The 2018 college football season is almost here. Maryland opens up with a rematch against Texas at FedEx Field on Saturday. It’s been a chaotic offseason for all the wrong reasons, but now there’s a game to play.
The Terps won in Austin to open last season, but both teams have a different outlook right now. To learn a little more about the Longhorns, we brought in Wescott Eberts from Burnt Orange Nation to answer some questions. You can follow him (@SBN_Wescott) or the site (@BON_SBNation) on Twitter if you so please. Expect a corresponding Q&A on their site later this week.
Testudo Times: Maryland upset Texas as a 19-point underdog last season, spoiling Tom Herman’s coaching debut. The Longhorns still made a bowl game, but how long did that loss seem to linger among the fan base?
Burnt Orange Nation: I think the loss still lingers. As I wrote [yesterday], that home loss last season as a significant favorite ended the honeymoon period with Tom Herman one game into his tenure. Even now, in the midst of the tail end of offseason hype, Texas fans are extremely skeptical because Herman made some rather grandiose statements that didn’t even survive the test of one game.
TT: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen from this team since last year’s season opener?
BON: The one that really stands out is the level of execution defensively. It seemed clear during that game that Todd Orlando’s group didn’t have a full command of the scheme at that point, which resulted in a number of big plays for Maryland, from coverage busts to poor run fits and bad angles on the back end. Orlando eventually figured out how to deploy his personnel better, including moving Breckyn Hager into the starting lineup as an odd front defensive end and largely moving to a base dime defense called the Lightning package that Orlando basically stole from Iowa State at the start of Big 12 play.
Offensively, Texas is healthy and more at offensive line and tight end.
TT: Sam Ehlinger saw plenty of time in 2017, but now he’s the Week 1 starting quarterback. What does he bring to the table that sets him apart?
BON: Ehlinger is a natural leader who has earned the respect of his teammates. More importantly, he has better escapability, pocket presence, and overall running ability than Shane Buechele, last season’s starter in the opener. The big questions with Ehlinger are whether he can command the offense better this season, avoid the late-game mistakes that largely defined his freshman season, and throw the ball with better accuracy and timing.
TT: Who’s one player on offense and defense that Maryland fans should be particularly aware of entering Saturday?
BON: On offense, Maryland fans should be aware of junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey. It’s hard to say how exactly Texas will deploy him this season, but at 6’4, he can line up in the backfield as a running back, take direct snaps, and play anywhere on the field as a wide receiver. He’s not a burner, but he has excellent ball skills and agility, not to mention a strong rapport with Ehlinger that resulted in a dominating performance in the Orange-White game this spring.
Defensively, keep an eye on junior Malcolm Roach. He can line up as a B-backer — Orlando’s term for his hybrid outside linebacker position — but also as a 280-pound middle linebacker who is comfortable dropping into coverage and stunting into offensive line. If Texas can get him matched up with a running back in blitz pick up, watch out.
TT: What would a win in this rematch mean for Texas going forward?
BON: A win would help remove some of the lingering bad taste from last season’s loss, but given what Texas wants to accomplish and the turmoil surrounding the Maryland program, winning this game is really a baseline expectation for the Horns to achieve the program’s goals this season.
TT: Complete this sentence: ____ will win because ____.
Texas will win because the program has really made strides this offseason while benefiting from the greatest level of continuity since the 2011-2012 seasons.