Longhorns survive turnover woes in 36-30 win over OSU

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Entering Texas’ game with Oklahoma State, Longhorns head coach Tom Herman repeatedly likened facing the Cowboys’ offense to a quote from the movie Armageddon. It wasn’t the combined efforts of the OSU’s talent-laden, “scariest environment imaginable” offense that almost ended Texas’ opportunity to defeat Mike Gundy’s program in Austin for the first time this decade, but rather repeated gaffes by the Longhorns.

In ten drives where OSU’s method of obtaining the ball was a kickoff or a punt, the Cowboys mustered 9 points. In four drives where the method was a Texas turnover via fumble, interception, or on downs, the Cowboys totaled 21 points for a sum of 30.

The burnt orange gaffes weren’t enough to give the bright orange another win in Austin, as a career night from Keaontay Ingram and a four touchdown performance from Sam Ehlinger led the Longhorns to a 36-30 victory in both team’s Big 12 Conference opener.

“That was not a very well-coached or very well-played game in certain spots, but we found a way to win,” Herman said. “We’ve been telling them since we got here that our best was good enough, but less than our best probably wasn’t. Tonight we took a step, in my opinion, because we played less than our best and still beat a really, really good football team.”

The final Texas turnover, a dropped punt by Brandon Jones with 3:44 left in the game, allowed the Cowboys to cut the margin to one score via a Chuba Hubbard touchdown run. It was Texas’ second major special teams blunder of the evening, as freshman Jake Smith dropped a punt leading to a second quarter Cowboys touchdown.

OSU’s Jake McClure lined up for an onside kick with 1:34 remaining and it was everything the Cowboys could have asked for. It took several bounces and players from both teams had an opportunity to grab it. Then, freshman Chris Adimora, who was thrust into action due to several injuries in the secondary, grabbed the ball out of the air.

According to Herman, it was his first ever live rep on the hands team.

There was still work to be done, as Gundy had all three timeouts in his pocket and the Longhorns needed a first down to ice it. Enter Ehlinger.

In a play that looked very similar to the game-sealing run in 2018’s contest by OSU’s Taylor Cornelius, Ehlinger faked a give to the running back, pulled the ball, ran around the right edge, and scampered 29 yards, remaining in bounds to keep the clock moving and seal the win.

“We had been running a lot of wide zone so we had that in our arsenal,” Ehlinger said. “To pull it out on the last play showed me that coach had a lot of confidence in me, so it was great.”

Texas’ final big gain wad indicative of the night it had on offense. Ehlinger, Ingram, and freshman Roschon Johnson ran effectively against the Cowboy defense for the entire night. That trio rushed for 209 yards on 4.98 yards per carry and one score via Johnson.

Ingram set a career high with 114 yards on 21 carries, eclipsing his mark set against Baylor last year. Johnson again excelled at a position he is still learning. He added a score and a 2-point conversion reception.

Ehlinger continued to build his Heisman candidacy. He found Smith, Brennan Eagles, Cade Brewer, and Devin Duvernay for touchdown passes. The only blemish on his record was an interception he tried to fit into a tight window that was deflected and gathered in by OSU’s Kolby Harvell-Peel.

Though Hubbard amassed 121 yards, it came on 37 carries. Standout receiver Tylan Wallace, who burned Texas for 222 yards last year, was double-covered for most of the evening and limited to just 83 yards on five receptions.

Texas struggled to limit Cowboy QB Spencer Sanders. The 2017 Mr. Texas Football returned to his home state and put on a show. He was 19-of-32 for 268 yards and added 109 yards and a score on the ground. His efforts played a major role in keeping the Cowboys in the game, despite throwing interceptions to Montrell Estell and Chris Brown.

“I told Coach Gundy after the game he’s got himself one in that quarterback,” Herman said. “Man, that guy is very, very difficult to defend in that offense and the way he can run the football. You try to guard Wallace, try to stop the run with Hubbard, and then he’s either running it or throwing it to somebody else.”

Texas played winning football on defense when Todd Orlando’s side of the ball didn’t have to rush onto the field following a turnover. It played winning football on offense by punishing a Cowboy defense that has only struggled under second-year OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles.

Where it didn’t play winning football was in the third phase of the game, specifically the two dropped punts that set up two OSU touchdowns.

“Obviously the punt return game was embarrassing,” Herman said. “We have got to do a better job of coaching those situations.”

“At that point in the game I should have reminded (Jones), hey, if in doubt, let the thing hit the ground,” he continued. “Let the thing roll around for a little bit and kill some time.”

The error almost proved costly, but the work done throughout the game by the offense and defense was able to cover for the special teams woes.

Texas now enters its first bye week at a time when it needs it most. Following the game, Herman said Marcus Tillman was preliminarily diagnosed with a MCL sprain and needed a MRI to see if he sustained any damage to his ACL, Jalen Green dislocated his shoulder, and Josh Thompson would miss time with a fracture of his fifth metatarsal.

On top of that, Caden Sterns landed awkwardly in the fourth quarter and needed to be carted back to the locker room. Herman said Sterns’ knee “is still really hurting” and would need an MRI to assess any problems.

“We’ve got to get some guys healthy, get them rested, and make sure that we know we’ve got a four-game stretch coming up and then another bye week,” Herman said. “We’ve got to be at our best starting with West Virginia in two weeks.”

Despite the mistakes and injuries, Herman will gladly take leaving for Morgantown 3-1 with one of those three against an opponent Texas hasn’t defeated since 2014.