Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and after the Texas Longhorns’ first drive against Texas Tech, it appeared as if the smoke was emanating from the Red Raiders’ side of the ball.
As the second half progressed, it became evident that the smoke was not coming from the red and black defense, but rather from the burnt orange and white offense. Though smoldering, the Longhorns’ O managed to put up 23 points before a late third and two that if Texas converted, likely would have sealed the game. Rather than attempting to run the ball, offensive coordinator Tim Beck called a pass play, and freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger was intercepted trying to throw across his body, fully placing Texas’ offensive performance in the “fiery disaster” category.
TTU brought the ball back inside the Texas red zone, and scored after two plays to take a 27-23 lead. Given one last chance, Ehlinger threw his second interception and Texas Tech sealed the victory, bowl eligibility, and head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job next year.
“You want to learn from your mistakes and never let them happen again, especially crucial ones like that,” Ehlinger said. “For it to happen again, and let the team down again, it’s awful.”
Texas just needed two yards to likely get a seventh win, but Beck and head coach Tom Herman made the decision to go through the air. Herman offered his reasoning after the game.
“We weren’t running the ball very well regardless of down and distance,” Herman said. “We felt like in man coverage, ran a little switch route, if he popped we’d hit him and pretty much end the game. If not, felt like Sam was doing a really good job scrambling, and that he would scramble and try to get us the first. We’ve got to do a better job coaching in those end of game scenarios how to handle that.”
The multiple interceptions at the end of the game were the knockout blows to a Texas team that thought it had a lot of momentum leaving Morgantown last week. Aside from junior punter Michael Dickson, who boomed 9 punts for an average of 50.9 yards and had seven downed inside the 20, the team left that momentum, juice, or whatever it was in the locker room in Milan Puskar Stadium.
“I think I’m still disappointed with a couple of punts today that I thought I could’ve had inside the 20,” Dickson said about his performance. “I feel like I’m always just trying to improve and not thinking about how good I am.”
It looked promising early, too. On the first drive, Texas drove 75 yards in four plays, ending with a 27 yard pass over the middle to senior Armanti Foreman for an opening drive touchdown.
However, Texas Tech kept at it with backup QB McLane Carter playing in place of Nic Shimonek. Carter scored the first TD on a one yard run late in the first quarter. Texas preceded that drive with two punts, and succeeded it with another punt and a Joshua Rowland 20 yard field goal to tie it at 10.
The Red Raiders gifted Texas their second and final touchdown after junior Kris Boyd intercepted his former Gilmer High School teammate in Carter and returned the ball all the way to the Texas Tech nine. On the first ensuing play from scrimmage, freshman Daniel Young rushed the ball into the end zone to give Texas a 17-10 lead.
Texas took slight advantage of another Carter interception by junior Davante Davis with less than a minute remaining in the first half. The Longhorns moved the ball to a first and goal from the one, but could not punch the ball in against the Red Raiders and had to settle for a 19-yard field goal making it 20-10.
Following halftime, every Texas drive that began and ended in the third quarter was finished off with a Dickson punt with the exception of one that ended with a fumble by freshman Toneil Carter. Texas’ last scoring drive of the game crossed into the final quarter, and Rowland ended it by nailing a 40-yard field goal to give the Longhorns another 10 point lead. Those three points would be Texas’ only scoring in the second half.
TTU responded on the very next drive with a touchdown after Kingsbury sent in Shimonek to replace Carter. Shimonek found former Texas commit and Texas Tech wide receiver Keke Coutee for a 52 yard gain to the Texas 10. Two plays later, Shimonek hit T.J. Vasher to bring it within three.
The next four drives ended in punts before the Longhorn drive that ended in the pivotal interception.
Ehlinger ended the game 26-of-47 for 239 yards, one score and two interceptions. Sophomore Shane Buechele played one series in the first quarter going 2-of-2 for 6 yards before returning to the bench.
In what could possibly have been his final home game, junior Malik Jefferson put together another stat-sheet filling performance with 10 tackles and one QBH. In addition to his interception, Boyd added five pass break ups to go with junior DeShon Elliott’s four against one of the most potent passing offenses in the country.
After the game, it was easy to see and hear how much this loss affected Jefferson, who along with other members of his 2015 class, endured three tough seasons in Austin.
“You prepare all week to make sure that schematically we line up and play hard, of course,” Jefferson said. “To come short, it’s super frustrating. Guys understand what was at risk at the beginning of the game and throughout the whole game, and I think it’s just mistakes that we keep shooting ourselves in the foot on both sides of the ball.”
Jefferson did not participate in any senior day activities, but juniors Terrell Cuney and Jake McMillon did. Herman said postgame he did not know if McMillon had finalized his decision to leave yet, but believed Cuney had. McMillon and Dickson declined to comment about their futures, and Jefferson said he had not made a decision yet.
Herman said the team won’t practice until this Friday in order to rest and to focus on academics. After that, bowl preparation begins though the Longhorns don’t quite know which bowl they are headed to.
Even so, he knows he has to prepare and said he is looking forward to the chance to earning a winning record.
“We have an opportunity to go play in a bowl game for the first time in three years here,” Herman said. “We are dead set in making it our mission in life to make sure that these seniors go out with a positive experience, with a win in the bowl game, wherever that may be. That sets us up with some momentum heading into the off-season.”