AUSTIN — Tom Herman hasn’t meditated much on what happened to the Longhorns in Lawrence, Kan., on Nov. 19, 2016. To Texas’ coach, it’s irrelevant.
“I feel like that program that went there, I feel like that was 50 years ago,” Herman said Monday. “We’re so far past that point in our program.”
But Herman didn’t live it. In fact, he benefited from Texas’ implosion.
Coach Charlie Strong was fired following that 24-21 loss to lowly Kansas. Herman left Houston and inked a lucrative contract with Texas. He forged a dynamic relationship with another relative newbie, athletics director Chris Del Conte, and helped grow Texas into a Big 12 contender for the first time since Mack Brown’s reign ended in 2013.
Herman won’t dissuade players from using that rock-bottom moment as fuel Saturday when 15th-ranked Texas (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) faces Kansas (3-8, 1-7) at Kansas Memorial Stadium.
“Whatever gets a guy to motivate himself to the fullest to come to work to prepare and give his all for his teammates each and every day, I don’t care if it’s reading a quote book or thinking about previous games or a game you won or lost in high school, if it helps get you excited about practice then great,” Her-man said.
Given what’s at stake — a berth in the Big 12 championship game — Texas would have plenty of motivation even without that added revenge factor.
Kansas shouldn’t lack for motivation, either.
Friday will mark David Beaty’s final game as the Jayhawks’ coach. At the conclusion of this season, Les Miles will become the new coach and new face of Kansas football.
Dismal as his tenure was, Beaty’s players would prefer to send him off on a high note by plunging another knife into the heart of the Longhorns.
“Our seniors want to be part of beating Texas twice on our home field during their time here,” Beaty said Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference.
No one is yet sure how sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s injured shoulder will respond once he attempts to throw during Tuesday’s practice. Sunday’s MRI revealed he re-aggravated the AC joint sprain in his right (throwing) shoulder.
It would be a strange twist of fate should Ehlinger not be on the field to close out the Long-horns’ best regular season in years. That would grant junior Shane Buechele, the starter during that defeat to Kansas, a shot at redemption.
Herman didn’t overtax Buechele once he replaced Ehlinger to open to second half against 16th-ranked Iowa State. The score and game flow dictated Texas keep grinding on the ground and that’s exactly what it did.
Texas attempted 21 runs in the second half against 10 passes. Only three of Buechele’s 10 completions went for more than eight yards.
His longest, a 27-yard touch-down toss, was largely the product of receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey tossing a defender aside and near the Iowa State 15-yard line and hurdling a de-fender before plunging into the end zone.
Texas could adopt a similar approach against the Jayhawks.
Kansas has allowed 469 rushing yards with eight touchdowns over the last two weeks and it is tied for 77th nationally in rushing defense. Texas running backs Tre Watson and Keaontay Ingram last Saturday combined for 150 yards on 26 carries against a vastly superior defense.
“I think Tre has probably had his best three games since he’s been here,” Herman said. “He’s running harder in terms of breaking arm tackles and bouncing off people and not letting the first guy bring him down. Obviously Keaontay still has some work to do with seeing some things, but when he does and he explodes through the hole, he’s pretty talented.”
But Texas won’t feel compelled to protect or restrict Buechele, who started 12 games as a true freshman and seven as a sophomore.
Herman and the Longhorns have all the faith in the world in their backup quarterback. All season they have commended his self-less work ethic, his dedication, the pride he takes in preparing for every opponent.
“We all know what happened,” Buechele said Saturday, referring to the loss in Lawrence.
What happened to this program prior to his hiring may not matter to Herman. But for Buechele and those who were there two years ago, the chance to atone would be a cathartic end to a regular season in which Texas finally felt like Texas again.