thing.”

Photo Credit: Anthony Mireles | Daily Texan Staff

HOUSTON — Much can be debated about the big-picture importance of Wednesday night’s Texas Bowl in regard to head coach Tom Herman and his 6–6 Longhorns.

There are those who will say that this game means a lot for the program — one that hasn’t experienced the postseason since the 2014 Texas Bowl against Arkansas, and one that hasn’t won a bowl since the 2012 Alamo Bowl victory over Oregon State. A win over Missouri would also give Texas its first winning season since 2013.

And then there are those who will argue that this game doesn’t mean much, and that Texas has already made its bed with the 2017 season. The Longhorns experienced multiple disappointing close losses to highly-ranked teams and a devastating defeat to Texas Tech in the regular season finale.

But don’t try convincing Herman that this game isn’t one to get up for.

“We haven’t been in a bowl game in three years, so if that doesn’t excite you as a player, then you probably need to quit football and go do something else,” Herman said at his bowl press conference on Tuesday morning in downtown Houston. “Go join a club or something like that.”

The big storyline for the Longhorns is that they will be without a bevy of players against Missouri. Since the Texas Tech game, Texas has taken hit after hit to its depth chart.

Junior running back Chris Warren III announced he will transfer. Junior left tackle Connor Williams, junior safety DeShon Elliott and junior cornerback Holton Hill declared for the NFL Draft (though Hill had already been suspended for the rest of the season for a violation of team rules following the TCU game on Nov. 4).

Junior defensive back P.J. Locke III, who hasn’t played since suffering an ankle injury against Baylor on Oct. 28, is finally healthy and will start in Elliott’s stead. Junior Elijah Rodriguez, who missed the entire regular season with an ankle injury, will start at left tackle in place of Williams.

On Friday, the day the Longhorns arrived in Houston, freshman running back Toneil Carter, sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey and junior tight end Garrett Gray were suspended for the Texas Bowl due to a violation of team rules. That same day, it was announced that junior defensive tackle Chris Nelson will miss the bowl game after suffering an elbow injury in practice.

“A lot of things go on within the season,” junior left guard Patrick Vahe said. “You never know what’s gonna happen — whether it’s an injury, a coaching change, players leaving, players getting suspended, you never know. Man down, man up.”

To make matters worse, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson likely will not play due to a turf toe injury.

“But I’m hoping for a miracle,” Herman said about Jefferson.

And, of course, there is the quarterback situation.

Sophomore Shane Buechele will start, but freshman Sam Ehlinger will still play. Herman said on Tuesday that there will still be a “clean slate” heading into the offseason at that position, regardless of what the two quarterbacks do on Wednesday night.

“Neither of these quarterbacks have done anything so egregious that you would say a guy is behind the other one,” Herman said. “But neither of them have done anything really to take the bull by the horn.”

The Longhorns will be facing a Missouri team riding high after finishing the season on a six-game winning streak. Junior quarterback Drew Lock leads a potent offense for the Tigers that’s ranked top-10 nationally in scoring and total offense.

“We’re gonna have our hands full on defense,” Herman said.

Lock leads the nation in passing touchdowns and ranks fourth in passing efficiency. It doesn’t bode well on paper for a Texas team that will be playing without its two best defensive backs in Elliott and Hill. But that doesn’t mean Lock is necessarily licking his chops either.

“They do have some guys out, but the way we’re looking at it is their next guy up is just as good as their guy that’s leaving,” Lock said.

For what it’s worth, the Tigers are 2.5-point favorites over Texas on Wednesday night at NRG Stadium.

Beating Missouri could in a way provide a shot in the arm for the Longhorns heading into the offseason, already possessing some momentum from the early signing period when Texas signed 19 players. Herman currently has Texas with the No. 3-ranked recruiting class in the nation.

Texas has a unique opportunity in this bowl game. And even while recognizing that this isn’t a must-win game, Herman knows what a bowl win could do for the program that he’s been tasked with bringing back to national prominence.

“I think winning this game would be important for us in terms of momentum,” Herman said. “It’s not life or death, but we sure as heck could use this to springboard us into the offseason for 2018.”

Photo Credit: Gabby Lanza | Daily Texan Staff

Junior punter and Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson announced on Thursday that he will forgo his senior season and declare for the NFL Draft.

“Coming to play football for the University of Texas has been the greatest experience of my life,” Dickson said in a statement. “I am so thankful for Coach Strong giving me an opportunity back in 2015. Texas has helped lead me in the direction I want to be as a person. I have built an undeniable bond with my teammates that will last forever. I truly consider all of you my brothers.”

Dickson is the fourth Longhorn to have declared for the draft since the end of the regular season, joining junior left tackle Connor Williams, junior cornerback Holton Hill and junior safety DeShon Elliott. But unlike those three players, Dickson will still play in the Texas Bowl against Missouri on Dec. 27.

Dickson’s junior campaign was one for the books. It culminated in him becoming a unanimous first team All-American and winning the Ray Guy Award earlier this month, given to the nation’s best punter.

The Australian native led the nation in punt average at 48.4 yards per attempt. Dickson also had 34 punts of at least 50 yards and 14 punts of at least 60 yards.

He pounded a career-long 76-yarder against TCU on Nov. 4, which was the fifth-longest punt in the nation this year.

“The Texas fans have showed me so much more love than I ever expected,” Dickson said. “To be able to see and hear the appreciation from the fans each week is something that I genuinely cherish. I’m so grateful for what this country has provided me and feel as though Texas has adopted me as one of their own. I’m proud to be a Texan.

“I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead and know that I will forever be a Texas Longhorn. I’d like to thank Coach Herman and the current staff for a great year. Thanks for understanding and supporting me throughout my decision-making process.”

The loss of Dickson next season is a big blow for the Longhorns, but Texas has already found his replacement.

Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who also hails from Australia and the same training academy as Dickson, signed with Texas on Wednesday during the early signing period and plans to enroll early.

Herman said on Wednesday he has a long relationship with Prokick Australia, the punting and kicking academy that Dickson and Bujcevski trained at.

“When those guys (at Prokick) say this guy is the next whatever, you believe them because they’re that good that their job,” Herman said.

Photo Credit: Trenton Daeschner | Daily Texan Staff

The hashtag has been circulating on Twitter for months on end.

#RevolUTion18.

It’s been the rallying mantra for Texas’ much-anticipated 2018 recruiting class — the first full class for head coach Tom Herman, and the first class of players that are essentially ‘his guys.’

The hype surrounding this pivotal class had been building for months. But on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period, pens were finally put to paper, with 19 players signing with the Longhorns. Herman said he expects nine to enroll early for the spring semester.

“We feel like we’ve taken a very, very important first step in our 2018 class,” Herman said in a press conference late Wednesday afternoon. “We signed some unbelievable young men.”

The statistics of this recruiting class are impressive to say the least. ESPN and 247Sports each currently have Texas with the No. 3-ranked class in the nation.

Per the national rankings, the Longhorns signed each of the state’s top-five ranked players — defensive backs B.J. Foster, Anthony Cook, Caden Sterns, Jalen Green and wide receiver Brennan Eagles — and eight of the state’s top 12. Add in defensive tackle Keondre Coburn and running back Keaontay Ingram — who each have committed to the program but are yet to sign — and Texas can claim 10 of the state’s top 15 players.

“To me, I didn’t think we did anything superhuman,” Herman said. “I grew up in a world where that’s supposed to happen.

“I felt like this was ‘Bizarro World’ on signing day last year when all of these kids are going to the Midwest, going other places, going out of state. I was just like, timeout, what’s going on?”

In fact, the aforementioned signing day back in February that Herman referred to didn’t see a single player from the state’s top-10 rankings sign with Texas. Now, Texas boasts seven of the top 10 for 2018.

“We had to make sure that these players stopped leaving the state,” Herman said. “I think it is just unbelievable proof at the power of relationships in recruiting. Parents and kids don’t want to go places where they don’t trust their coaches.”

There’s a lot to like about this class for the burnt orange.

From a host of elite defensive backs to two dynamic quarterbacks to one of the best kickers in the nation to another Australian punter, the Longhorns made a splash nabbing some critical pieces and adding more depth.

A lot will be made of the crop of defensive-back talent on its way to Austin. The six defensive backs who have signed with Texas are all ranked inside the position group’s top 22 in the nation, per 247Sports. And with the Longhorns needing to replace the likes of future NFL draftees DeShon Elliott and Holton Hill next season, as well as P.J. Locke III and Kris Boyd in 2019, the fresh talent in the secondary gives Texas no reason to panic about the state of “DBU.”

Texas also suddenly has a crowded quarterback room with the additions of Cameron Rising and Casey Thompson. Next season, Sam Ehlinger will be a sophomore and Shane Buechele will be a junior, but don't assume either has the starting quarterback job locked up heading into the spring.

Asked on Wednesday if Rising and Thompson can make pushes for the starting job, Herman gave a firm answer.

“Yes, they can,” Herman said. “As long as we have quarterbacks, they will all compete.”

The Longhorns also addressed a big need on special teams by signing Lake Travis product Cameron Dicker, the No. 5-ranked kicker in the nation. The Austin native could be the immediate answer to Texas’ kicking woes over the past few seasons.

And if junior punter and Ray Guy Award winner Michael Dickson happens to decide to leave for the NFL Draft, the Longhorns won’t have to worry. Dickson’s cousin, Ryan Bujcevski, who trained at the same punting and kicking academy as Dickson in Australia, signed with Texas on Wednesday and is expected to enroll early.

Come National Signing Day in February, Herman said he could see the 2018 recruiting class grow to about 27-29 players in total.

National championships aren’t won on signing day, but the foundation for championships are laid on days like Wednesday. Herman has a top-three recruiting class with loads of talent, something he wants Texas to start getting used to having at the end of each recruiting cycle.

“This needs to be the new normal,” Herman said. “And I’m committed to making sure that it is.”

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

Texas won’t have to travel far for its first bowl appearance in three years.

The Longhorns will face Missouri in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 at NRG Stadium in Houston. Kickoff will be at 8 p.m. The matchup was announced on Sunday afternoon.

“I know the bowl staff there runs a first class operation, and the city of Houston will be excited to have the Longhorns in town,” head coach Tom Herman said in a statement. “For our team, it will be an added bonus that so many of their friends and family will have a chance to see them play, and I’m sure our fans will help fill NRG Stadium. We’re hard at work in Austin now getting ready for the game, and look forward to getting to Houston for bowl week in a couple of weeks.”

Texas and Missouri will meet again for the first time since 2011, when the Longhorns lost 17-5 in Columbia, Missouri. The Longhorns hold a 17–6 all-time record over Missouri, a former Big 12 Conference opponent. The Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC along with Texas A&M after the 2011 season.

Texas is going bowling for the first time since 2014, former head coach Charlie Strong’s first season.

The Longhorns’ bowl appearance that year just so happened to be in the Texas Bowl against Arkansas. Texas lost 31-7 in a game that is now infamous in Austin for the Longhorns’ offensive no-show. Texas gained just 59 total yards against the Razorbacks that night and was dominated in possession time. The Longhorns controlled the ball for just 18:50 of game time.

After finishing the regular season 6–6 in Herman’s first year as head coach, the Longhorns will head to Houston in a bit of a deja vu scenario. A loss would give the Longhorns a 6–7 finish in 2017, the same result as Strong’s first season in Austin.

But a win would give Texas its first winning season since 2013 when it finished 8–5, the final year of former head coach Mack Brown’s tenure.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas Tech players stormed the field on Friday night while one Red Raider ran across the turf carrying a bright red flag that pierced through Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

Longhorn players watched on as the Texas Tech sideline celebrated after spoiling Texas’ senior night. Several Longhorn players were seen laying on their backs, some threw their helmets in frustration, but most had the same, stunned look on their face.

Head coach Tom Herman and his team left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for the last time this season and were forced to accept that they let yet another close game slip through their fingertips.

“I’m still stunned,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I’m just trying to get over that hump. It’s just super frustrating. I know how hard we work and everything we’ve done this whole year to achieve something and create a foundation for the future … 6–6 is not what we wanted to be. We should've won a lot more games. It’s very frustrating.”

Texas’ 27-23 loss to Texas Tech marks the Longhorns’ fourth loss by five points or less this season. But as the burnt orange look forward to bowl season, the only numbers that will be seen is their record: 6–6.

Texas Tech’s win over Herman and the Longhorns caught the Longhorn faithful off guard. The Red Raiders’ victory comes less than a week after Texas’ 28-14 victory over then-No. 24 West Virginia.

Herman was emotional following the game and during his press conference with the media on Friday night. Even he couldn’t explain Texas’ inconsistency issues and how his team went from the highs of beating a ranked team on the road and earning bowl eligibility to losing to a previously 5–6 team at home.

“I don’t know,” Herman said. “They're kids … But I don’t have an answer for you.”

Amongst the last few players to leave the stadium was junior linebacker Malik Jefferson, who has yet to announce whether he will return for his senior season or opt to enter the 2018 Draft. But he made sure to do one thing before leaving the field.

With a handful of people remaining in the stadium, Jefferson stopped and kissed the white Longhorn logo on the burnt orange carpet of the tunnel. Then, Jefferson continued up the tunnel and left Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium for what many believe was the last time.

“It's gonna be a hard decision because I look in the locker room, I look at those guys to the left and right of me and I just smile because I love the things that we’ve been through,” Jefferson said. “It’s been a tough past three years and guys understand the love that I have for them … I just didn't want to take any regrets or miss any opportunities that I have for this stadium and the love of these fans.”

Although Texas won’t play in Austin until next season, the Longhorns still have one game remaining. Herman admitted it was a bit tougher to reflect on the improvements within the program after the stunning loss.

But he did find a silver lining.

“The silver lining in all of this is that it’s not the last time these seniors will put on the burnt orange and white,” Herman said. “We have an opportunity to go play in a bowl game for the first time in three years here. We are dead set in making it our mission in life to make sure that these seniors go out with a positive experience, with a win in the bowl game, wherever that may be.”

Photo Credit: Gabriel Lopez | Daily Texan Staff

It was a collapse — a catastrophic, epic collapse.

Yet, in a way, it was typical of a program that’s spent years wandering in no man’s land.

Friday night was primarily supposed to be about the seniors, who played their final game under the lights of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But above all else, it was supposed to be about continued progress.

The footprint on this game in the end was one of disaster, though. The Longhorns suffered a 27-23 defeat to Texas Tech after squandering a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.

“There's no words for it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “To come up short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game.”

Texas turned the ball over four times in the second half and never could put the Red Raiders away, despite many opportunities to do so.

The Longhorns led 23-13 early in the fourth quarter after junior kicker Joshua Rowland booted a 40-yard field goal.

And then it all went south.

Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek marched the Red Raiders down the field in six plays for a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession. Shimonek fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Vasher, who then flashed the Horns sign down which drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Texas Tech closed the deficit to 23-20 and was firmly back in the game.

But with just over two minutes to play, Texas had a chance to put the game away for good.

Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger had led the Longhorns on a promising drive that was moving well into Texas Tech territory.

Ehlinger has been an unpredictable player all season long. He’ll make the head-turning impressive play one moment and then the head-scratching play at the next.

With the Longhorns ready to shut the door on Texas Tech, Ehlinger made Texas fans scratch their heads. On third-and-2 at Texas Tech’s 37-yard line, Texas elected to throw the ball, only for Ehlinger to make a catastrophic error. His pass was intercepted by Texas Tech defensive back Justus Parker, who returned it 55 yards all the way to Texas’ 14-yard line.

“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let down the team again, it's awful.”                           

Moments later, Shimonek lofted a touchdown pass to Cameron Batson to give the Red Raiders a 27-23 lead with 1:47 to play.

On the ensuing drive, Ehlinger once again marched Texas down the field and into Red Raider territory. Ehlinger had his chance to redeem himself and once again learn from his mistakes.

But with under a minute to play, he made another costly mistake. Ehlinger was intercepted a second time, this time by Texas Tech defensive back Douglass Coleman III, effectively ending the Longhorns’ hopes.

Texas players walked off the field with dejected looks on their faces. Senior wide receiver Armanti Foreman was one of the last players to leave the field. He headed up the tunnel with tears in his eyes, knowing this was his last game at home.

Head coach Tom Herman sat at the podium with a stunned look on his face.

“Losing that way hurts,” Herman said.

The talk from Herman and the Longhorns during the week had been of progress. The Longhorns entered their bout with Texas Tech as 7.5-point favorites riding a wave of momentum from a road victory last week over then-No. 24 West Virginia. Texas had already clinched bowl eligibility. It had a chance to clinch a winning season against Texas Tech, too.

The Longhorns now have plenty of time to reflect on how it all collapsed on Friday night.

“We certainly felt like we had a lot of momentum — and we still will once the sting of this wears off,” Herman said. “We kept fighting. We’ll keep fighting throughout the bowl preparation.”