The Texas Longhorns opened Big 12 play on Saturday with a 36-30 win over the Okahoma State Cowboys. The win breaks a streak of four victories in the series for OSU, who had also won five consecutive games played in Austin.
Texas being physically and mentally tough is one of the four pillars of Herman’s program, and those traits were on full display at DKR Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday night. While some fans will point to Herman’s philosophy of going 1-0 every week and the nearly must-win importance of the game against the Cowboys, it was the team’s physicality that earned the win.
The most glaring examples of this came along the line of scrimmage. Whether the team was on offense or defense, the Longhorns dominated at the point of attack last night.
Team captain Malcolm Roach deserves particular mention for his level of effort. By the fourth quarter, Roach had become a fixture in the Oklahoma State backfield from routinely whipping whatever blocking combinations OSU threw at him.
After intercepting a Sam Ehlinger pass, and with an opportunity to narrow the lead to two points in the 4th quarter of the game, the Cowboys elected to attempt a fake field goal. However, the Horns got excellent penetration into the backfield and the play never had a chance. Given the rate Texas had been winning battles along the line of scrimmage, Mike Gundy’s decision to not take points was reckless.
Also notable in the last stanza was the Cowboys being flagged for penalties that appeared borne from trying to match UT’s physical nature for the three prior quarters. Within the first four minutes of the final quarter Oklahoma State committed five penalties (including two facemasks, and a pass interference).
Whether it was getting flagged, throwing incomplete passes and interceptions, or getting stopped for no gain, the Cowboys had the look of a team that was ready to board the bus and nurse bruises. But Texas seemingly ran out of gas late in the game, and the battles at the point of attack began falling in OSU’s favor.
Although they were coasting into the station on fumes, Texas hung on to the win. Certainly the victory produced a teaching point on being able to maintain intensity and physicality for 60 minutes. Being the superior team for 52 minutes can result in a loss if you have nothing left in the tank.
With a broader lens on the entire season, Saturday night’s game also served as a reminder that this is a young team, and that youthful mistakes often lead to losses. Whether it was Jake Smith’s muffed punt, Malcolm Epps running a lazy route on 3rd down, or Joe Ossai’s roughing the passer penalty, Texas had instances throughout the game where errors by players in their first two years in the program had an impact on the game.
Physical and mental lapses by younger players will get a team beat faster than you can say Ogbongbegma, but there were spots where young players shined brightly as well. Reserve defensive back Chris Adimora contributed two standout plays in the fourth quarter, including recovering an onside kick attempt by OSU.
After the game Head Coach Tom Herman said Adimora had not practiced with the kick return unit in practice and was in that spot due to a run of injuries at defensive back. Herman and his coaching staff have done an excellent job of upgrading the talent in the program, but the game highlighted the feast/famine nature of playing football with a young roster.
Another significant contribution from a young player came from running back Keontay Ingram. The 115 yards Ingram gained don’t stand out in the box score, but the athleticism, vision, and patience he showed on his 21 carries was outstanding. Whether Ingram had a confidence problem or was not completely healthy early in the season, Saturday provided a reminder of the talent the sophomore possesses.
The much-maligned defense also showed improvement. After giving up beaucoup passing yards to a pair of teams from Louisiana, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s unit used big plays throughout the game to bridle the explosive Oklahoma State offense.
The best news for Longhorn fans is that the UT won the game and is now 1-0 in conference play. Despite injuries, mistakes and the program’s flaws that Saturday night revealed, Texas notched an important victory – players and recruits will continue to build belief and confidence from the effort. And with a much-needed bye on the schedule, the Texas coaches have two weeks to correct mistakes and help the team grow.
Each week Matt Cotcher will continue to build “The Story of the Season” as it unfolds.
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