Late safety pivotal in Texas’ 39-27 Big 12 Championship loss to Oklahoma

ARLINGTON, TX — In close games with championships on the line, a single slip-up can change the fortunes of a game. When No. 5 Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb fumbled a handful of yards from the end zone and Brandon Jones recovered the loose ball, it look like OU committed that particular mishap.

That was until Tre Brown sacked Sam Ehlinger two plays later in the end zone for a safety to put the Sooners up 32-27. In the remaining 8:27, No. 14 Texas couldn’t muster anymore points, while OU added a game-sealing touchdown with two minutes left to win the Big 12 Championship, 39-27, at AT&T Stadium on Saturday evening.

Lamb’s fumble occurred thanks to a missed tackle. He got free and ran up the sideline before he turned into the middle of the field. He reached the 10-yard line, but was hit hard from behind by Gary Johnson. When Jones collected the football, Texas had an opportunity to go down the field on the Sooner defense.

After a failed handoff to Keaontay Ingram, one of only four rushes for the freshman on the day, Ehlinger dropped back on 2nd-and-11. Brown got a free rush to the quarterback, and sent Ehlinger to the ground.

“It seemed to be their game plan blitz,” Ehlinger said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t pick it up in our slide and it was my fault for not seeing him because I was looking the other way.”

That safety set up Oklahoma’s game-sealing and opportunity-erasing drive. The Sooners went 65 yards over 11 plays, taking more than six minutes off the clock.

Oklahoma scored 37 offensive points, but the work of it’s much maligned defense was a huge part of its fourth conference championship in a row. That’s despite Collin Johnson setting a Big 12 Championship game record with 177 receiving yards, adding a score. That’s despite Ehlinger completing 23-of-36 passes for 349 yards and two scores, while adding two more touchdowns on the ground, with his lone interception coming on his final pass of the game.

The Oklahoma defense helped the Sooners to victory through limiting the Texas rushing game to 88 yards on 32 carries. No Texas rusher had more than 50 yards.

“I have no clue,” Zach Shackelford said on if Oklahoma made adjustments in order to limit Texas’ run game. “That’s a good question. Probably, if anything, a lack of execution here or there. That’s a couple plays that could be the difference in the game.”

In addition, Kyler Murray played like a Heisman candidate. He ran for 39 yards and was 25-of-34 for 379 yards and three scores. His offensive line, and the Texas defensive strategy, gave him ample time in the pocket to make throws.

He had the majority of his passing total in the first half, but his clinching touchdown throw, a 18-yarder to Grant Calcaterra, was one very few quarterbacks around the country are able to make.

He found a rhythm late in the first half. Texas punted on 4th-and-11 with a minute left, giving Oklahoma the ball on its 20. Texas’ drop-eight defense didn’t put enough pressure on Murray to rattle him, and he moved down the field in 0:41 to hold a 20-14 lead at the half.

Oklahoma scored again on its first drive after halftime, but Texas responded with a score of its own to keep it within one possession. They made a defensive stop, and scored again but missed the PAT, tying the game at 27.

OU connected on a field goal early in the fourth. Texas punted on the ensuing drive, and the resulting Oklahoma drive ended in the Lamb fumble.

The slip-up and momentum shifts were a huge storyline, but Texas did itself no favors throughout most of the game. The Longhorns committed 13 penalties for 128 yards, including several face mask and pass interference penalties that continued drives. Adding free yards to any offense, especially one as potent as Oklahoma’s, makes any deficit difficult to overcome.

“That makes it hard to win when you’re going backwards that many times, so I do think that it had an impact,” Andrew Beck said. “We’ll watch the film and see how we can improve. Usually when there are penalties, it’s technique issues, which thankfully are fixable.”

Texas now sits at 9-4, an improvement of several games over Herman’s first season. While the team improvement was clear, the sting of the loss was still fresh for the 2018 Longhorns.

“Extremely disappointed in the outcome for these seniors especially,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “This is something they had worked so hard for the last 12 months. To come up just short is a tough pill to swallow, but I told them that losing is supposed to hurt.”

That sting could be mitigated by an appearance in a New Years Six bowl game, which Texas could find itself in depending on other results on conference championship Saturday, and how the final College Football Rankings shape up.

Overall, the program has improved since Herman took over for Charlie Strong. However, there’s still progress that must be made if Texas has aspirations of overtaking Oklahoma as the class of the conference.

Its leader next year stressed he would make that happen.

“I will make it my mission to never let this team or this school feel this disappointment again,” Ehlinger said.