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After each team’s first two drives, Texas Tech led Texas 14-0. It was the second time this season the Longhorns trailed by two scores in the opening quarter at home, and like the previous occasion versus Kansas State, Texas recovered and earned a victory to clinch its third consecutive winning season.
The Texas defense allowed 10 points after the first quarter, and a 610-yard day on offense with notable performances from Sam Ehlinger, Devin Duvernay, and Roschon Johnson paced Texas to a 49-24 victory.
A regular season with ending 7-5 record wasn’t what Texas coach Tom Herman wanted in his third year. He admitted multiple times after the game 7-5 is not the standard at Texas, and he would evaluate the “whole program from the top down” after the season including looks at himself, his staff, the support staff, and anyone else involved in the program.
“But now is not the time to do that,” Herman said. “Now is the time to celebrate these seniors.”
Most of the seniors honored Friday started their careers with a thrilling overtime victory against Notre Dame, saw the head coach they signed with fired after his third season, and stuck around for three more years in the program under Herman. They experienced the highs and lows of a college football program yearning to get back to heights it believes it should reside.
“Just something we can remember for the rest of our lives; going out there at DKR and winning our first game, and going out and winning our last game,” Malcolm Roach said. “It was going out and playing for the team. Not a lot was on the line, so we really had nothing to lose.”
Ehlinger and Texas’ first opportunities with the ball ended with one punt and one failed quarterback sneak from under center. Meanwhile, the Red Raiders’ marched the ball at least 75 yards on their first two drives. Tech QB Jett Duffey found KeSean Carter for the first score, and SaRodorick Thompson scored from 10 yards out for the second touchdown.
The third Texas opportunity had its own inauspicious start until Ehlinger found Malcolm Epps for a 36-yard gain and a needed first down.
“That was huge,” said Ehlinger, who finished with 348 yards through the air, 83 yards on the ground, and three total scores. “At the beginning, they were doing a little bit of the same stuff dropping a lot of guys into coverage. That’s where you have to go with the ball in that cloud stuff. He did a great job of sitting in that hole and going up and getting the ball.”
From then on, essentially three quarters and three minutes, Texas accumulated 542 total yards. It scored on that third drive via an Ehlinger rush, but Cameron Dicker missed the extra point to make it 14-6 Red Raiders.
Duvernay, who was one yard short of the first 200-yard game by a Texas receiver since 2009, showed up on the next drive. His 33-yard reception necessitated a good throw from Ehlinger, concentration on the catch, and proper footwork to stay in bounds. All three events occurred, and one play later Daniel Young scored on a three-yard rush. Duvernay’s contributions to the drive weren’t completed yet, as he caught the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game at 14.
Texas Tech would find the end zone one more time on a Duffey pass to Erik Ezukanma midway through the second, but the score brought about an immediate Texas response. Ehlinger found Duvernay deep for a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play following the ensuing kickoff. The one-play drive tied the game at 21.
The Longhorn defense wouldn’t allow another touchdown.
“Those guys came out and hit us in the mouth early,” Roach said. “We said we’ve got to buckle up and be more physical than they were being.”
Johnson continued his remarkable freshman season following a position switch with the first of his three touchdowns from one yard out to complete a 13-play, 74-yard drive just before halftime. He finished with 105 yards, his second career 100-yard rushing game.
Momentum Texas brought with it into the locker room returned to the field with the team in the second half. UT outscored the Red Raiders 21-3 in the final 30 minutes with Ehlinger finding Jake Smith midway through the third, and Johnson adding two more scores for a trio of one-yard touchdown runs on the day.
Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s side of the ball made up for its first quarter troubles with a second half where they held the Red Raiders 100 yards under their first half total. Texas held Texas Tech to 63 fewer second half passing yards on 10 more attempts. Texas Tech rushed for 54 yards in the first half and managed 17 yards on the ground in the second.
“It was just us focusing up,” Joseph Ossai said. “We know what we can do. We know how we can play. We just had to get focused back up.”
Though Texas didn’t intercept Duffey, Marqez Bimage and Keondre Coburn both forced Red Raider fumbles, with freshman T’Vondre Sweat putting his name in the stat book with a fumble recovery.
Texas now waits to find out where it will play its bowl game. Houston, Memphis, San Antonio, and Orlando are a handful of the potential destinations. Those options are short of where Texas expected, but Herman believes his program is still on the right path with him at the helm.
“The future is very, very bright,” Herman said. “But we’re not oblivious to the fact that we’ve got to evaluate what needs to be fixed and fix it.”