Texas was back Tuesday night.
By that, we don’t mean Sam Ehlinger was strutting on the Alamodome presentation stage, ushering in a long-awaited renaissance. But this was a return for Texas from its September form, back when the Longhorns were ranked in the top 10 of the country and going toe-to-toe with LSU. Texas wasn’t dominant in the 38-10 upset win over Utah. But the Longhorns were … controlling. And given the way this season has ebbed and flowed and dipped and risen, controlling the 11th-ranked team in the country that came perhaps one Pac-12 title game loss away from the College Football Playoff is one hell of a way to close out 2019.
It’s been more than a month since we’ve seen the Longhorns in action. But who were these guys?
Texas came out aggressive — on both sides of the ball. The Horns won all three phases of the game. They looked energetic on offense, mixing it up. There were a couple of option runs. Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson both made plays. There was a throw-back pass to the quarterback and a 71-yard punt return. Texas made a 34-yard statement on the very first play of the game, but made an even bigger statement right before that when Tom Herman won the coin flip and took the ball. There was an Ingram leap over the defender. And it was the Utes, not the Horns, who looked off and flustered.
There’s been a fair amount of meh this season. Tuesday night at least looks like 2020 is pointing in the right direction again.
Why Texas (8-5) won
Certainly, this wasn’t all on the Longhorns. Utah looked flat on offense and certainly didn’t look like the No. 3-ranked defense in the country. But the offense kept the Utes guessing and the defense was buzzing all around the ball, getting big performances from Ossai and Caden Sterns and Chris Adimora. Sam Ehlinger looked comfortable throughout, produced four touchdowns and kept everyone involved. Collin Johnson went out the right way. So did Devin Duvernay. Sure, you can say the Utes were disinterested in this one because they fell short of the CFP. Same thing could be said for Georgia last year. but a bowl win is a bowl win, and Texas looked as in control as Utah looked off balance.
Why No. 11 Utah (11-3) lost
The Utes traveled 1,300 miles for this? Quarterback Tyler Huntley had an off night. Running back Zack Moss — he of the three straight 1,000-yard seasons — was held in check. Leading receiver Brant Kuithe was shut down. The Utes normally thrive on third downs, but not tonight. They took chances on fourth down, but failed. This was still a 10-0 game at halftime, but everything spiraled quickly after the Utes were stopped on fourth-and-short on their opening drive of the second half. History favored a Utah turnaround — no team has given up more fourth-quarter points this season than Texas, and the Utes had outscored teams 208-78 in the second half this season — but that turnaround never came.
What this win means
There would have been questions had the Horns been pushed around, as perhaps many expected. But now there are questions, only they’re the good kind. Did we see this defense finally turn a corner? With so many young guys coming back, will this performance carry over to next fall? Will we see this kind of offensive diversity continue with Mike Yurcich running things? Is Joseph Ossai ready to ascend into that next level for Texas?
1. The player of the game? Ossai, easily. The junior linebacker finished with a game-high nine tackles, three sacks and six tackles for loss. He was everywhere.
2. Utah came into this game allowing teams only 70.3 rushing yards a game. That’s the No. 1-ranked rush defense in the country. Texas finished with 231. Ingram (13-108-1) and Roschon Johnson (6-49, 8.2 ypc) made impacts.
3. Welcome back, Collin Johnson. After missing the last three games with a bum hamstring, he finished his UT career with a splash, hauling in a 34-yard pass on the first play of the game, then scoring his first touchdown since Nov. 9. He finished with three catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Fellow senior Devin Duvernay took a half to wake up, but ended his brilliant final season on a good note, too (3-92-1).
4. It was supposed to be Utah roughing up Ehlinger, not Texas roughing up Huntley. But the Horns finished with five sacks; Utah had three.
5. Texas and Utah were among the nation’s top teams when it comes to converting third downs into first downs. The Longhorns ranked ninth nationally, the Utes 12th. But while Texas was right at its season average, going 4-for-9, the Utes were a miserable 4-for-14.
Plays of the game
1. D’Shawn Jamison’s 71-yard punt return. It set up UT’s opening touchdown, Collin Johnson’s first score since November. It turned a tenuous, early 3-0 game into a 10-0 lead.
2. Utah, trailing 10-0, went for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 45 on the opening possession of the second half. Huntley faked the handoff and kept it off the left side. But Ossai and B.J. Foster were all over it. Texas took over in Utah territory.
3. Consequently, Ehlinger’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Ingram on the short-field drive set up by the fourth-down stop made it 17-0, a pretty steep climb even for a Utes team that had outscored teams 208-78 this season in the second half.
4. How about the very first play of the game? Ehlinger’s perfect 34-yard strike to Collin Johnson got the offense humming, and it set up the opening-drive field goal. Johnson was wide open; the Horns seemed totally comfortable testing Utah’s secondary that was missing two starters.
1st quarter: FG, punt, punt
2nd quarter: TD, INT
3rd quarter: TD, TD
4th quarter: TD, TD
In 11 drives, the Horns had only one three-and-out.
The last five Texas bowl games
2013: No. 10 Oregon 30, Texas 7 (Alamo Bowl)
2014: Arkansas 31, Texas 7 (Texas Bowl)
2017: Texas 33, Missouri 16 (Texas Bowl)
2018: No. 14 Texas 28, No. 6 Georgia 21 (Sugar Bowl)
2019: Texas 38, No. 11 Utah 10 (Alamo Bowl)
Next up for Texas: The offseason
National signing day is the first Wednesday in February. The Horns are working on a top-10 class. The new offensive and defensive coordinators will hit the ground running. Spring football is right around the corner. We’ll see how the NCAA transfer portal shakes out and we’ll find out whether any Longhorns decide to leave school early for the NFL draft. Next season starts out with South Florida at home, then a big road trip to LSU, and then UTEP before the usual Big 12 slate.
News on Bevo Beat is free and unlimited. Access to the rest of Hookem.com is included with an Austin American-Statesman subscription in addition to Statesman.com and the ePaper edition. Subscribe today at statesman.com/subscribe.