Horns Dominate Sooners, Lose by Five


Before we get to the recap, here are the statistical categories in which Texas led Oklahoma in Saturday’s 109th Red River Shootout Rivalry Showdown: passing yards (334-129); rushing yards (148-103); time of possession (37:58-22:02); first downs (24-11); and third down conversions (7 of 18-1 of 11).

In a vacuum, that’s enough for a Texas win, and if you didn’t watch the game, you’d think the score was about 42-7 in favor of the Longhorns. Because of continuing special teams woes, a drive-killing 10 offensive penalties, and yet another fumble inside an opponent’s 5-yard line, Texas fell to Oklahoma 31-26. The loss drops Texas to 1-2 in Big 12 play, and 2-4 overall, the worst start through six games for a Longhorns team since 1956. For context, that’s the pre-Royal era—he coached the Washington Huskies that year.

“Overall, I’m very pleased with the way we played,” Strong said in his postgame presser, though noting, “You just can’t give away opportunities, especially when you’re playing a very good team.”

The Texas defense looked on-point as usual, with Jordan Hicks looking incredible on some open-field tackles, stellar defensive back play by Duke Thomas and Jason Hall, and a punishing defensive line that included a JJ Watt-like swat of a Trevor Knight pass by Malcolm Brown on a crucial third down. Oklahoma didn’t convert a third down until the end of the fourth quarter, one that effectively ended Texas’ comeback efforts.

The offense clicked more than it didn’t, with Swoopes looking poised as ever. He’s learning when to throw it away, he’s rolling out less, and he’s looking downfield instead of at the defensive line. Swoopes finished with 334 passing yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT, though the latter was a costly pick-6. He also ran for 50 yards, and had a 72-yard rush negated by a holding penalty on John Harris. The miscues at center continued, as a long Texas drive in the second quarter stalled on yet another fumble at Oklahoma’s goal line. Aside from the holding penalty, Harris looked great, grabbing 5 receptions for 90 yards and 2 TDs.

Special teams continues to confound Longhorn fans. After Rose hit a 28-yard field goal to put Texas up 3-0, his ensuing kickoff was returned 91 yards for a touchdown. The coverage was so atrocious that Deadspin immediately posted the highlight with the flippant headline: That’s Good Kickoff Coverage, Texas. The punt coverage team had its woes also, as safety Adrian Colbert slammed into punt returner Sterling Shepard well before the ball reached him for a costly 15-yard penalty and an upbraiding by Coach Strong. Of the three units, special teams is the only one not trending upward in the last few weeks. It will have to be addressed, and soon.

When I interviewed Strong this past spring, I asked him about getting all the units on the same page at the same time during practice. He told me, “Very rarely does everything click,” with the implication that come Saturday, everything should click. It hasn’t yet—mental errors still stand in the way of that, though Texas has shown that they can hang with all the teams they’ve played. Except BYU.

 Image by Anna Donlan.


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