Moving the goalposts
Texas muffed two punts that led to touchdowns late in each half, but made the nation’s top rusher and receiver look average, beating Oklahoma State 36-30 for the first time at home since 2008. The 3-1 Horns should’ve been flagged for unnecessary nail-biting, as they led 36-23 with 3:44 to play and the ball coming their way. But Brandon Jones, who had a great game otherwise, slid under the punt when he should’ve backpedaled, and the score was soon 36-30.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, but so was a fourth and three handoff to RB Roschon Johnson, still winded from the previous play, in the second quarter. A 44-yard field goal would’ve put the Horns ahead 17-6; instead the Cowboys marched the other way to make it 14-13. Texas just couldn’t put away the scrappy Stillwaterians until a 29-yard quarterback rollout by Sam Ehlinger on third and long with less than a minute to play. This game was more exciting than it should have been.
“Tonight we took a step, in my opinion, because we didn’t play our best and still beat a really, really good football team,” said Coach Tom Herman, who blamed himself for the 4th and 3 giveaway and also for not advising Jones to let the last punt roll if it wasn’t an easy catch.
Herman did make a couple great calls in starting WR Brennan “Big Strike” Eagles (73-yard TD catch) and DB Montrell Estell (interception and eight solo tackles) for the first time this year. D-linemen Keondre Coburn, Ta’Quon Graham, and Malcolm Roach won the battle of the trenches and speedy, hard-hitting LB Juwan Mitchell made it easier to lose B.J. Foster for the game.
Ehlinger threw four touchdowns for the third time in four games (20-28, 281 yards), but was matched by the play of OSU’s freshman QB Spencer Sanders, who was a handful and a half, rushing for 118 yards on 18 carries and throwing for 268 yards. You got the feeling that if safety Chris Adimora didn’t secure the up-for-grabs onside kick with 1:37 left in the game, Sanders would’ve led the Cowboys to a 37-36 win. The kid from Denton had to stand for the plane ride home because he played his ass off.
The game looked to be a breeze early on, as touchdown catches by slot receivers Devin Duvernay and Jake Smith put Texas up 14-3. The Horns defense holding Oklahoma State to a field goal on an opening nine-minute possession gave the home team momentum. But the Cowboys took it into the locker room trailing 21-20 and looking very capable of an upset. Its weapons Chuba Hubbard (RB) and Tylan Wallace (WR) had been barely unholstered.
A third-quarter field goal put OSU in the lead 23-21. But then came the play of the game for Texas. UT answered by driving down the field and then stealing the ol’ “sliding gate” from Hoosiers to hit tight end Cade Brewer down the sidelines for a 25-yard TD. Five Horns and a cheerleader touched the ball on that trick play.
Stadium officials had a far less successful gate, as thousands of students missed the opening kickoff due to a stringent entry process after the previous home game stampede resembled a concert by The Who in the ‘70s. Perhaps UT shouldn’t have modeled its checkpoint after TSA airport security. Something between "festival seating" and "spread 'em" next time?
The Cowboys matched the Horns with 26 first down and 490-plus yards of offense, but Sanders tossed two interceptions, which led to touchdowns. Ehlinger threw a rare pick at the end of the third quarter, but it ended up not hurting the Horns as OSU coach Mike Gundy called a fake punt shovel pass at the Texas 27 that dug his team in a hole when Texas scored eight on its ensuing possession. But like his mullet haircut illustrates, Gundy doesn't always make good decisions.
The Horns defense which lost starting DBs Jalen Green, Caden Stearns, and Josh Thompson to injuries, came up tough when it had to. They smothered Hubbard on fourth and goal in the 3rd quarter, and held last year’s hero Tylan Wallace to five catches for 83 yards. Averaging seven yards a carry coming into the game, Hubbard gained just 3.3 per on his 37 carries.
The Horns offense, wanting to run against the Cowboys' light-heavy front, needed Keaontay Ingram to have his best game yet, rushing for a career-high 114 yards and dazzling the 97,000 in attendance (or still in line) with a 26-yard catch-and-run that set-up the final two-yard TD blast by his understudy Roschon Johnson. RJ also caught the two-point conversion to make it 36-23 with 11:44 in the fourth.
But even with a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter no one was breathing easier. Having to face the sensational Mr. Sanders three more years is a nightmare that can wait. Texas is 1-0 against him now.
The Longhorns are off next week, but the medical team will be working overtime to get players ready for that freaking John Denver song in West Virginia on Saturday, October 5. Receiver Collin Johnson and DBs Foster and DeMarvion Overshown are expected back in the lineup, but their spots on the injured list will be taken by DBs Green and Thompson, who’s out for several games with a fractured foot. The irreplaceable Stearns is looking at X-rays today.
Texas left it all out on the field and has never needed a bye week so badly.