NEW ORLEANS — When it came time to actually play the Sugar Bowl, one team played tougher and executed at a much higher rate than the other. It just wasn’t the one most were expecting.
Maybe Bevo XV’s charge at opposing mascot Uga X should have been a sign of the impending game. Or maybe it should have been Texas’ opening drive where every play gained yardage. By the end of the night, it was clear who the better team was on January 1, 2019. No. 15 Texas defeated No. 5 Georgia 28-21 to win the Allstate Sugar Bowl and achieve a 10-win season for the first time since 2009.
“Just really proud of the physical nature in which we played this game,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “At this point in our program’s trajectory, that’s what we’re going to need to do to win – is we have got to out-hustle people, we have got to out hit people, and we’ve got to play with a purpose and a passion great than anybody in the country.”
“Tonight, I feel like we did that,” Herman added.
The opening drive featured a little bit of everything from the UT offense. Running back Tre Watson began a career night that ended with 91 yards on 18 carries. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger hit Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a big third down conversion. When it came time to try and put the ball in the end zone, Texas went with its reliable QB run play to earn the opening score.
“We knew coming in that we had to come in and start fast,” Humphrey said. “That’s exactly what we did. Once we started fast and went down and scored, we knew that we were going to be in the game all game.”
The opening drive was a sign of the night Ehlinger would put together. He entered the Mercedes-Benz Superdome wearing a Drew Brees No. 15 Westlake High School jersey hoping to channel the New Orleans Saints great.
He didn’t put up Brees-like passing numbers, but he tallied numbers that won the game. Ehlinger was 19-for-27 for 169 yards through the air, but added a bruising 64 yards and three scores on 21 carries and earned the game’s MVP honors.
“This win is a huge stepping stone for our program,” Ehlinger said. “It’s going to carry a lot of momentum into the off-season, and I look forward to getting back in January.”
His Georgia counterpart, Jake Fromm, did not perform at his best. The entire Georgia offense was limited by a strong outing from the Texas defense. Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando’s squad held the Bulldogs 18 points under their season average.
“I thought the game plan was well-designed,” Herman said. “Even more proud of how fiercely it was executed by the players on the field.”
That initial defensive stop on Georgia’s opening drive was accentuated when the Bulldog punter was ruled down after handling the long snap. Texas could only muster three points from it via a Cameron Dicker field goal.
Later in the opening quarter, Texas forced Georgia RB D’Andre Swift to fumble, setting up another Ehlinger touchdown rush.
Georgia got on the board early in the second quarter after moving down the field, culminating the drive with a wheel route touchdown from Fromm to Brian Herrien. However, Texas was able to respond with a field goal to make it 20-7 heading into the halftime break.
The Bulldogs took the second half kickoff, but Fromm’s struggles continued as PJ Locke intercepted the Bulldog signal-caller. Texas couldn’t capitalize, and neither team added points in the third quarter.
Ehlinger scored his third and final TD early in the fourth, and added a two-point conversion completion to Collin Johnson to give Texas a two-score lead.
Georgia clawed back and made it a one-score game, but the final onside kick attempt was recovered by the Longhorns, who began celebrating the first 10-win season of the decade.
Ehlinger loudly exclaimed both to those in the Superdome and to a national audience that Texas was indeed back when he was awarded the MVP trophy. It’s a good argument after the Longhorns competed for a conference championship and defeated the SEC runner-up with its own style despite being a double-digit underdog.
In the season-opening loss to Maryland, Texas continually shot itself in the foot. The impassioned team with a purpose played up to the level of its opponent and secured a victory.
In the Georgia game, Texas executed well, protected the ball, played with a purpose up to the level of its opponent, and secured the victory. “You want to start both halves really well on both sides of the ball, all three phases of the ball, and you want to end both halves the same way,” Herman said.
In what will give Texas a ton of momentum heading into the offseason, many responsible for this season’s successes will be back. Ehlinger will be a junior, Keaontay Ingram will be a sophomore and said postgame he plans to get up to 220 pounds, leading tackler Joseph Ossai will have another year in college strength and conditioning, and BJ Foster will only see his opportunities grow.
One who could return is Humphrey, who said postgame he has not yet sat down with his family to discuss returning for his senior year or possibly declaring for the NFL Draft. If he and Johnson both return, that’s a lot of the same cast of characters who were part of a Big 12 title run returning.
If they do, there’s a possibility they could recreate the results they offered tonight.
“To beat such a quality opponent like that the way that we did it and to do it on this kind of stage in the Sugar Bowl certainly leads me to believe that we’re heading in the right direction,” Herman said.