Sophomore pitcher Blair Henley delivers a pitch during Texas’ game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Feb. 18. Henley kept the Tigers off the board for six innings during Texas’ 11-1  victory on Sunday afternoon. 

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Texas seems to have found its stride entering conference play. After a five-game losing streak to end the nonconference season, the Longhorns are back on track.

Texas (11–9) took the opening game of the series against Kansas on Friday, and the Longhorns won again on Saturday, this time by a score of 4-0.

The story of the game was sophomore starting pitcher Blair Henley, who threw seven complete innings, allowing just five hits and zero runs. Henley came into the day with a 2–1 record in four appearances and sported a 2.35 ERA. Saturday’s numbers will further his impressive statistics for the year.

One of Henley’s more impressive traits relative to his fellow Texas pitchers is his command of the fastball. His ability to place the ball down in the zone this year has helped him out immensely, especially against an early-season schedule that was loaded with fastball hitters.

Texas head coach David Pierce even went as far as to say that Henley’s fastball command was “outstanding.”

“We just did our job all around (today),” Henley said. “(I) commanded the fastball again, like I try to do every week. Then I mixed my other two, three pitches in when I had to. Other than that, all we had to do is go out there and compete like we do every time.”

Another revelation from the pitching staff Saturday was the long-awaited return of a solid pitching performance from junior closer Beau Ridgeway.

Ridgeway, who has struggled on the mound recently no matter the situation, finally showed Texas fans a glimpse of the dominant reliever he had proven himself to be over the last two years.

Ridgeway came into a tough situation with zero outs in the eighth inning, with men on first and second base. His performance was nothing short of fantastic, as he made quick work of the eighth and was lights-out in the ninth. In total, Ridgeway threw for two complete innings and allowed zero runs and only one hit.

“For him to come in and get the job done was as big for him as it was for the team,” Pierce said. “Just another confidence booster. When I went to the mound, I started saying and rattling a bunch of stuff to him, then I finally just looked at him and said, ‘Believe in yourself and compete.’ And that’s what he did.”

Offensively, Texas had an average day at the plate. The team only scored four runs on seven hits and surprisingly struggled to put good swings on the ball. The Longhorns were able to do more than enough, however, as the four runs comfortably gave Texas the win.

Junior infielder Kody Clemens, though, continued to play out of his mind. He went 2-4 at the plate and had two RBIs. His shining moment of the game was his solo home run in the bottom of the first inning. Clemens showed that he has plenty of power, as he made it a team-leading five home runs on the season.

“(Kody’s) not only a leader, he’s just fun,” Pierce said. “He plays the game with energy. He plays the game with passion. And when he’s swinging it well, he’s as good as anybody.”

Texas will play its final game of the Kansas series on Sunday, looking for a sweep. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Joyner Holmes was frustrated.

The sophomore forward spent nearly half the season serving a semester-long suspension in the fall. When she returned, she was relegated to the bench despite starting in all but two games last season. Through five games this year, she averaged just 7.4 minutes.

And, to top it off, No. 7 Texas lost to unranked TCU on Wednesday night. Holmes played 10 minutes and turned the ball over three times.

“I think if anybody was in my position, at this point, I’d think you’d have some frustration,” Holmes said. “Just waking up knowing that I’m as good as the players that are playing and I just want to be able to contribute in any way I can.”

Prior to the Longhorns’ 79-62 win over Kansas at the Frank Erwin Center on Saturday, head coach Karen Aston made sure to go over film with her team and encouraged the players to sharpen their attention to detail. Holmes took the advice to heart. Aston noticed.

“She kind of had a look like ‘I know I’ve got to start valuing my reps so that I can get myself back in game mode,” Aston said. “And I thought that she had her best practice (Friday).”

Aston rewarded Holmes’ work ethic with more opportunities in Texas’ victory over Kansas on Saturday.

Senior forward Audrey-Ann Caron-Goudreau was held out of the game with a quad contusion suffered against the Horned Frogs. Sophomore guard Alecia Sutton took Caron-Goudreau’s place in the starting lineup, but Holmes and senior guard Ariel Atkins took most of the minutes at power forward.

Holmes seemed uncomfortable at first. She finished the first half with two points on 1-of-5 shooting, two rebounds and two turnovers. The Longhorns were off to a slow start again, trailing 31-29.

Atkins was frustrated, too. She had four steals and two blocks by halftime, but Texas still couldn’t overtake the lead from the Jayhawks. She wasn’t sure what else she could do, so she consulted with her team.

“I’m no good to my team when I’m overhyped or trying to do too much,” Atkins said. “So, I talked to my coaches, even some of my teammates, and they just told me to calm down and play. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”

Atkins racked up 10 points and four rebounds in the third quarter, sparking a 16-4 run that gave Texas a nine-point lead. Holmes followed Atkins’ example.

The sophomore started crashing the boards and found chemistry sharing the paint with junior center Jatarie White. Holmes grabbed six offensive rebounds and dished out two assists on post feeds to White.

“(Holmes is) such a difficult matchup, not only for us but for a lot of teams in the country,” Kansas head coach Brandon Schneider said. “There’s very few players that have her size, strength and athleticism. And she dominated the glass in the second half.”

Atkins finished the game with 22 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three blocks and a career-high six steals. Holmes finished with season-highs of 23 minutes, 11 points, nine rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block.

The Longhorns (14-2, 5-1 Big 12) will play host to No. 1 UConn (15-0, 5-0 American) on Monday at 6 p.m. Atkins knows it will take similar performances from her team to pull out the win.

“They’re a very good basketball team, we’re a good basketball team,” Atkins said. “These are the games that you want to come to Texas to play. But, when the ball tips, it’s time to play basketball.”

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Texas hosted No. 11 Kansas on Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center for the Big 12 opener, but the Jayhawks’ blistering 17 threes overpowered the Longhorns, 92-86, in front of a crowd of 15,802. Here are four thoughts from Friday night’s game:

Mo Bamba takes over

All that Kansas head coach Bill Self could do was scratch his head in bewilderment.

As he briefly reflected on the shot-blocking exhibition that Texas freshman forward Mo Bamba displayed on Friday night, Self sat at the podium incredulously during his postgame press conference.

“The guy could block the sun,” Self said of Bamba.

Bamba finished the night with a career-high 22 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks, but it wasn’t enough to lift Texas to a what would’ve been a mammoth home upset.

It must’ve felt like deja vu all over again for Self, who saw his Jayhawks come into Austin last season and topple the Longhorns 77-67 despite a huge effort from another Texas freshman big man, Jarrett Allen, who now plays in the NBA for the Brooklyn Nets.

Bamba joined elite company with his block party on Friday night, setting the program's freshman single-game record for blocks.

Former Texas bigs Tristan Thompson and Chris Mihm previously held that record with seven blocks in a game (Thompson did it once, Mihm twice). Bamba was one block shy from tying the school record for most in a game. Cam Ridley holds that record with nine.

Bamba got off to a roaring start with multiple big dunks and rejections. He scored 11 of Texas’ first 13 points, and Kansas knew right away what it was dealing with for the rest of the night. Bamba, however, cooled down in the second half with only six points.

Bamba’s effort was his most impressive to date at Texas, but he knew after the game that the Longhorns still hadn’t made the statement that they desired.

“There’s no such thing as a statement game if you lose,” Bamba said. “But there’s definitely hope out of this.”

Kansas overwhelms Longhorns from beyond the arc

There were times on Friday night when the Longhorns may have felt like they were playing against the Golden State Warriors. But you could make the argument that the Kansas Jayhawks are already college basketball’s version of the NBA’s 3-point shooting powerhouse.

Just ask Texas freshman point guard Matt Coleman.

“It’s like playing the Warriors almost,” Coleman said after the game. “That’s what it looked like.”

The pure shooting talent of Kansas’ guards was on full display. The trio of Devonte’ Graham, Lagerald Vick and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk led the way for the Jayhawks, combining for 64 points on 16-30 shooting from beyond the arc.

Self said afterward that he told his team before the game it needed to shoot 35 threes. The Jayhawks finished the night 17-35 from beyond the arc. It was ultimately the difference in the game, as the Longhorns just couldn’t keep pace in the second half with Kansas’ hot shooting. Texas was just 7-25 from the 3-point line.

“It definitely shifted the energy of the game,” Bamba said.

Kansas’ shooting proves gap between Texas

The Jayhawks have always been the Big 12’s perennial authority in the conference. Kansas has won 17 regular season conference titles since the Big 12’s inception in 1997. Kansas has won outright or shared every Big 12 regular season crown since 2005.

It’s a program that Texas has at times flirted with, but has never really been able to come close to matching.

Head coach Shaka Smart wasn’t necessarily hired away from Virginia Commonwealth to make Texas into Kansas. The Longhorns aren’t known historically for their basketball prominence. But Smart does know Texas is capable of beating a team like the Jayhawks on any given night.

Of course, year in and year out, the Jayhawks produce tremendous 3-point shooting — stuff that has been a foreign concept around the 40 Acres for a long time. J’Covan Brown and A.J. Abrams — two of Texas’ most recent and successful sharpshooters — have long been gone, and not having consistent shooting that those two players provided has likely held Texas back the past few seasons.

But Kansas seemingly possesses players like those every season. Texas just doesn’t.

Asked after the game how big the gap between Texas and Kansas is right now, Smart admitted that 3-point shooting was the outlier in all of this.

“Well, tonight (the gap) was six points,” Smart said. “Obviously they’re one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the country. Tonight was an extreme for them, but they make shots at a high level. It’s probably the biggest difference.”

Andrew Jones returns, but is limited

Sophomore guard Andrew Jones had missed Texas’ last four games with a wrist injury entering Friday night’s bout with Kansas. Smart said on Thursday that Jones was not going to start but that he could still possibly play.

Jones was a full-participant in pregame warmups on Friday night and didn’t appear to be bothered by his wrist when shooting the ball.

But he logged only nine minutes against Kansas, chipping in five points on 1-3 shooting. Jones will have to get back to full strength soon as the Longhorns are beginning their Big 12 schedule. It’s a conference that night in and night out is arguably the most demanding in the country.

Photo Credit: Angela Wang | Daily Texan Staff

Freshman forward Mo Bamba delivered a series of dunks and alley-oops in front of a frenzied home crowd on Friday night at the Frank Erwin Center, each seemingly more difficult than the last.

But every bucket in the paint on one end turned into a 3-pointer on the other, as the Longhorns’ league-leading three-point defense was unable to stymie a deluge of Jayhawk threes.

Three Kansas players recorded at least five triples as the long-range attack from the 13-time defending Big 12 champions proved too much for Texas’ defense to handle, as the Longhorns fell 92-86 at home in the first conference game of the season.

“They had probably one of the best three point exhibitions I’ve ever seen in my life,” Bamba said. “They caught fire, and it's hard to defend. Even when you have a hand up. Even when you close out as hard as you do.”

After Texas held Alabama to 20 percent shooting from behind the arc last week, No. 11 Kansas opened the contest with a trio of quick threes and remained dialed in from deep all game, connecting on 17 of its 35 attempts. The Jayhawks’ win earned the program its 27th straight conference-opening victory.

Bamba shined in his first-career Big 12 matchup, keeping the Longhorns within striking distance as Kansas connected on nearly twice as many shots from beyond the 3-point line. The freshman forward recorded a career-high 22 points and 15 rebounds to go along with eight blocks in the loss, cementing himself as perhaps the league’s top defensive talent.

In the face of the imposing 280-pound, 7-foot frame of Kansas center Udoku Azubuike, Bamba provided Texas eleven of the team’s first 13 points on five shots at the rim, including an and-one slam to put the Longhorns ahead by one.

On the other end, Bamba swatted away shot after shot, finishing one block shy of the school record.

“He played really well,” head coach Shaka Smart said. “We ask him to do so much. But his defense in the first half around the basket was terrific. He blocked shots all night long. He rebounded all night long. He got offensive rebounds. I think he’s making progress.”

Down 25-17 in the first half, sophomore guard Matt Coleman found an open look in the corner to cut the lead to five. Moments later, Bamba drained a wide-open three to put Texas within a single possession.

Bamba managed another block on the other end, and sophomore guard Andrew Jones  — who had missed Texas’ last four games with a fractured wrist — tied the game with a pair of free throws.

“Everybody has to do their role,” junior guard Kerwin Roach II said. “Mo did an excellent job today defending inside and protecting the rim and the paint. All our guards need to do a better job closing out on the defensive end.”

Texas entered the locker room down 37-34, propelled by Bamba’s 16 points and eight rebounds.

Though the presence inside was as dominant as it has been all season, Texas struggled defending Kansas’ sharpshooters. The Jayhawks’ guard trio of Lagerald Vick, Devonte’ Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk combined for 64 points on a 16-30 shooting from deep.

“(We were) not good enough,” Smart said. “I think Kansas deserves a lot of credit for the shots they knocked down. When three guys hit 16 threes, you gotta really take your hat off to them. But we’ve defended on the perimeter really well all year. And we were not as good, obviously, defending out there. Kansas had a lot to do with that.”

The Jayhawks came out of the break and looked to pull away. A pair of threes gave them a 51-41 lead.

A Bamba slam off of an offensive board cut the lead to six with under ten minutes to play. But Graham answered as he had all night — pulling up from behind the arc and draining one.

With under four minutes remaining and Kansas pulling ahead, 81- 69, Smart received a technical for arguing a call as the Jayhawks closed it out to move to 1–0 in the Big 12 standings.

“There were a couple of stretches where we didn’t have the defensive energy that we needed to have to stop a team like Kansas,” Smart said. “To stop those runs, particularly to start the second half.”

The Longhorns continue conference play on Monday with a road contest against Iowa State.

Photo Credit: Carlos Garcia | Daily Texan Staff

The sequel is rarely as good as the original, but Wednesday’s match was exactly the case in the latest chapter of the Texas-Kansas rivalry.

The Big 12 powerhouses duked it out in a five-set thriller on Oct. 11 in Lawrence, Kansas. After falling behind 2-1, Texas exploded for a pair of set wins to complete the comeback and escape with a 3-2 victory.

The Longhorns repeated the same magic on Wednesday night at Gregory Gym, sweeping the Jayhawks, 3-0.

Texas could do no wrong in the early moments of the first set. The Longhorns fed off the energy of the home crowd, dominating the Jayhawks and claiming a commanding 19-13 lead. Then came the hard part. Kansas came alive with its back against the wall, igniting a 10-4 run to tie the score at 23.

But the Longhorns didn’t waver. Senior middle blocker Chiaka Ogbogu soared towards the net, locked in on a lob pass off the fingers of freshman setter Ashley Shook.

Ogbogu cocked her hand back and unleashed a powerful kill toward the left corner, dropping just outside the reach of the Kansas defenders and bringing Texas to set point. A Kansas error on the following play sealed the deal, giving the Longhorns a statement 25-23 win.

“I feel like we were in control for most of game one,” head coach Jerritt Elliott said. “We just made some errors and let them back in the game, but we found way.”

The sequel reached its climax in the second set as the two teams battled for higher ground. Kansas silenced the crowd by taking a 20-19 lead down the stretch, but Ogbogu delivered with yet another response.

The Coppell native posted six kills in the set, including a momentum-shifting bullet down the middle to give Texas a 22-20 lead. The Longhorns didn’t look back, finishing the rally for a 25-22 victory.

“We did a really good job this game of just looking each other in the eye and making sure we had each other’s back,” Ogbogu said. “Giving each other confidence helped others, and it helped me as well.”

The Jayhawks reached their breaking point in the third set, crumbling as the Longhorns erupted for an early 18-11 lead. With the crowd on its feet, Texas went for the kill, storming to a 25-16 win to complete the sweep.

Ogbogu led the team with a game-high 14 kills in the outing, and senior libero Cat McCoy tallied a team-high 17 digs as well. The victory clinches at least a share of the Big 12 title for Texas, an accomplishment that eluded them last season.

“Not winning it last year was obviously disappointing,” McCoy said. “This conference gets better every single year, so for us to at least win a share of (the championship) says a lot about this team.”

Next up for the Longhorns is a home match against Oklahoma on Nov. 22. First serve from Gregory Gym is set at 7 p.m.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Some players call him old man, others just call him ‘Twuan, but Saturday night, fifth-year senior Antwuan Davis was just the next man up.

Texas adopted the slogan “next man up” in response to players who are forced to step up when the team loses a player to injury. However, with the news of starting cornerback Holton Hill’s season-long suspension combined with the injury of junior nickelback and team captain P.J. Locke III, it begged the question, who is that next man?

That question found an answer when Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley released the ball from his own end zone. The ball left Stanley’s fingertips and right into fifth-year senior Antwuan Davis’ hands. Davis returned the interception all the way to the corner of the endzone to give Texas an early 14-0 lead.

And just like that, Texas found its next man up.

“Once I had the ball, all I could see is the end zone,” Davis said. “I saw the whole d-line blocking, I saw a cornerback come over and throw a block and I said ‘Man thank y’all. This means the most to me.’”

This wasn’t just any ordinary pick-six for Davis, though. This was his payoff for the hard work he put in not only on the field, but in the class.

The defensive back found himself in a predicament last season. After getting redshirted in his his first season at Texas, Davis technically had one fifth and final season of eligibility.

However, in order to play, he needed to graduate.

“This is a guy that needed to pass an ungodly amount of hours in the spring and summer to graduate, and he needed to graduate to be eligible to play this season,” Herman said. “(Safeties coach) Craig Naivar dove into his life and prodded him and taught him and mentored him.”

Davis said he was forced to take five classes during one session, followed by one during an off period and another four during the summer –– all for one more season of eligibility.

As the summer came to a close, Davis received his diploma.

“The day that my diploma came in at the end of the summer and I was cleared for the season, I hugged coach Naivar and I hugged coach Herman because these guys really helped me get all the way through to where I am,” Davis said. “It was such an appreciative moment.”

Several months have passed since Davis got his hands on his diploma, but he said the younger guys on team still ask him about his five-year journey at Texas.

“These guys hung in here with me from spring from two years ago,” Davis said. “Some of the freshman are like, ‘Man how do you do it?’ I’m like man you’ve just got to be patient. You've just gotta wait till your time comes.’

Davis’ time happens to be now. Between Locke’s injury and Hill’s suspension, Davis was asked to step up. And he did. The fifth-year senior recorded a second interception in the second quarter and even recovered a fumbled punt.

After the game, junior safety DeShon Elliott saw Davis walk by.

“What’s up, old man?” Elliot asked.

Despite the teasing, which Davis promises is out of love, Elliott wasn’t surprised by the performance from that “old man.”

“He balled. I knew he could ball,” Elliott said. “I’ve been sitting behind him for two years. I knew when he got in the game, he was gonna take advantage of the opportunity and was gonna do his job and that’s what he did.”

Now, Davis can see the end of his Longhorn career. After the game, the fifth-year senior reflected on his journey on the 40 Acres and expressed his gratitude to his teammates and coaching staff for the help and opportunities along the way. 

And for these last two games, the Longhorns are just asking Davis for one thing in return: be their next man up.

“I tell these guys all the time, I cherish them,” Davis said. “I cherish the guys that I’m in here with. Seeing these young guys develop, I’m like man I wonder what the older guys think of me now. Old man ‘Twuan out there with them young guys. It’s just a real appreciative moment. Having my last one in two weeks, it’s gonna be tough but I really feel like I’m ready for it.”

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

Tom Herman doesn't care to look and see what the betting line is on his upcoming game.

The Longhorns were 33-point favorites heading into Saturday night’s meeting against Kansas, a bottom-feeder program that is now 1-9 after Texas’ 42-27 win at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

“I didn’t know we were — I don’t ever know what favorite we are, no,” Herman said. “That’s a lot, though.”

Perhaps it was a lot for a Texas team entering Saturday with a 4-5 record, fresh off its worst offensive performance of the season last weekend against TCU in Fort Worth. Never mind the fact that the Longhorns shockingly lost to Kansas last November in Lawrence.

Kansas proved why it was a 33-point underdog from the opening kick, when it attempted to catch the Longhorns off guard in their own house.

After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Jayhawks boldly tried an onside kick. The plan didn’t work, however, as the Longhorns were ready for it and recovered the ball at Kansas’ 49-yard line.

“We’re always prepared for stuff like that,” senior wide receiver Lorenzo Joe said. “Going into this game, you never know what’s gonna happen.”

On Texas’ first play from scrimmage, sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele delivered a 49-yard touchdown pass to Joe, who got behind the Jayhawks’ secondary.

The Longhorns were up 7-0 just nine seconds into the game. But fans would’ve been remiss to not draw flashbacks to last year’s meeting in Lawrence. Texas scored on its first play from scrimmage in that game as well to take an early 7-0 lead over the Jayhawks. The Longhorns went on to lose 24-21 in overtime, one of the worst losses in program history.

This night would not prove haunting for the burnt orange, though. Texas received boosts from a host of players in the first half to grab control of the game, never letting Kansas get firmly within striking distance.

Fifth-year senior defensive back Antwuan Davis needed just one half to turn in the best performance of his Texas career. Davis intercepted the Jayhawks twice, including a pick-six to put Texas up 14-0, and recovered a Kansas fumble on a punt return.

“It’s a great feeling to be out there with this defense, with this team,” Davis said. “I don’t want to be a missing piece. I want to be a part of this puzzle.”

Freshman running back Toneil Carter and sophomore wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey each rushed for scores in the first half. Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who didn’t start despite being cleared from a head injury, came in late in the first quarter and tossed an eight-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Cade Brewer.

Early in the second quarter, Texas tried its hand at a 44-yard field goal, but senior Mitchell Becker missed wide left, another chapter in the Longhorns’ kicking woes this season.

Texas scored more points in the opening quarter on Saturday night — 28 — than it has total in five of its games this season. The Longhorns led 35-17 heading into halftime.

But the second half saw mostly offensive ineptitude.

“I think with such an inexperienced (offense) that we have right now, we’ve got to do a better job of not worrying about what the score is and not worrying about how the defense is playing and not worrying about ‘Oh, dang it, they stopped us, we have to punt,’” Herman said.

The biggest story out of Saturday night was simple — the Longhorns (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) got one win closer to bowl eligibility. One more win can help salvage what has been an erratic first season under Herman.

“There’s no lack of confidence, or there’s no issue with perception,” Herman said. “Winning for us right now is going to be hard, and that’s OK. That’s OK. As long as we win.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

They never wanted it to be brought up again, but this week they had no choice.

As they prepare to face Kansas on Saturday, nearly a year since the Longhorns suffered a 24-21 overtime defeat to the Jayhawks in one of the worst losses in program history, Texas players were inevitably asked this week about that ghastly cold day in Lawrence, Kansas, last November.

“No, we try not to talk about it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “But we know in the back of our head what happened.”

What happened is to this day still hard for many Longhorn fans to wrap their heads around. How could a national power like Texas lose to one of the worst programs in college football? Kansas entered that game having won just one of its last 25 games and hadn’t beaten Texas since 1938.

When Texas wide receiver Jacorey Warrick scored on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s meeting, there was seemingly zero doubt in the Longhorns’ minds over what the game’s outcome would be.

“With that, we definitely thought we were gonna win the game,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said.

Eleven seconds in, the Longhorns were in front 7-0, but what transpired over the next few hours was unthinkable. The Jayhawks hung around and even took a 10-7 lead into halftime. In the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were in control and led 21-10.

Kansas came all the way back to tie the game at 21. A 36-yard field goal by the Jayhawks with seven seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime.

Texas had the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Shane Buechele threw an interception that led to the Jayhawks kicking a 25-yard field goal for the win — Kansas 24, Texas 21.

Kansas fans stormed the field and tore down a goal post. Poona Ford laid flat on his back and stared at the sky. Charles Omenihu slammed his helmet against the turf and shouted in disgust.

“It just really taught us not to take a team for granted at the end of the day,” junior defensive end Chris Nelson said. “It left a bad taste in our mouths. It’s something that we don’t want to experience again.”

After the game, former head coach Charlie Strong sat at a table for his postgame press conference. He was shocked. He was quiet. He didn’t know what to say.

“Do you have any idea what this means for your future?” a reporter asked.

Strong stuttered, paused, then mustered a couple words.

“No idea,” Strong said.

“I don’t think we knew what was gonna happen after that,” Hughes said. “But basically we knew that because of the play that we had produced on the field and (because we) didn’t come out with a win, (Strong’s) job was now in jeopardy.”

That loss in Lawrence last November set in motion the beginning of the Tom Herman era at Texas.

Less than a week later, the Longhorns lost to TCU at home, 31-9, the day after Thanksgiving in Strong’s last game. Strong was fired the next day, and Herman was immediately hired.

On Saturday evening, Texas will meet Kansas, this time in Austin. The Longhorns are 34-point favorites. Asked on Monday if he planned on bringing up last year’s loss in Lawrence with his team this week, Herman brushed it off.

“We were 16-21 in the past three years. There’s plenty of reminders,” Herman said. “The past is, in my opinion, not a great motivator.”

But the past still had to be brought up this week.

Photo Credit: Angel Ulloa | Daily Texan Staff

It all started with one email. 

Junior linebacker Gary Johnson hasn’t always worn a burnt orange jersey with ‘Texas’ embroidered across his chest. He hasn’t even always been a part of Division I football, either. 

Johnson’s college career started when his high school coach in Alabama sent a mass email to several junior college head coaches across the country back in 2015. 

The email left Douglas High School and traveled 965 miles straight to Dodge City Community College. It didn’t take long — in fact, all it took was a mere glimpse — for head coach Gary Thomas to know Johnson had something. 

“Obviously you could watch about the first five plays of the film and figure out he was a little different,” Thomas said. “We called him. I think he had a few people in the mix that day, but we ended up signing him.”

Dodge City, Kansas

And just like that, Johnson’s career began –– in Dodge City, Kansas, population of 27,453. The transition from high school to community college isn’t always easy, but Johnson said he knew what he had to do. 

“It was a pretty hard step coming from high school to junior college,” Johnson said. “But it made me mature fast enough to know that I had to do what I had to do and get to the next level and that’s what I did.”

Johnson spent the next two years trying to get to the next level as he started at linebacker for the Dodge City Conquistadors. Thomas said both his linebacker and team saw success.

In Johnson’s two seasons in Kansas, Dodge City Community College finished 9–3 and 7–4, respectively. And in addition to the record-breaking seasons, Johnson was named No. 1 Junior College linebacker. 

“He’s a tremendous athlete –– an athlete that doesn’t come around all that often,” Thomas said. “He’s an incredibly gifted individual from an athletic standpoint and a super charismatic and likable person on and off the field. We had a good experience with him.”

Division I programs across the country took notice and all of a sudden, Johnson no longer needed coaches to email video clips of his performances. It even caught the attention of one program in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

From crimson to burnt orange 

Johnson’s success eventually caught the attention of Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Johnson committed with plans on returning to play football in the south. Thomas said Saban would call and FaceTime Johnson to check up on Alabama’s commit’s status to make sure there were no bumps along the way. 

“He was committed to Alabama for probably six months, if not more than that,” Thomas said. “There was a lot of schools that stayed in pursuit of him in case he didn’t make it there or something happened.”

And something did happen. Johnson was forced to reopen recruitment after decommitting from Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide due to academic requirements which prevented the linebacker from playing for any team in the SEC. 

“When it got down to crunch time after he decommitted from Alabama, him and me had a pretty long conversation one night,” Thomas said. “He called me, it might have been the night before signing day. He was on the fence about what he wanted to do so we talked down a list of the pros and cons of all the situations.”

Johnson wasn’t a heavily recruited player out of high school, so the recruiting process was a new one. But Johnson wasn’t just deciding on what school to commit to. He was also ultimately deciding, where he wanted his last shot at Division I football to be. USC and Ohio State were on the table, but Thomas said it really came down to two schools: Arizona State and Texas. 

“Basically, after what happened when I was at Dodge City as far as me having to decommit from Alabama, I had to find a new home,” Johnson said. “It was pretty difficult. Once I set aside the schools I was interested in and took my visits, it was pretty much obvious that Texas was the place for me.”

Johnson’s arrival 

After two seasons at Dodge City Community College, Johnson finally arrived at Texas to play Division I football for the Longhorns. Senior linebacker and team captain Naashon Hughes briefly talked about Johnson’s contributions to the Longhorn defense, but he spent more time telling the story of the first time they met. 

Hughes said Johnson walked into one of his classes and quickly brought up his track days at Douglas High School. Hughes tried telling Johnson he had some speed too, but little did Hughes know, Johnson won the Alabama state title in the 100 meter dash with a time of 10.59 seconds –– with no blocks. 

“I was telling him I can run a little bit. He was like, ‘I run a 10.5 no blocks,’” Hughes said. “I was like, ‘Alright, you’ve probably got me beat by a little bit’ ... I knew he wasn’t lying because then the coaches told me, ‘Yeah, he ran a 10.5 no blocks.’ ... I’m from a track city, I’m a track guy. I was like OK, he’s for real about his speed.”

Johnson’s speed has impressed his teammates at every level, whether in Dodge City or inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Now, the junior college transfer has another chance to showcase his speed. This time, it’s against Kansas. 

Although Johnson doesn’t have the same taste in his mouth as his teammates after Texas’ heart-wrenching loss to the Jayhawks last year, he still knows what that loss meant as he watched the game unfold in Lawrence, Kansas.

“I pretty much didn’t know what to think,” Johnson said. “Things happen. I just couldn’t wait to get there and help win next year.”

The junior will put on a burnt orange uniform for just the tenth time as Texas prepares to take on Kansas at 5 p.m. on Saturday in an attempt to not only avenge last year’s loss but also bring Texas one game closer to bowl eligibility. 

As for Dodge City Community College, the 4–6 Conquistadors are set to host Hutchinson Community College at 1 p.m. Head coach Gary Thomas and his squad won’t finish with a 9–3 or 7–4 record like they did while Johnson was there, but Thomas still recognizes that those two years in Dodge City, Kansas were good for the both of them.

“We won a lot of football games while he was here,” Thomas said. “We won 16 games in the two years he was here. That was the most out of anybody in the conference at the time and the most wins this school has ever had in a two-year span. It definitely worked out well for us and it worked out for him as well.”

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

It’s been three years since former head coach Charlie Strong spoke to reporters following Texas’ fifth loss of the season, telling the media five losses in a year “will never happen in this program again.” The sentiment came off Texas’ second straight losing season, and Strong’s first after replacing Mack Brown at the end of the
2013 seasons.

Fast-forward four seasons and one head coach, and Strong’s proclamation looks absurd in hindsight. Since the beginning of Strong’s tenure in August 2014, Texas has gone 20–26, with first-year head coach Tom Herman sporting a 4–5 record heading into this Saturday. 

Herman entered the programs with high hopes, looking to reverse the program’s culture in his first season. After three straight losing seasons, Herman’s found a program lacking the intensity necessary to compete in the Big 12.

“Losing has to be awful,” Herman said in July during Big 12 Media Days. “You can never get used to losing. That’s one of the biggest maybe downfalls for a lot of teams is you get used to losing ... It’s not just ‘oh, well, we’ll get them next week.’ No, it’s ‘the sky is falling’ type stuff.”

But for as much confidence as Herman could instill in his team before the season opener, it hasn’t been enough to overcome Texas’ personnel issues, especially on the offensive end. The problems have been most glaring on the offensive line, which Herman noted at his press conference on Monday. Texas has spent all of conference play without All-American left tackle Connor Williams, and currently starts freshman Derek Kerstetter at right tackle. It’s an inexperienced unit, one that has too often failed to protect its quarterbacks. 

“Fixing the problem (on the offensive line) is probably a very tall order to expect in three weeks,” Herman said on Monday. “I think the biggest thing that we can do as a staff is mask the deficiencies as best we can. I think that comes in getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. It comes in, you know, not maybe asking our offensive linemen to block anybody one-on-one; is to try to set up as many double teams as possible in the run game.”

Texas’ offensive line struggles have exacerbated the Longhorns’ other shortcomings on that side of the ball. The burnt orange running backs have proved to be pedestrian regardless of whom is in the game, with Texas’ top four backs running for a combined 2.3 yards per carry. And with both freshman Sam Ehlinger and sophomore Shane Buechele spending much of the year on the mend, the Longhorns’ passing attack has been inconsistent. Neither quarterback has been able to gain a hold of the starting position, and questions marks will surround the depth chart each week through the rest of the season.

So where does that leave the Longhorns with three games remaining? With a stout defense and manageable schedule ahead (including two home games against teams under .500) Texas could win out, and enter bowl season at 7–5. But such a subpar offense may very well tank the Longhorn defense and cause Herman and company to limp to a disappointing 5–7 campaign.

Once August rolls around next year, the potential disparity in record won’t be significant. The Longhorns will enter the season with an impressive recruiting class, and an added year of Herman’s system. Big things will be expected.

At this point, the priority for Texas should be the health of its team, most notably Ehlinger and Williams, and building the next core of the Longhorns’ future. A bowl appearance may boast spirits heading into the offseason, but it will have little impact on the future of the program. The Longhorns failed to reverse its culture in 2017. Now their focus must be laying the groundwork for 2018 and beyond.