Longhorns make it to game day for unique, historic football season during pandemic

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Just getting to game day in 2020 is a remarkable achievement for the Texas Longhorns.

The Longhorns and most of the other teams in the Big 12 will start the 2020 season on Saturday while the Big Ten, Pac-12 and three other conferences are sitting at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Undoubtedly, the Texas football team has worked hard on the practice field during the offseason, but they’ve worked just as hard off of it, avoiding an outbreak that could have shut down the whole operation before it started.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the steps they have taken to get us to this point,” Longhorns head coach Tom Herman said on Monday during his Zoom press conference.

The Longhorns open the season at home at Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday against UTEP at 7 p.m. with an expected 18,000 fans in the stands. The game day festivities will be unique, but also historic for Longhorns players, staff and fans in attendance.

UT Athletics has attempted to take every precaution possible heading into the season opener with the Miners. The Longhorns have been tested for COVID-19 three times this week, which will be a weekly requirement from the Big 12 Conference throughout the season.

UT is going a step further even testing the approximately 3,000 students that paid for a “Big Ticket” package to watch the Longhorns play football in-person. On the sidelines and in the stands, everyone is supposed to be socially distanced appropriately.

This is the start of an expected promising season for Herman and the Longhorns with Sam Ehlinger back at quarterback and an impressive, but young group of playmakers surrounding him. Herman completely revamped his coaching staff after the disappointing 8-5 season a year ago. New offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich comes from Ohio State with plans to pick up the pace and improve an already top 20 offense from 2019.

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash replaces Todd Orlando after an injury-plagued and rough 2019 season for the Longhorns’ defense. Ash has several veteran leaders to call upon for improvement in 2020, like Joseph Ossai, Caden Sterns and Keondre Coburn.

“I feel great about our starting quarterback, I feel great about our veteran offensive linemen … the guys that have a lot of snaps under their belt. I feel great about the defensive front and the depth we have on the interior of the defensive line,” Herman said when assessing the pros and cons of his current team. “We lost our two leading receivers by a wide margin. The depth and consistency at linebacker has been a topic all offseason. Things I’m worried about is making it through the dang season. We’ve got to sustain this through a whole season … it’s certainly difficult but not impossible.”

The Longhorns will be battling the Big 12 and the concern that a slip up against COVID-19 could knock the season off the rails. But the Longhorns are just happy to have the chance to play.

On Monday, Herman said the team will wear a patch on its jersey in a unified stance against racial inequality. The Big 12 Conference is providing each team with a helmet sticker as a statement against racism.

A UT Athletics spokesperson told KXAN on Friday that “The Eyes of Texas” school song will be played before and after Saturday’s season opener.

The school song has been a topic of discussion over the summer with its origins connected to the Confederacy and minstrel shows from the 1900s. In a list of requests to address historic racism on the UT campus, Longhorns student-athletes called on university leaders in June to get rid of the school spirit song and write a new song — which athletes would not be required to sing.

In July, UT leaders announced the university would keep “The Eyes of Texas” as a school song, but would make other changes around campus to “promote diversity, inclusion and equity and to more fully support Black students on campus.”

The season opener against UTEP will be the Longhorns’ sixth overall meeting against the Miners. The Longhorns have won all five of the previous meetings with UTEP. Texas won the last match-up against the Miners 41-7 in 2016.

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