Herman, Longhorns Continue to Slay Their Demons

Tom Herman’s second season began with a whimper, as Texas dropped the opener to Maryland on the road. It seemed like maybe another lost season was ahead, with the same old woes: poor performances against non-conference Power Five opponents, lackluster showings against the likes of TCU the upper echelon of the Big 12, and importantly, a wobbly record against the most important of opponents, the enemies across the Red River.

But Herman and company are in the ghost-busting business this year, slaying their demons with aplomb. First, the Longhorns beat up on TCU, a team it had not beaten since Mack Brown coached in Austin. Then, Texas vanquished the Purple Wizard in Manhattan, Kansas, a game it had not won on the road since George W. Bush’s first term as president.

Then, on a rainy Saturday morning in Dallas, it looked like perhaps Texas wasn’t back, as they say, when Kyler Murray and the Sooners charged down the field on the opening drive, scoring easily. But these days, the Longhorns don’t fold like a cheap card table at the first sight of adversity. A poised Texas offense answered immediately, capping off a touchdown drive with a dash of trickery on a wildcat jump pass from Lil’Jordan Humphrey to fellow wide receiver Collin Johnson. It would be a shootout at the Midway.

The defense held strong, too, when it looked like Murray could have his way with Texas. Junior safety Brandon Jones picked off a Murray lob over the middle, which led to a Cameron Dicker field goal from 44 yards out.

Texas didn’t stay conservative with a lead, mixing in deep heaves, a steady dose of rushes from grad transfer Tre Watson and rookie Keaontay Ingram, and some more trick plays—described earlier this week by Herman as “special,” not “trick”—including a Philly Special-style reverse-pass to Ehlinger that set up a rushing touchdown to put the Horns up 24-10.

Texas came out strong after the break, too, bulldozing down the field after receiving the second half opening kickoff. Ingram smartly bounced an inside rush to the edge, breaking off a 31-yard rush that would lead to another Sam Ehlinger rushing touchdown.

Oklahoma responded with a 77-yard bomb from the future Oakland Athletic, who hit wide receiver Marquise Brown streaking down the field for a Sooner score. After the ensuing Texas drive stalled, Ryan Bujcevski punted for the first time with eight minutes and change left in the third quarter. No matter. Breckyn Hager, wearing the recently departed Tommy Nobis’ retired No. 60, emerged with the football on a sack of Murray, holding it up to the heavens until the refs made the call. Texas made Oklahoma pay with Ehlinger’s third rushing touchdown of the afternoon.

Texas continued to pour it on into the fourth. Lil’Jordan Humphrey, after bullying the Sooner secondary for a 29-yard reception, he caught a 15-yard TD pass from Ehlinger to put the Longhorns up 45-24.

Then Texas ran out the clock and cruised back to Austin with a blowout win over its most bitter rival. Just kidding, life is never that easy. Oklahoma scored three straight times to even the score at 45, deflating the elated spirit of Longhorn fans, who have long believed that this early season surge could be a mirage. Texas blinked and Oklahoma took advantage, scoring at will, highlighted by an 11-second OU drive that consisted solely of a 67-yard touchdown run by Murray, who sliced and diced through the Texas defense as Horns fans watched the slaughter in anguish.

But “being back,” as it were, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A truly great team cannot rely solely on a stellar offense, say, five total touchdowns and zero turnovers from its quarterback, in this case a superlative Sam Ehlinger, and expect to turn a 7-6 team into a conference championship winner. Nor can it count on its defense to win games on its own, especially against teams like Oklahoma, who can turn a 21-point deficit on its head in a matter of minutes. It must play well in all three facets, including special teams, to match the precedence set forth for it by the marvelous squads of yore.

Cameron Dicker answered the call with nine seconds to play. In his first Red River Showdown, the true freshman from Lake Travis, slammed a 40-yard field goal through the center of the uprights to win the game for Texas, its first in the rivalry since 2015 and only its third this decade.

Truly great teams find a way to win when it seems like everything is going wrong. This game is one that Texas would have lost—and did lose—the last couple years, as was the Kansas State game, when the Wildcats rallied and the Texas offense stalled in the second half last month. Not this team.

“There was zero negativity,” Herman said after the game, of the Sooners’ wild comeback. “There was zero hanging of heads.” It’s easy to say after a win, but the evidence supports this. On the sideline as the clock wound down, the Texas sideline looked loose and determined as ever, as if the players knew they could will themselves to a win.

This is not to say that Texas is truly great, or even totally “back,” as Texas fans and even Texas alum and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker like to say. The No. 9 Longhorns have formidable opponents left, like undefeated No. 5 West Virginia on Nov. 3, and they have to travel to Lubbock for another hotly contested matchup against Texas Tech the following week. Herman himself called the term “irrelevant” to his team, when asked about it after the OU game.

For now, Herman and his team have ended some nasty streaks that Texas fans would like to soon forget. In doing so, he’s sent some ghosts packing, and the Longhorn faithful is ready to look forward instead of back.

Photograph by Danielle Lopez.

 
 
 

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