AUSTIN, Tx — In its last two home games, Texas went into halftime against ranked opponents in a close game where the second half would determine the outcome.
And on both occasions, UT (3-1, 1-0) earned decisive victories, only this time it opened Big 12 play and ended a four-game skid against the TCU Horned Frogs.
Last week it was due in large part to an excellent run defense. This week against No. 17 TCU, it was big plays en route to a 31-16 win at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Texas forced TCU QB Shawn Robinson into three turnovers in the second half, with the Horns capitalizing on the latter two.
Texas safety duo of Caden Sterns (2 INTs) and Brandon Jones (INT, FR) led the Longhorn defense to its first win over TCU since 2013.
“This was going to be an ugly, hard fought, physical game as all games against TCU are, and the defense kept us in it when we were finding our way a little bit offensively,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said after the game. “I can’t credit the defense or the offense enough for responding.”
TCU scored on its second possession of the second half, taking a 16-10 advantage with 8:44 left in the third. That was before Robinson threw two interceptions, and ended coach Gary Patterson’s attempt at topping UT five consecutive years, most since 1930.
The Longhorns responded with a drive down the field and got within range for Cameron Dicker, but he missed his second attempt of the evening. That moment of disappointment was left in the past.
Two plays later, Jones intercepted Robinson and brought it back to the TCU 45. Texas orchestrated a seven-play, 45-yard drive capped off by an outstanding diving touchdown catch by Collin Johnson. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger stepped up in the pocket and fired the ball between two defenders to find Johnson in the end zone.
“They gave me a post,” Johnson said. “I was like ‘I’m not the fastest but I’m just going to lay out and try to make the play.’ I was happy just to make the play for the team and help the team out.”
That gave UT a 17-16 lead they wouldn’t surrender and although Herman claims momentum is an illusion, it appeared to loom around the Longhorns for the remainder of the game.
If it had simply tipped on Texas’ side at that point, the very next play made it go fully in the Longhorns’ favor. Robinson dropped back on a 1st and 10 and fired a ball in the heart of UT’s defense. It was there Sterns snagged his second INT of the game, as his intended receiver appeared to give up on the route, and the freshman phenom returned it to the TCU 2.
One play later, Ehlinger pulled the ball from Tre Watson’s stomach and waltzed into the end zone with a smile on his face, and a 24-16 lead with five seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Horns held the ball for more than 10 minutes in the third quarter, tiring out the TCU defense. The Horned Frogs had one more opportunity late, but a missed field goal by Jonathan Song ended any hope of a comeback, especially considering what Texas did next.
In the style of football Herman prefers, Texas went on a 10-play, 76-yard drive. The Longhorns converted two 3rd downs with the latter being another big play, a 38-yard pitch-and-catch to Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who raced to paydirt sealing the win.
“We were expecting that because we wanted to control the game and control the game on the ground,” Watson said of the drive. “Our o-line was getting great push off the ball and they were competing the entire game. In that fourth quarter, we knew we were going to have to handle the ball on the ground. We did pretty well.”
Watson finished as Texas’ leading rusher with 60 yards on 15 carries. On the whole, the Longhorns rushed for 112 yards and two scores at 2.5 yards per carry.
The sophomore Ehlinger delivered another efficient performance going 22-of-32 passing for 255 yards and two scores, adding one on the ground. He was the first UT signal-caller to rush and throw for a score in three consecutive games since Colt McCoy in 2008.
Johnson was the only receiver in the game to break 100 yards, with 123 on seven receptions and one score.
“I think we were confident in the way that we prepared and that were were confident that if we just went out and continued to stick to the game plan, the plays would start going our way,” Herman said. “We did that.
Texas notched its first victory over TCU since 2013 with today’s win, and also achieved its first three-game win streak since 2014.
“I really like the grit of this team and the tenacity that they have shown especially in the last couple of weeks.”
It’s a black cloud off no longer hanging over some players, and a sign for members of the program that progress is being made at a steady pace.
“This is important to us,” Sterns said. “The culture is starting to change, and we’re just starting to put all the little pieces together. It’s just amazing to see.”
Texas goes on the road next week to face Kansas State. The Longhorns have struggled in Manhattan over the years, lasting leaving with a win in 2002, but Herman’s team is ready to continue to change the direction of the program.
“We went 1-0 against a really good opponent and we’re going to have to wake up tomorrow and take another step and do it on the road against another really good opponent,” Herman said.