Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman reacts after a false start late in the second quarter against Oklahoma Sooners in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Stinging loss could leave Tom Herman on borrowed time at Texas

Posted October 10th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • What the crushing loss may have done is signal the beginning of the end for Herman, who was supposed to make his fourth season one of unmatched glory. So far, not so much.
  • The gritty comeback from a two-touchdown deficit and Ehlinger’s spectacular performance, stirring though it was, shouldn’t obscure a ragged effort for much of the game.
  • But it’s more ominous that just one game. Since 2018, Texas has an unremarkable 10-7 record. Does that suggest a program headed in the right direction?

DALLAS — The ball floated out of Sam Ehlinger’s exhausted arm and was cradled by Oklahoma’s Tre Brown in the corner of the end zone, ending a game that had almost refused to end.

Ehlinger did everything humanly possible — maybe super-humanly possible — but his heroics weren’t enough to stave off the most stinging of all losses and perhaps an era-changing result for his head coach.

A loss to Oklahoma. Yet another one. 

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It took four overtimes on this hot, muggy Saturday, but the unranked Sooners’ epic 53-45 win in the Cotton Bowl only extended the eventual misery for a 22nd-ranked Texas team that is suddenly reeling with a 2-2 record and a 1-2 mark in Big 12 play with a coach who may be dealing with marked time.

Texas Longhorns head to the field during pregame to compete against Oklahoma Sooners in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

For sure, this defeat effectively ended any conference title ambitions, given the remaining schedule. Not even the year 2020 thinks this season can be wacky enough for Texas to get back in the Big 12 hunt. Texas too often doesn’t even look like a good team at times.

And that sits at the doorstep of Tom Herman, who if he doesn’t correct this slide quickly may be Charlie Strong with hair.

What the crushing loss may have done is signal the beginning of the end for Herman, who was supposed to make his fourth season one of unmatched glory. So far, not so much.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) looks on after throwing an interception to Oklahoma Sooners defensive back Tre Brown (6) in the fourth overtime to los 53-45 in the Red River Showdown at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The clock may be ticking even though Herman’s safe this year, thanks mostly to a finance-robbing pandemic, a buyout that would start at $25 million and a shallow replacement pool beyond Urban Meyer. Longhorn Nation has to be grappling, however, with the notion that Herman isn’t the guy to turn this proud program around.

The gritty comeback from two touchdowns down and Ehlinger’s spectacular performance, stirring though it was, shouldn’t obscure a ragged effort for much of the game.

“We didn’t do enough things to win, and we have to reshift our focus,” said Herman, whose record against OU falls to 1-4 at Texas. “This is a crazy year, and it’s going to get crazier.  But we have an opportunity still to have a really, really good season.”

Yes, if your idea of a great season is the Cheez-It Bowl.

For a time, Mack Brown couldn’t beat OU either, but eventually he did. Only the strongest of optimists see Herman duplicating that at this juncture, and he’d better hurry.

“We’re very much a good team,” protested defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham. “I don’t think the problem is talent. The problem is discipline and execution.”

Oklahoma Sooners defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey (8) forces a fumble on Texas Longhorns running back Keaontay Ingram (26) in the first quarter in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The list of Texas transgressions is growing by the kickoff.

The discipline is frighteningly lacking, whether it’s a head-shaking personal foul against center Derek Kerstetter on a run to the 1 that made Texas settle for a field goal or 11 penalties for 101 yards after 12 infractions a week before.

The line blocking is just bad. Texas’ top three running backs totaled 34 yards on 11 carries with no run beyond 9 yards.

The special teams are an eyesore whether it’s Ryan Bujcevski’s blocked rugby punt after taking two extra steps, Cameron Dicker’s blocked field goal in overtime, Herman’s decision not to let Dicker try a 52-yarder and Sooners returner Marvin Mims 36-yard punt return.

While Texas had three series that went three-and-out in the third quarter, OU was scoring a pair of touchdowns for a 31-14 lead, including a masterful 87-yard, 17-play drive that consumed eight-plus minutes.

But it’s more ominous that just one game. Since 2018, Texas is an unremarkable 10-7. Does that suggest a program headed in the right direction?

Flat out, Texas played very poorly for three quarters and did basically nothing well. OU controlled both lines of scrimmage all day, sacking Ehlinger six times and holding the Longhorns rushing attack to a pitiful 89 yards in regulation while rushing for 208 yards on the day and allowing Spencer Rattler to go down in the pocket just once in 36 pass plays.

Does Herman see the same domination up front?

“Yes, I do,” he said. “Why? They’ve got some really good players on both sides of the ball and really good coaches.”

But doesn’t Texas?

If not this year, when? It’s a question that should keep athletic director Chris Del Conte up at night.

This season Herman was dealt two aces with a very flawed Sooners team and his own gutsy, physical quarterback who still can’t quite will by himself an even more flawed team to victory, only consecutive heartbreaking losses aside from the miracle in Lubbock.

And Herman seems lost for answers.

He may be Coach Mensa and he may be hailed as an offensive guru. But if he doesn’t halt this troubling tailspin, the coach who keeps telling his fan base that all his team’s errors are “fixable” may be fixin’ to get fired.

RELATED: Golden: Sam Ehlinger’s legacy at Texas takes a hit with his 1-4 career record vs. Sooners

RELATED: Oklahoma 53, No. 22 Texas 45 (4OT): Another sloppy performance that Sam Ehlinger can’t completely save

RELATED: Texas-Oklahoma notebook: Ryan Bujcevski’s bad day leads to criticism of a Longhorns coach

RELATED: Oklahoma 53, Texas 45: The expanded boxscore

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