Close, but no cigar – the motto of the Texas football team this year. After falling behind 17-0 early on in the Cotton Bowl, Texas fans seemed to think this one was over. Sam Ehlinger had other ideas. After a long kickoff return by Kyle Porter, the Longhorns were in business. To finish off the drive, Ehlinger hit Porter on a beautifully designed screen pass for the 16-yard touchdown. Texas cut the Sooners’ lead to 13 points. This occurred with 3:14 left in the first half. On the ensuing Sooners drive, the Texas defense made a big stop when John Bonney intercepted a screen pass by Baker Mayfield and allowed the Texas offense a chance to score before the half. Freshman QB Sam Ehlinger did his thing and led the Longhorns to a 34-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland. At the half, the score was 20-10 Oklahoma.
A big part of this half has not yet been mentioned. Early on in the game when the Texas offense finally gained some momentum, they were deep inside Oklahoma territory when Tom Herman elected to go for it on 4th down. It is important to note that Texas K Joshua Rowland was kicking 44% on the year at the time. The play was unsuccessful, and Texas left points on the board. Tom Herman has reiterated time and time again that he hates attempting short yardage field goals. But sometimes, stubbornness can lose you football games. That wasn’t the case here, since the field goal attempt for Joshua Rowland on 4th down would have been for 45+ yards. However, if Rowland makes that kick, we might be talking about a new ball game. Instead, Texas went for it and failed to convert. Instead of a 7 point game, Texas trailed by 10 heading into halftime with the Sooners set to receive the ball to start the 3rd quarter.
On Oklahoma’s first possession of the second half, they drove down the field and kicked a 36-yard field goal. Oklahoma then led 23-10. However, Texas responded on its ensuing drive when Ehlinger led a 13 play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by Ehlinger pushing running back Chris Warren into the end zone for a touchdown. Texas cut the lead to 23-17, and was within 6 points. After several back and forth drives, the Texas offense began to drive once again. With a 4th down on the Oklahoma 27-yard-line, Tom Herman again elected to go for it on 4th down instead of kicking a 44-yard field goal. The conversion failed, and Texas again gave up an opportunity to put points on the board. Fortunately, Oklahoma did not take advantage of the missed opportunity and punted away to Texas. On the next drive by the offense, Ehlinger made sure the offense would get into the end zone. The drive was capped off but a gutsy 8-yard run by Ehlinger, who lowered his shoulder to get into the end zone. Texas took its first lead of the game, 24-23 with 8:01 left in the game.
The biggest issue with this team? They still don’t know how to finish and win games. That was evident on Oklahoma’s ensuing drive, when Baker Mayfield hit Mark Andrews on the third play for a 59-yard touchdown. And just like that, Oklahoma retook the lead and never looked back. On the play, Texas safety Brandon Jones bit on a post route and left Andrews wide open along the sidelines. The touchdown was as easy as pitch and catch. During the next drive for the Texas offense, Sam Ehinger was again moving the chains when he was hit hard out of bounds and landed on his head. He did not move for several minutes, but was able to get up and went to be evaluated by the medical staff. That brought in Shane Buechele, who has not seen a snap since the teams loss to Maryland in the season opener. Buehcele was only in for one series, but converted a key 3rd & 6 to Chris Warren. After that, Ehlinger returned to the game. During this drive the Texas offense, who had one penalty the entire game, began to lose discipline. A couple of holding calls and false starts later led to the Longhorns staring at a 4th & 13, which resulted in the ball being thrown away by Ehlinger. The result wouldn’t have mattered, because RT Derek Kerstetter was flagged for holding.
Many would perceive the game as being over then and there, but with two timeouts Todd Orlando’s defense had a chance to get a stop and give Texas a chance. They did just that, but on the punt was fair caught by Reggie Hemphill-Mapps inside the Texas 10-yard-line and a holding penalty pushed the offense back to Texas’ own 4 with :49 left. After leading the Longhorns to the 42-yard-line. After an acrobatic one-handed grab by Lil’Jordan Humphrey was ruled incomplete, the Longhorns had one chance left and could not heave a hail mary to the end zone. After a screen pass and a couple of laterals, the Sooners defense held on and Oklahoma won the game 29-24.
Texas did not want win the game, but held their own against a great Oklahoma squad. The biggest issue for Texas is the lack of an efficient running back. Chris Warren is a good pass catcher out of the backfield, but not good enough when given the rock. Because of this, Sam Ehlinger essentially acts as the offense’s QB and RB. Ehlinger had 22 carries for over 100 yards in today’s loss. Ehlinger is a tough kid, but his body cannot take that type of workload week in and out. Secondly, the Texas defense does not yet know how to finish. Time after time this year, Sam Ehlinger has given Texas the lead late in games only for the defense to fail to hold. It happened against USC, Kansas State, and now Oklahoma. Two of those games resulted in losses. On the bright side, this team is light years different under Tom Herman than Charlie Strong. No offense to Coach Strong, but 2 years ago this team would have never come back from a 17 point deficit. Strong never won a game when he did not score first.
The future is bright and Texas is showing improvement. There are still some holes to fill, but each game gets better and better. Tom Herman is certainly not pleased that his team lost, but he must be pleased with their resilience and refusal to back down from a fight. At some point this year, that attitude and fight will result in an unexpected victory. Today is just not that day. With each game I further believe Texas is closer to being back. Tom Herman is the right coach, and Texas is the right program for him. One day soon, Texas will take the college football world by storm.