Over 98,000 fans saw a record-setting performance from Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, but his Longhorns fell just short of the LSU Tigers, losing a hard-fought contest 45-38. It was the second game of the season for both squads, but both offenses appeared to be in mid-season form even in a game that lived up to the considerable hype of a matchup between two teams ranked inside the Top 10.
Ultimately, this was a measuring stick for a Texas program that has been floundering for too long. The Horns and their fans undoubtedly wanted to win, and were tantalizingly close to doing so, but LSU proved to be narrowly better than Texas over 60 minutes of play.
LSU started the contest’s scoring onslaught with a first quarter field goal, and built that lead to a 20-7 margin at halftime. The Tigers were impressive in first half, but with their home crowd behind them, the Longhorns improved their level of play in the second half.
Texas players will see mistakes on film; UT coaches will second-guess decisions made in the moment; the burnt orange faithful will blame a steady onset of cramping by LSU players; but after four quarters of play, the difference in the game was LSU players making more plays than their Texas counterparts.
The Longhorn roster is stacked with a bevy of highly-rated recruits in their first few years in the program. The Tigers, with a roster similarly loaded with talent, had the look of a team like Texas is trying to become. In essence, the 2020 Texas team hopes to be what the 2019 LSU team appeared to be on Saturday night.
In essence, the 2020 Texas team hopes to be what the 2019 LSU team appeared to be on Saturday night.
LSU players made plays up and down the roster, but quarterback Joe Burrow’s performance deserves mention. Texas fans now know what it was like to face a Colt McCoy led team circa 2009.
In a game of highlight reel worthy performances, Burrow was the best player on the field on Saturday night. From 2000 through 2018 LSU never had a quarterback complete at least 30 passes and throw four touchdown strikes – Burrow has now done so in consecutive weeks.
Texas was not able to generate pressure on Burrow without committing a linebacker or defensive back, and without a rush, Burrow did not miss receivers. Realistically, Burrow didn’t miss many targets even when the Horns did harass him in the pocket – his final stat line: 31/39 for 471 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception.
Even after trailing by 13 points at the intermission, and against Burrow’s superhero stat line, Texas had opportunities in the second half to seize control of the game. Longhorns fans were questioning another 4th down conversion attempt when DevDuv caught a strike from Ehlinger, slipped a tackle, and blazed 44 yards for a touchdown. At that point there was 12:09 remaining in the game, and LSU only led by 2 points, 30-28. But Burrow continued his Colt McCoy impersonation and the comeback was never completed.
Saturday night was not the proverbial “heavyweights trading blows”. While LSU looked the part of the heavyweight, the Longhorns were a counterpuncher darting in to land a flurry of blows between the Tigers’ haymakers.
Whether Texas fans accept it or not, the Horns are still a year away from being considered a heavyweight. The Big 12 title is very much within reach in 2019, but any discussion of UT and the college football playoffs is 12 months premature.
Texas won a football coach’s version of the holy trinity: time of possession, rushing, and turnovers, and lost the game. Having an edge in all three of those elements but losing on the scoreboard seems unlikely, and borders on sacrilegious in coaching circles, but it happened.
“Close” might be the most accurate term for this game. It describes a handful of crucial plays, and it describes the outcome. Perhaps most importantly, the Texas Longhorns appear close to being a top ranked team.
Each week Matt Cotcher will continue to build “The Story of the Season” as it unfolds.
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