Teams have to flush difficult losses (looking at you, Oklahoma State and TCU) and bounce back for the next game. Coaches in those situations like to preach about not letting a team “beat you twice.”
Texas, after its scintillating breakthrough victory over Notre Dame in the season opener, faced a unique challenge: Don’t let a team that you beat defeat you in the next game.
The double-overtime defeat of the Irish left the Longhorns physically beat up. Mentally, a young UT team got its first taste of being Big Men On Campus. As coach Charlie Strong put it, “Probably a lot of you guys aren’t missing class this week because you enjoy sitting in the classroom now, because everybody’s looking at you saying how great you did.”
Add that to the fact the Texas vaulted into the Associated Press poll at No. 11 this week, and there were plenty of reasons to allow Week Two opponent UTEP to roll into Austin thinking it could challenge and maybe upset the Longhorns. UT also had the disadvantage of having one less day to prepare after beating Notre Dame last Sunday.
In another example of the progress in Strong’s programs, Texas handled its business Saturday night. The Longhorns brushed aside the Miners the way a ranked team should, going to 2-0 for the first time since 2012 with a 41-7 victory.
“There’s a lot of teams that are successful but there’s very few teams that know how to handle success,” Strong said in noting his concern for Game Two. “I kind of put it on the seniors. I had a meeting in here on Thursday with the seniors, and I said, hey, listen, look, we have to get the young guys’ attention.”
Sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said the young Horns got the message, but it wasn’t necessary.
“We were 5-7 last year,” Jefferson said. “We can’t be satisfied with anything.”
Strong’s meeting with his seniors could have been held in a closet. There are only 11 seniors on the two-deep roster that is littered with freshmen and sophomores. Against UTEP, junior running back D’Onta Foreman was held out as a precaution because of being banged up by the Irish. UT was also without three starting offensive linemen. For most of the game, the Longhorns were missing seven starters.
In Strong’s first two seasons, an injury to a starter could be devastating — the backup was unable to produce. Now, it appears that the Longhorns have depth.
“I told our guys that, you know, we’re in a position now where some of you guys been in the program and it’s time for you to step up and help us and help this program,” Strong said. “What I was preaching to our coaches is that we need to find 22 players on offense and 22 players on defense. We’re just beginning to build it where we can get two-deep where if a guy does have an injury, you feel very comfortable with the next guy moving in.”
Through two games, the one player making the biggest difference is freshman quarterback Shane Buechele. UTEP had no answer for Buechele, who was 22 of 27 for 244 yards and four touchdowns. He also had 34 yards rushing.
“I felt good out there,” Buechele said. “We started slow but I feel like we finished strong … I like throwing the ball to all these guys.”
One of the guys who enjoyed catching Buechele’s passes was last year’s quarterback in 10 games. Sophomore Jerrod Heard, who moved to wide receiver less than a month ago, celebrated his 21st birthday with his first two career touchdown passes. Heard finished with six catches for 46 yards.
Texas closes out non-conference play at Cal Saturday. Strong faces another challenge, taking his young team on the road to face another Power Five team which is coming off a 45-40 loss at San Diego State.
“We’re going to have to play much better than what we played tonight,” he said. “We just need to get ready, get our injured guys back. You’ve gotta play where you’re playing against yourself and you’re not playing against an opponent … see if you can’t be better than you were last week.”