LANDOVER, Md. (AP) — A year ago, Texas didn’t really know what to expect before playing its first game under coach Tom Herman.
“There was an incredible amount of instability when we got here,” Herman recalled. “You’re talking about three head coaches in four years, four athletic directors in 4 ½ years and two presidents.”READ MORE: Governor Abbott Announces End To Federal Pandemic-Related Unemployment Benefits In Texas
In their debut under Herman, the Longhorns were upset by Maryland 51-41. Texas came in ranked No. 23 and never got back in the Top 25.
In the rematch Saturday, the Terrapins will be the ones coping with radical changes.
Head coach DJ Durkin is on administrative leave following the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair, who collapsed on the field May 29 and died on June 13 of heatstroke. The circumstances surrounding the medical treatment administered to McNair on the scene, as well as charges of bullying by the coaching staff, are under investigation by two separate commissions.
Matt Canada will serve as interim coach and offensive coordinator in the opener of a season dedicated to McNair.
“Obviously it’s a challenging situation, but ultimately it’s still about Jordan,” said Canada, who will make his head coaching debut. “That’s why we’re here and all of these things have occurred.”
No. 23 Texas, on the other hand, enters with an entirely different mindset than a year ago.
“We know what we are doing now,” sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “Everything was new to us. We were out there getting our feet wet, but we are more comfortable. We’ve got an idea of who we are playing with, knowing the plays and the coaching staff.”
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There’s no telling how the Terrapins will react to the loss of McNair and with Canada as their leader after a very unusual training camp. It’s been tough for Canada, too.
“When someone’s having a tough day we try to help each other out,” said Canada, in his first year at Maryland after serving as offensive coordinator at LSU.
“Everything that they’ve dealt with, they’ve done the best job they could possibly do,” he noted. “I think we’re as ready as we could be given the situation that we’re in. I feel very good about that.”
Ehlinger won the starter’s job over junior Shane Buechele. Ehlinger last year became the first Texas QB to lead the team in yards passing and rushing since Colt McCoy in 2008, but his freshman season was marred by a concussion and a series of late turnovers that figured prominently in three losses.
“To be named the guy means they have confidence in me and how I play the game,” Ehlinger said.
This summer, Tyrrell Pigrome and Kasim Hill dueled for the Maryland starting job. Canada would not reveal this week which one will start Saturday.
Maryland senior Ty Johnson probably can’t wait to get started. In his three previous season openers, Johnson had a rushing touchdown in each game and averaged 9.4 yards per carry. Against Texas last year, he ran for 132 yards on just 12 carries and scored on a 40-yard sprint to anchor a rushing attack that amassed 263 yards. He’s been pretty good over the rest of the season, too. For his career, Johnson averages 7.5 yards per attempt.
The Longhorns were riddled with injuries at linebacker in training camp, and starter Anthony Wheeler will sit out the first half against Maryland because of a targeting penalty in the 2017 Texas Bowl. Several of last season’s top playmakers are gone, but Texas still starts eight seniors on defense, including three across the front line. The ability of senior rush ends Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu to squeeze Maryland’s quarterback could be pivotal.
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Herman understands how Texas fans could look at last year’s record and deem the program to be mediocre. He only asks that they judge him on what transpires this season.
“Do I feel confident in the fact that we’ve improved and developed our kids, our players, our coaches?” he said. “Do the people in that building feel confident that we have developed? Absolutely.”
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