Five Quick Thoughts: TX-OSU

Sam Ehlinger. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Sam Ehlinger. (Will Gallagher/IT)

Here are my Five Quick Thoughts following Oklahoma State’s 38-35 win over No. 6 Texas tonight.

That game had the makings of another classic in which Texas gave up a big lead to OSU early only to rip their hearts out late. Of course at other points in the game it had the makings of a Cowboy blowout victory. Ultimately OSU had just enough juice in the tank, and an absurdly effective trump card, to hold on for dear life when the Texas offense finally showed up.

That game cost Texas a shot at the playoffs and killed some of their margin for the Big 12 title race. Obviously the playoffs…that wasn’t something most people really wanted to talk about anyways. This Texas team is strong enough to pull off a Big 12 championship but the league is down this year and the teams waiting in the playoffs would inevitably have given Texas a rough awakening to how much work is needed to compete at that level.

The Big 12 title race is now a three-way tie at the top between Texas, OU, and West Virginia with Texas Tech and Iowa State hanging around just below (3-2) hoping to get into the picture and possessing some opportunities to do so. Texas has yet to play any of those teams save for OU so obviously this season isn’t over yet by a long shot. In the meantime we can break down some of what happened tonight.

Quick thought no. 1: Texas didn’t seem prepared to take a post-bye week haymaker
Oklahoma State had a very thorough gameplan for this contest, which for myself at least was probably the most overlooked factor in their victory in this game. They knew how they wanted to attack the Texas defense and Taylor Cornelius knew where they wanted to go with the football in different situations, regularly attacking Texas’ weak spots for crucial conversions and some big plays.

Meanwhile their defense had a plan for handling the Texas offense, which ultimately gave way once the Longhorns found some rhythm late, but they certainly did enough. Texas took a couple of shots from the officials as well, who were certainly not biased in favor of OSU but did burn Texas with the call on the fake, fake punt as well as the absurd holding call on Andrew Beck. Maybe there were solid reasons for either of those calls but they looked bad and both of them were immensely costly for Texas. The first setting up an eventual TD drive and the latter turning a deep shot to Collin Johnson into first and 20.

These things happen but Texas really struggled to adjust to them. They struggled to adjust to Oklahoma State’s tempo, their stretch-read play, the speed of Tylan Wallace, and the overall fire and physicality that the Cowboys brought into this game. This team isn’t good enough to give away big leads to opponents, that was the lesson in the Maryland game. Once again they made a very game comeback but you win this game if you regain composure early or don’t come out so flat.

Quick thought no. 2: Corn reads and Tylan Wallace
In my preview I noted that Texas would probably have some rust and give up a TD when they forgot Taylor Cornelius is effective and frequently utilized on read-keepers and another when they lost track of Tylan Wallace.

Instead each of those factors yielded predictable early returns but then also later ones after Texas should have adjusted. Wallace is a good player but Kris Boyd largely had him under wraps once he entered the game and could have just as easily picked off that TD pass before the half had he timed that jump better.

Texas’ losing Cornelius on zone-read keepers was the most egregious sin of this game. He’s been doing that to teams all year, as ungainly as he sometimes looks running the football he’s also clearly effective thanks to a long stride and some legitimate toughness. There were at least four big plays for Oklahoma State where they turned to Cornelius to pull the ball in crucial situations where Texas lost track of him and he came through.

There was the early TD read, when OSU called stretch zone with a backside read on the 4i-technique right after Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu had been pulled for breathers, and Taquon Graham dived for the back and allowed Cornelius easy access to the end zone. Then there was another one on Omeninhu where OSU mixed in a FB cut block on him. The second score came when they ran the play while blocking the DL but having Cornelius read B.J. Foster, who was focused on covering up Dillon Stoner (who’d been torching Texas on third downs matched up against P.J. Locke) and wasn’t able to come off to make a good tackle on the big QB. Then finally that third down run that iced the game, I didn’t get a clear view of who bungled that assignment.

It’s unacceptable for the defense to lose the game by a margin that is probably erased had they played any single one of those big Cornelius keepers better. It was all or nothing for OSU, the D should have been better prepared for him to pull the ball. Especially at the end of the game when forcing Texas to burn a timeout with another run would have been a worthy aim. The zone-read was the perfect balance of “let’s try to get this first down but let’s not take any big risks” and Texas didn’t see it coming.

Quick thought no. 3: DB issues for the loss
I’m sure plenty of people will be curious at Tom Herman, Davante Davis, Kris Boyd, Kobe Boyce, and/or Anthony Cook for the fact that Tylan Wallace wreaked havoc early in that game while Texas’ starting cornerbacks sat out for the first quarter.

It was obvious enough that Herman wanted to send a message to this team about the level of focus that was going to be necessary and expected from the team. After that interminable quarter of disaster I imagine the message probably came through loud and clear. You’d have hoped that the benching would do the trick without taking an L as well but Texas has proved resilient to learning painless lessons this decade.

Kris Boyd’s performance against Tylan Wallace after he came in was imperfect and included a few more big plays to the OSU wideout but Texas probably wins that game if Boyd is in there to start the first quarter.

Kobe Boyce has been very well reviewed in practice for his coverage skills but he clearly isn’t ready for the bright lights of playing the top WRs of the Big 12. Jason Washington will have some work to do this offseason getting the next batch of young CBs up to speed and probably Todd Orlando will give them more help as well, but they are currently not quite there. It’s an unforgiving league for CBs and just imagine if Taylor Cornelius was more accurate? Next year’s slate of opposing QBs and passing games will be much rougher than what Texas faces this season.

Cornelius isn’t that strong a passer but he is a 5th year senior who knew where to go with the football coming off a bye week. In the future Texas draws senior Will Grier but then also true freshmen Alan Bowman and Brock “pump fake” Purdy. Next year’s league will include returning starters at five other schools while OU and West Virginia will likely be plugging in upperclassmen.

Quick thought no. 4: The wrench in the offensive gears
Texas’ offense didn’t play all that well either. The main concern going into this game was Sam Ehlinger, or whether he’d be 100% and ready to play at the level Texas has become accustomed to. That wasn’t the issue at all in this game as Ehlinger threw for 283 yards and two scores while running for two more. Ehlinger kept the team loose, had them ready to win the game late, and would have had huge passing game stats had his wideouts not dropped several big plays early or his blockers not negated some gains with costly penalties. No one would have been eager to bet against Texas marching down the field and kicking a FG to force overtime had they not fallen for that final Cornelius zone-read.

It’s bizarre to me that Lil’Jordan Humphrey ever struggles with drops, particularly in light of that absurd grab he had on an Ehlinger rollout pass in the fourth quarter. Collin Johnson struggled with the physicality of the Oklahoma State CBs who clearly came into this game on a mission.

The plan for OSU in this game was to load the box and get free hitters around the ball to limit the damage of the run game while leaning on their CBs to hold up against Texas’ big wideout tandem. They were rewarded for that daring strategy when Keaontay Ingram was held to 11 carries for 52 yards and Texas managed only 6.7 ypa forcing the issue either against run-stopping calls or the max coverage calls that OSU was able to mix in as a result of playing with a big lead and getting to defend an inordinately large number of passing downs.

Collin Johnson dropped a slant on third and three, Humphrey dropped an early crossing route that could have stalled out OSU’s early momentum, and the two combined for nine catches for 134 yards while Andrew Beck and Keaontay Ingram stole the glory of catching TD passes. Texas needs more from their star wideouts in games where opponents dare them to win in the air.

Quick thought no. 5: The margin is gone but the sky isn’t falling
Good on Texas to adjust in game, get their legs under them, and make a strong effort to win that game. This kind of observation often sounds and feels hollow at this point but for Texas to be 6-2 on the year and in a three-way tie for first place in the Big 12 with the head-to-head tiebreaker over Oklahoma is good positioning.

They have three truly challenging games left on the schedule and two are at home, so that helps quite a bit as well. I’m sure Herman would have liked to head to Lubbock in a few weeks with a loss to give in the standings but all of the games left on the schedule are eminently winnable. Texas matches up well against the remaining teams, none of whom run the ball quite as well as Oklahoma State or who have as much experience at QB (other than WVU). Efforts in the coming weeks in which Texas’ gameplan is and focus matches or exceeds their opponents should mean the Longhorns playing in the Big 12 championship game at the end of the year and fulfilling the best reasonable goal for this season.