What a night. If you had told me two weeks ago that OL Patrick Vahe, RB’s D’Onta Foreman and Johnathan Gray, linebackers Malik Jefferson and Peter Jinkens, and QB Jerrod Heard had all either missed the whole game or large amounts of time in the game Thanksgiving night against the Red Raiders, I would have said the Longhorns had little chance of either winning or even keeping the game close. Believe me, the players that were able kept it more than close and except for a ridiculous long pass incompletion on 4th and 7 with a little more than two minutes to go, Texas could have won this game. That’s what it came down to, Tyrone Swoopes looking downfield and floating a 40-yard throw towards a streaking Daje Johnson instead of a chance at other Longhorn receivers scattered all over the field.
Don’t get me wrong, as short handed as UT was, they came ever so close to pulling off an amazing comeback. Swoopes himself not only filled in for Heard, who left after a big hit on a scramble near the Texas bench, but Swoopes appears to be developing into a solid college QB. He has learned to use his size to his advantage when he runs – similar to Cardale Jones – and he has always had a cannon for an arm. He has come a long way from the 1-9 Senior QB from Whitewright High School that ended last season with two terrible showings against TCU and Arkansas. Now Swoopes isn’t shy about using his 6’4, 244-pound body to make first downs and he even looks more confident in the way he leads his teammates. That says a lot about Swoopes’ character as an athlete and a person.
Then there was Chris Warren, the true freshman from Rockwall who ran for over 270 yards. At 6’2, 232 pounds, Warren not only broke tackle attempts but outran Tech defenders. It didn’t happen all at once since Warren was hobbled early in the season by minor injuries and didn’t show much when his chances came to run the ball. Texas had Gray and Foreman in harness and Warren had few opportunities so to his everlasting credit, when his time came, he answered the ball in an outstanding fashion. On his stunning 91-yard touchdown dash, Warren broke a tackle in the backfield, shook off one at the line of scrimmage and dashed straight to the Texas Longhorn band in the South End Zone. It woke up the Texas crowd and got his team back in the game.
Another Texas player that caught my eye with his play and sheer effort was junior defensive tackle Paul Boyette. The 6’2, 303-pounder played all out to beat Tech. He harassed Tech’s outstanding QB Patrick Mahomes and made several key stops.
Without Jinkens and Jefferson the Longhorn defense could not control Tech’s dynamic running back Deandre Washington. Those two quick linebackers could make the plays necessary on Washington’s 90 degree cuts but their replacements couldn’t. It made a huge difference in the fourth quarter.
Safety Dylan Haines had his best game of the year making a great interception early in the game and several key tackles. He will be a much better player in 2016 and even next Saturday vs Baylor.
To the credit of this Texas team there were moments in this game that I thought the Longhorns were done. So many players hurt, so many laying on the turf, Tech with the lead and the momentum going its way, but, and this is a tribute to coach Strong and his staff, the Texas players rose up and put up a terrific battle.
So what about this next Saturday morning against the Baylor Bears who suffered a loss at Fort Worth in what must be considered terrible weather for a football game. The Bears third string QB had a difficult time as well as TCU’s Boykin and it took the second overtime possession for the frogs to pull out the win.
Most certainly this Baylor team and fans are disappointed but by Saturday morning in Waco they will be ready to send the Longhorns to a crushing defeat as TCU did in early October.
So where are we with coach Strong at this time? The money boosters in Louisiana wanted to fire coach Les Miles. He took the Tigers to two National Championships and had a chance at another one but lost 30-16 to Alabama, loss 31-14 to Arkansas at home, and loss 38-17 in Oxford versus Ole Miss. Two problems caused the losses; losing DC John Chavis to A&M and the inability to develop a top notch QB. You solve those problems and the Tigers go back to the top of the SEC.
Now that coach Strong has QB’s in place – Swoopes, Heard, and commitments from two stud, Texas HS prospects. Now that coach Strong has two outstanding running backs returning. Now that coach Strong has a homerun threat WR in John Burt. Now that coach Strong has a core of young players like Malik Jefferson, Breckyn Hager, Connor Williams, Patrick Vahe, Chris Warren, Naashon Hughes, Davonte Davis, Kris Boyd and a host of others, let the man finish the job. Beating OU who has a great chance to be in the Top 4 teams in the country was enough to show what can happen.
I believe coach Strong is building a strong foundation that will pay off when Notre Dame comes to Austin next season.
Wouldn’t that be something if Texas came to play at Waco this next Saturday like they did at the Cotton Bowl against OU – it can happen and I plan to be there for every snap wearing burnt orange.
Pat Culpepper played for The University of Texas from 1960-62 and graduated from UT with a B.A. degree with honors in history. He coached college football for 12 years as an assistant at Texas, Colorado, Tulane, Baylor, and Memphis State and was head coach at Northern Illinois from 1976-79. He also spent 16 years as a high school coach in Texas at Midland, Lufkin, Galveston Ball, Westfield and his hometown of Cleburne. He was selected to the Longhorn Hall of Honor in 1991. His commentary appears regularly in the Inside Texas magazine and at InsideTexas.com.