BEVO BEAT

Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10 (OT): Winnable game morphs into another gut-wrenching loss

Posted October 21st, 2017

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Bad teams always find creative ways to lose. That’s what Texas did over the last three frustrating years.

Nowadays, things have changed in Austin. This isn’t a bad team, at least not according to the eye test. The Longhorns play with terrific gusto, as witnessed by their fourth-quarter comebacks against USC and Oklahoma.

But for whatever reason, coach Tom Herman’s club simply cannot finish the job.

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Saturday’s 13-10 overtime loss to 10th-ranked Oklahoma State at Royal-Memorial Stadium was yet another gut-wrenching example. Ill-timed penalties, missed assignments or just botched execution all turned a winnable game against a top-10 opponent into yet another loss, just like they did against the Trojans and Sooners.

“It’s tough,” UT linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I have no words for it, honestly.”

Or, as quarterback Sam Ehlinger put more succinctly, “It’s awful. Losing sucks”

Oklahoma State’s Ramon Richards makes the game-ending interception in overtime to help the Cowboys win 13-10. Stephen Spillman/American-Statesman

Fans will zero in on Ehlinger’s ill-fated jump ball to Jerrod Heard in overtime. But there were so many mistakes before OSU’s Ramon Richards grabbed that game-ending freebie in the end zone. This wasn’t a moral victory, not by any stretch. This was a game Texas (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) lost straight up.

“We’re going to shower as fast as we can, pack up, get on the bus and get on the plane before somebody changes their mind and we have to play again,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. He’s now won five straight in Austin, something that’s unprecedented.

Meanwhile, these losses are piling up on Herman’s ledger. With five games remaining, Texas is now flirting with a losing record for the fourth straight season. Herman would’ve thought you were crazy had this been suggested in August.

But there he was Saturday, the coach known for his offensive imagination, looking flabbergasted how the defense could keep the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense in check and still come up short.

“We gotta help them more on offense,” said Herman, who is now having to defend offensive coordinator Tim Beck just seven games into his tenure. “There’s no doubt in my mind that (Beck) and the offensive staff that’s in that room, along with myself, are the right guys to get that done.”

Most UT fans will focus on the ending, so best to start there. Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) kicked a 34-yard field goal in overtime after Mason Rudolph threw incomplete on third-and-2. Ehlinger came out and tried to hit Lorenzo Joe in the end zone, and OSU’s A.J. Green was called for pass interference.

Oklahoma State’s A.J. Green (left) was flagged for pass interference on Texas receiver Lorenzo Joe in overtime. Stephen Spillman/for American-Statesman

On third-and-4 from the OSU 6, Ehlinger rolled to his left. He had Dorian Leonard (6-5), Lorenzo Joe (6-3), Cade Brewer (6-4) and Heard (6-3) running routes in the north end zone. Collin Johnson (6-6) and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6-5) weren’t even on the field. Ehlinger floated a ball into an empty area, making for Ramon’s easy pick.

“We ran a switch route. They switched it off well on defense. I just made a mistake,” Ehlinger said. “I thought Jerrod was going to kind of circle back up and go back up into the end zone for a jump ball. That’s why I put it up there for a chance to go win. That’s not anything that I should have done. That was a mistake.”

There were mistakes galore from the get-go. Zach Shackelford struggled with the snap early. Jefferson was called for an admittedly weak personal foul for shoving Justice Hill out of bounds. Ehlinger had to chase down a fumble that resulted in a 34-yard loss. That was in the first half.

Somehow, the two teams were tied 7-7 at the break. Rudolph, a true NFL-caliber talent, put on a dazzling display early, and J.D. King scored from 7 yards out. But then Gundy oddly went conservative, trying to run the ball against a defense that now can stop the run consistently.

Texas’ first touchdown was sparked by a turnover. Poona Ford stripped Hill and DeShon Elliott recovered the ball at the Texas 14. Two plays later, coaches called for a rare throw to John Burt. The one-time hurdler put that track speed to use on a 90-yard catch that led to Ehlinger’s 2-yard touchdown plunge.
[anvplayer video=”4205869″ station=”998254″]

Oklahoma State safety Ramon Richards (7) gets a finger on Texas wide receiver John Burt (1) during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

The Longhorns went up 10-7 on Joshua Rowland’s 22-yard field goal in the third quarter. But the next drive was ruined on first down when Denzel Okafor got beat by his man for a sack and an 18-yard loss. When it appeared the defense forced a punt, an illegal substitution penalty gave OSU a free first down.

In the fourth quarter after OSU tied it up 10-10, Texas got a 15-yard run from Chris Warren III. The Horns wasted a fresh set of downs and punted. The next drive was ruined by a Cade Brewer holding penalty and a delay of game.

Texas got it again with 4:15 remaining, went three-and-out and punted. The defense held.

Texas got it back with 1:46 left in regulation. Heard dropped a pass on third-and-3, so a UT holding penalty got declined. The Cowboys took over, and the UT defense held again.

“Monumental effort by our defense,” Herman said. “We gotta help them more on offense.”

It truly was an excellent defensive show by Todd Orlando’s crew. Breckyn Hager, now a third-down pass rusher, had two sacks. Hager and Ford combined for 4.5 tackles for loss.

Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager had two sacks on Saturday against Oklahoma State. Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

Kris Boyd, who had been picked on in recent weeks, had 13 tackles and a 33-yard kickoff return. Holton Hill also had nine tackles and played one of his best games of the year.

“I felt real down on myself about dropping that OU … whatever,” said Hager, who dropped a potential interception late against the Sooners. “This upper class, it’s special. I’m tired of talking about it to you guys and saying that. But we are special, and we are bringing positive out of these negative outcomes.”

There’s nothing special about this offense, though, something that’s supposed to have been Herman’s forte. Warren had just 33 yards rushing, Texas had 42 as a team as the Horns went 3 for 17 on third down.

Still, the Longhorns aren’t giving up. Next comes a road trip to Baylor, which was winless heading into a Saturday late game against West Virginia.

“Yes, we’re very close. This thing ain’t over with,” Elliott said. “Eventually we’ll rally together and get this thing right.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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