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DALLAS — Sam Ehlinger’s herculean fourth quarter effort was not enough to overcome repeated mistakes made by the Longhorn football team against the weakest Oklahoma Sooners team in recent memory.
Similar issues in all phases of the game that hampered the Longhorns against Texas Tech and TCU traveled with the team to Dallas. Ehlinger brought Texas to the cusp of victory in overtime, but the Sooners made one fewer mistake than the Longhorns in their 53-45 overtime victory.
“Absolutely crushed that we as a family didn’t do enough collectively for (Ehlinger) to finish his career against these guys the way that he deserved to,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said after the game. “Part of being part of a family. I feel like we all let him down.”
The 2020 edition of the Red River Showdown followed the script of so many of Ehlinger’s games in a Longhorn uniform. The offense, specifically the running game, sputtered. Texas failings on Herman’s side of the football required Ehlinger to drag Texas back into a game it had no business being in.
“I have a lot of emotions right now,” Ehlinger said. “I don’t know which one to best pinpoint how I’m feeling. Disappointed. Obviously would have liked things to be different and would have liked to be walking out of here with a win.”
He brought Texas back into the game with his arm and his legs, gaining yards on the ground and buying time when his offensive line could not hold up. Down 14 in the fourth quarter, Ehlinger led a four-play, 50-yard drive which included a 20-yard run and ended with a nine-yard pass to Joshua Moore. Texas failed to recover the ensuing onside kick, but a defensive stop gave Ehlinger one last chance to tie the game.
The Longhorns took advantage of the opportunity, something they had not done with consistency in the last two games unless the time available to Texas was running out. Ehlinger drove the Longhorns 84 yards in 1:38, capping the drive with a 2-yard pass to Keaontay Ingram with 0:08 on the clock. The Longhorns hit the PAT to send the game into overtime tied at 31.
Texas succeeded airing the ball out and playing with tempo when it was forced to play that way. Herman said following the game on the Longhorn Radio Network that “it’s a shame we have to go fast on offense to be effective.” He expanded on that point after the game.
“Maybe we turn into one of those teams that tries to win games 65-55,” Herman said. “That’s not what I envision, and I don’t think that’s what anybody envisions around here. We’ve got to find a way to be able to at a normal tempo sustain drives and stay ahead of the chains. We haven’t done that here in the last couple of weeks.”
Neither team truly excelled in any facet of the game. The Longhorn defense held the typically strong Oklahoma offense to total 31 points in regulation. It turned freshman phenom Spencer Rattler into a pedestrian looking quarterback. Texas defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s defense forced Rattler to turn the ball over twice, prompting OU head coach Lincoln Riley to replace him with backup Tanner Mordecai in the first half.
The Longhorn offense could not run the ball versus the Sooners. Ehlinger finished with 23 carries for 112 yards. UT running backs Ingram, Roschon Johnson, and Bijan Robinson combined for 11 carries for 29 yards.
Texas’ special teams were not special at all. Punter Ryan Bujcevski shanked a punt 21 yards and had another one blocked deep in UT territory. They allowed a significant amount of return yardage to Marvin Mims and the Sooners’ special teams, and even gifted them additional yardage. Bujcevski was called for unsportsmanlike conduct on Mims’ best return of the day in the third quarter.
A simple third down conversion late in the fourth quarter would have iced the game for the Sooners and sent Herman back to Austin with a devastating loss to make him 1-4 against Texas’ rival. An incompletion on third down gave Texas the life it needed to go on the game-tying drive.
The Longhorns and Sooners traded touchdowns in the first and second overtimes. UT had possession first in the third overtime and ended up having to settle for a field goal attempt. That Cameron Dicker try was blocked, and all Oklahoma needed was a score of any type to win the Golden Hat.
The Sooners had its own kicking woes. Typically reliable Gabe Brkic missed his 31-yard field goal wide left, giving the Longhorns additional life and a fourth overtime.
Oklahoma scored a touchdown and converted the two-point attempt. Texas would need to once again move down the field 25 yards in order to continue the ball game, but a pivotal penalty made 1st-and-goal from the nine 1st-and-goal from the 19.
After one incompletion, Ehlinger looked for a receiver in the end zone, but his 53rd pass of the day was intercepted by Tre Brown, ending one of the wildest iterations of the rivalry in memory.
It was likely Ehlinger’s final attempt at a second win versus the Sooners. The team that constantly looks to him for leadership and production was not able to help the Longhorn quarterback achieve his goal.
“It’s frustrating,” Ehlinger said. “We showed the football team that we are there at the end when we stay out of our own way, don’t have penalties, and a lot of different things. Mistakes that are self-inflicted. It’s unfortunate. We’ve got to get better.”
It was also the story of the Herman era. So many mistakes across the team put the Longhorns in a hole. Two Sooners touchdowns were the result of coverage busts in the Longhorn secondary. The special teams, or special forces as Herman calls them, were unable to complete their mission.
Herman lost another game to an unranked opponent while ranked. The fourth-year Playoff dreams were dashed. Conference title chances were taken out of the Longhorns’ control.
Ehlinger almost led the Longhorns back, but his efforts were not enough to overcome what has hampered the program so often in the last four years.
“We always seem to be tripping ourselves up,” Ehlinger said. Getting in our own way. Making mistakes in crucial, tough times. The best teams don’t do that.”