AUSTIN — Texas players met with the media on Monday afternoon for the first time since the Longhorns’ 39-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 1. Texas’ New Year’s Day matchup with Georgia in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans is two weeks away.
Here are five takeaways from Monday’s availability:
1. Big 12 title loss to Oklahoma still fresh
Sixteen days after Texas lost to arch-rival Oklahoma at AT&T Stadium in a rematch for the Big 12 championship, the defeat still had the feeling of a fresh wound on Monday. Multiple Longhorns admitted that it has taken some time to get over the loss.
After upsetting the Sooners at the Cotton Bowl, 48-45, on Oct. 6, Texas was unable to take down Kyler Murray and Co. a second time.
“I think a lot of us are still thinking about it,” senior linebacker Gary Johnson said. “Even though we moved past it, it’s something that you come and want to play for and you want to win. Not just play for a championship — you want to win big-time championship games. A lot of people and a lot of seniors felt bad after the game, and it’s nothing that we can do about it now. But it’s just a thought that’s still in the back of our heads.”
Senior tight end Andrew Beck added: “That was one of the goals that we’ve had since we set out, since the coaches got here. And obviously to come up short, it takes a while to get past.”
2. Georgia is a massive favorite over Texas
Senior defensive end Charles Omenihu was taken aback Monday when he was told the No. 15 Longhorns (9-4, 7-3 Big 12) are double-digit underdogs against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The No. 5 Bulldogs (11-2, 7-2 SEC) are currently 13-point favorites.
“You’re the first individual to tell me that,” Omenihu said to a reporter. “I don’t even know about those things.”
But are the Longhorns taking Las Vegas’ spread as a sign of disrespect heading into the Sugar Bowl?
“Whoever made those predictions probably hasn’t played ball before,” Omenihu said. “It doesn’t really matter to me.”
When asked if he was surprised by the unfavorable spread, junior safety Brandon Jones said, “Not really.” But he also stuck to a mantra that Texas coach Tom Herman has repeated all season long.
“As a team, I don’t think we really pay attention to that stuff,” Jones said. “The only opinions that matter on our team are the teammates and our coaches. … We know what we’re capable of doing.”
3. Facing Georgia’s elite rushing attack
Texas is going to have its hands full on Jan. 1 facing a Georgia rushing attack that is the best in the SEC and one of the best in the country.
Georgia led the SEC in rushing this season, averaging 251.62 yards per game. That’s good for 12th nationally.
The Bulldogs have two elite backs in sophomore D’Andre Swift and junior Elijah Holyfield. The two combined to rush for 1,993 yards and 17 touchdowns this season. Each averaged over six yards per carry as well.
“Swift is a one-cut guy. Holyfield is a power back,” Johnson said. “They try to pound the ball a lot. That’s something that I like. I like guys (who) try to run the ball on us to make us quit, because with Coach (Todd) Orlando’s scheme, it’s run-stop first and everything goes to take care of itself. Something I’m looking forward to — playing against not just one great back but two great running backs that come from the SEC.”
Omenihu added: “They’re good players. I like playing against people like that. It’s what you’re gonna see at the next level. Those two guys are next-level guys.”
4. Unlike last year, NFL Draft an afterthought for Longhorns
As of now, Texas doesn’t have any players who’ve announced they will sit out the Sugar Bowl to focus on the NFL Draft. The Longhorns had multiple starters, including left tackle Connor Williams, safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Holton Hill, purposefully sit out the Texas Bowl win over Missouri last December in order to focus on the draft.
It’s something that has become more and more common in college football over the last couple years. West Virginia star quarterback Will Grier made headlines recently when he announced he won’t play in the Mountaineers’ bowl game.
Omenihu, the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year and a sure-fire NFL draft pick, said Monday that he didn’t even consider sitting out the Sugar Bowl. He also stated that in general if you’re not a guaranteed first-round pick, then you shouldn’t sit out the bowl game because “it doesn’t look good.”
“It’s a good test for me as an individual,” Omenihu said of playing in the bowl game. “I want to finish what I started. I had unfinished business when I came back to school.”
Junior wide receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson also said Monday that they’re still contemplating whether or not to leave early for the NFL, but both plan to play in the Sugar Bowl.
“Really my main focus is on Georgia,” Johnson said.
5. Sam Ehlinger’s shoulder nearly 100 percent
Sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger has had plenty of time to rest his throwing shoulder since the Big 12 title loss to Oklahoma.
He said Monday that his throwing shoulder, which he first injured against Baylor on Oct. 13 before re-aggravating it against Iowa State on Nov. 17, is nearly fully healthy.
“It feels great. It feels really good,” Ehlinger said. “The joint is as close to 100 percent as it’s been since the injury, and now it’s just getting the muscles around it that were overcompensating for it back to 100 percent. That’s the goal.”
Ehlinger suffered a first-degree AC sprain against Baylor. A month later against Iowa State, it was an AC contusion.
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