AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Texas Longhorns are scheduled to host Baylor on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. as long as COVID-19 doesn’t halt the game. The Bears football program has been battling an outbreak of COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, forcing the school to postpone last Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State.
Baylor returned to football practice on Sunday and, as of now, Texas head coach Tom Herman expects the game to be a go on Saturday at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium.
The Longhorns had a lot to figure out during its open week on the schedule. The Longhorns have dropped two straight games including a quadruple overtime loss in the Cotton Bowl to OU. The school song “The Eyes of Texas” and its presence at UT football games has been a constant topic among fans and has created conversation within the team.
At home games, the song has been played before and after games, but players haven’t been required to acknowledge the song or stand in a group setting to acknowledge the fans. There have been further conversations throughout the program over the last week. Tom Herman says the team has been encouraged to remain on the field after games, but will not be required to do so.
Herman met with the media on Monday.
“Well-timed bye week to have three straight games come down to the final possession. The last one being a four overtime game in 90 degree heat. That was a grueling stretch for our guys. The bye week came at an opportune time. Did not start introducing Baylor until Friday. Tuesday and Thursday was just playing football and which we need and we need it a ton and we need it versus the speed that our No. 1 and No. 2 defense and our No. 1 and No. 2 offense can provide the other side of the ball. Really good week. Gave the guys Wednesday off and Saturday off and obviously Monday is their normal day off. So three of the last five days off to recover, recuperate and heal…that has been very productive.”
- Chris Brown – shoulder injury
- Brenden Schooler – contusion on right thigh
- Jake Smith – practiced a “couple of times” last week
- Caden Sterns – practiced on Sunday
- Tyler Owens – practiced on Sunday
- Reese Leitao – practiced on Sunday
- Brayden Liebrock – planning to be back for Tuesday practice after shoulder injury
- Jordan Whittington – hip flexor injury (out several weeks)
“I do know they started practice yesterday. Obviously when you have a quarterback as seasoned and high-performing as Charlie Brewer…you’re going to have a chance to score points. Defensively, I can’t say enough about Terrel Bernard. He has gone on and had an unbelievable career at Baylor. He is a guy that is all over the field and they do a good job, lining him up in different places in order to exploit and utilize his talents.”
On “The Eyes of Texas” and conversations with administration
“Our coaches, not just in football but in every sport, are completely aligned. We’ve been communicating all summer in terms of the expectations of what postgame should look like. We have had very meaningful conversations with our team, encouraging them to participate but also being sensitive to the plight, to the feelings, to the very individual circumstances that all of these young men are going through. We had our latest team meeting last week and Chris Del Conte did attend. I thought he did a great job not only talking to our guys about the expectations and importance of our fans who our players truly do love and love playing for and a huge reason why they came to the University of Texas. We had a great team meeting. The result of that meeting. The general pulse of the team is that we’re in as a good a place as we’ve ever been. I couldn’t be prouder of our team staying unified. That doesn’t mean everyone agrees. There has been a ton of open, honest and mature conversation. We’re a very divided country and our locker room is exactly the opposite. Our locker room respects and admires guys that speak their mind. Every one is listened to and there are no grudges held. I respect the hell out of our team and our leader for fostering that environment of inclusivity as well as understanding for true compassion for somebody else on our team on differing views should they have them. It’s been a long couple weeks, but we’ve continued to make dramatic improvements over the bye week. With fingers crossed that Baylor is able to field a team this Saturday, all indications given to me by Baylor and our administration is that barring anything unforeseen between now and Saturday is that game will be played. I know our guys are extremely excited to get back on the field and play some football.”
On preparing for Baylor and COVID-19 challenges
“As the fall turns into winter, I think you’re going to see more and more of this. I don’t think this caught anybody by surprise. We knew this was definitely a pitfall. We’ve got graduate assistants and secretaries scouring the Baylor media sites…especially the message boards and fan boards. You’ve got to disseminate what’s real and what’s not real. Right now, our assumption is that Baylor will be here. How many players they’ll have active for the game, I’m not quite sure. As far as the big picture, I don’t think there’s anybody that is surprised by this, but we have to diligent so far. We’ve been really good so far but that doesn’t mean that we’re immune.”
On facing friend/Baylor head coach Dave Aranda
“The information I’ve heard is that Dave is not heavily involved in the day-to-day game planning on both sides of the ball. Larry Fedora is their offensive coordinator and Larry was here with us for a year and was awesome, provided a ton of value to our program. The way I’m hearing it and Dave is doing it right as a first-year head coach there’s going to be a thousand and one things pulling you away from the X’s and O’s. I know he’s got a ton of faith in coach roberts. Roberts was a mentor of his growing up in the profession and he’s got a ton of faith in Larry (Fedora). We don’t talked a whole lot of football per say in the last few years. It’s been a lot of strategy, leadership and team building. Dave has called with questions, having done this for now six or seven years, Dave in his first-year. He’s doing an unbelievable job. He’s doing a good job of trusting his coordinators and leading his team.”
Is it your understanding that team will stay on field for “The Eyes of Texas”?
“I don’t have an understanding. The only understanding I have is that, we, as coaches, have encouraged them to appreciate and respect our fans and that has been echoed by Chris Del Conte as late as last week.”
How is the leadership council holding the team accountable?
“The effort level is phenomenal and that is one thing…you know, you lose a couple games and you worry about guys “packing it in’. I think the guys realize we’ve got six games left and we’ve got all the teams ahead of us in the standings…in front of us. We just have to continue on this trajectory. There is not doubt on my mind that everyone in that locker room sees tangible improvement. I think these guys are continuing to see the improvements that they are making. The big one, the self-inflicted wounds, watching football across the country…there’s a lot of teams struggling with that. In the past two games that we’ve lost, our opponent has had more penalties than we have. It just feels like the penalties come at the worst times than our opponents do but the number of penalties we’ve been less than our opponent two weeks in a row. We still have a very realistic opportunity to have a great season. These guys understand that and they have not fractured in the least.”
On bye week work
“Very much. Our guys had a lot of fun. We got a lot of work in a short amount of tine. I thought the production of reps was at an all-time high. We needed to heal too. That Oklahoma game, a five-hour game…we had four players with over and 800 player load output and a normal game is in the high 500s or low 600s. We played a game and a half or almost two games. I think part of it, was mentally and the gradual improvement on both sides of the ball. These guys were tired and beat up pretty good…this week served us well.”
On positive aspects of team
“I like the improvement. To hold Oklahoma to 5-of-16 on third down, that is something that we really like. I think our offenses ability in two minutes is something we really like along with the individual play of our quarterback. We’ve got to run the ball better. I’m not exempting that part of the offense, but I do think there are a ton of bright spots that we can definitely build on.”
How do you balance feelings of the team and the fanbase on “The Eyes of Texas”?
“Finding a happy medium. Nobody has mandated our players do anything. We have educated and encouraged them and we have shown them the benefits. I think mandate is a very strong word. That’s never been a word that’s been used to us coaches from the administration nor coaches to players. It’s a continual education and continual showing and putting in tangible examples on why recognizing our fans independent of your feelings toward the song is important to do. Not just the fans but our great university…and to the people that have paid their hard earned money to come see us and support us. This is so individual…if you line 10 guys up in the locker room you might get nine of 10 different opinions on what we should do, what the song means, what the fans mean, what the university means. Just handling that encouragement with the utmost sensitivity is topic No. 1 for us.”
How will the team respect the fanbase?
“We’ve had conversations throughout the summer with Chris Del Conte…met with our team in June. His wish is that they stand out there…not to sing the song, but to thank the fans. If that is what our guys choose to do, then we would be very proud of them, but we’re also very sensitive to those that feel a different way.”
How rare is it to have strong friendship with another head coach (Dave Aranda)?
“I don’t think it’s that rare. David Beatty was in this league and David Beatty is a close friend of mine that will be until the day one of us passes from this earth. I consider Dave the same way. I think it’s cool that 20% of the head coaches in the Big 12 are Cal Lutheran graduates.”
Where did the team improve during the bye week?
“Run game both sides of the ball. We made an emphasis. It was run the ball and stop the ball and both sides got better because of it.”
On the mentality of Jordan Whittington after another injury
“It’s some freak deals too, right. This isn’t a pulled hamstring. Something we could’ve foreseen. I don’t want to speak too much for Jordan that’s not my place. I do know as a guy that’s had 15 knee surgeries and four shoulder surgeries that this is a violent game and it takes a toll on your body, but none of these injuries are even close to career ending. He was down in the dumps when he got the news. You got to bounce back, you’ve got to do the rehab. This guy came back from a knee scope in two and a half weeks to, I think, be the leading receiver against Oklahoma. For him, it is discouraging but he’s got a lot of football ahead of him.”