Texas head coach Tom Herman warms up his team against Baylor Bears during pregame NCAA college football game on Saturday, October 24, 2020; Austin, Texas, at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas throttles Baylor, eyes its final chance in Stillwater

Posted October 24th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • The Longhorns, staggering under the weight of a pair of bitter losses to TCU and Oklahoma in the final minutes and a burdensome controversy over a polarizing alma mater, got past a tumultuous bye week and showed honest to goodness progress on all fronts.
  • “The bye week helped us inch closer to where we want to be,” head coach Tom Herman said. “We’re not there yet. We’re not even close, but we’re making strides.”
  • If Texas falls short in its final five games, it won’t be because of any talent gap. The Longhorns have the personnel to beat anybody remaining on their schedule and should have restored their confidence level if it had been lagging.

And now for the main event.

Actually maybe the only event left, given what’s at stake.

When a team like a 3-2 Texas reaches the halfway point of an abbreviated, 10-game season with two losses already in Big 12 play, the next game is so magnified in importance that it’s become the Game of the Year.

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That’s how big Texas-Oklahoma State next Saturday is shaping up to be.

The heretofore unranked, unloved (by some, including their own fan base) and underwhelming Longhorns took care of business on Saturday, methodically dispatching a distressed Baylor team for a thorough 27-16 win at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Texas played well on both sides of the ball, took command in a third quarter for one of the rare times and smacked around an inferior opponent. Heck, the players even remembered to stick around for the celebration afterward, which just might help put to rest a whole lot of division and acrimony.

Texas defensive back Chris Brown, right, along with linebacker Juwan Mitchell celebrate after making the final defensive stop of the game against Baylor. (Scott Wachter/USA Today)

The Longhorns, staggering under the weight of a pair of bitter losses to TCU and Oklahoma in the final minutes and a burdensome controversy over a polarizing alma mater, got past a tumultuous bye week and showed honest to goodness progress on all fronts. Maybe they are college football’s best practice team because Tom Herman got results.

They checked a lot of boxes Saturday:

  • More intensity on defense, with several strong stands and only 3 points allowed the first three quarters.
  • Big-strike offense with deep throws to Tarik Black, Joshua Moore and emerging tight end threat Jared Wiley.
  • Dedication to a running game that took some strides with a solid start from Bijan Robinson and zero fumbles by Keaontay Ingram.
  • Fewer dumb penalties (although Mr. Kerstetter shall remain in the doghouse).
  • Sam Ehlinger being Sam Ehlinger with three total touchdowns.

“The bye week helped us inch closer to where we want to be,” UT coach Tom Herman said. “We’re not there yet. We’re not even close, but we’re making strides.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger eludes Baylor linebacker William Bradley-King in the second quarter. Ehlinger produced three total touchdowns in the 27-16 win. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

What that all adds up to is a serious meeting for Texas with undefeated and sixth-ranked Oklahoma State (4-0), especially if the Longhorns want any more meaningful games the rest of the season.

Next Saturday’s game will be in Stillwater when it coincides with Halloween although that’s hardly necessary to instill any extra craziness in contests there.

Everything is at stake for a Texas team needing to find something deep within it and summon up the will and power and concentration to knock off the Big 12’s sole undefeated team and only CFP contender on the road.

That’s what’s on the line: staying in the mix. Beat Oklahoma State and throw the league standings into a tizzy with everybody back in the race.

Or lose to Oklahoma State for the Longhorns’ third conference loss of the season and relegate the rest of the year to consternation over the direction of Herman’s program and curiosity about just how well Greg Brown III can play on a basketball court.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty meaningless contest.

“I think over the past few games, we’re capable of pretty much anything, good or bad,” Ehlinger said. “But that’s in our control. If we clean up our mistakes and if we stay out of our own way, we’re pretty good.”

They were on Saturday.

If Texas falls short in its final five games, it won’t be because of any talent gap. The Longhorns have the personnel to beat anybody remaining on their schedule and should have restored their confidence level if it was lagging.

Now that the Cal Lutheran Bowl is over, Herman has bragging rights over former college teammate Dave Aranda, who had his hands full in fixing his COVID-impacted program without two starting offensive linemen, without much practice the last three weeks and with a rebuilding defense around stud linebacker Terrel Bernard. But that’s a short-time happy moment.

Oklahoma State, laden with skill personnel and swagger after getting past OU-killer Iowa State on Saturday, can be the ultimate buzzkill. Mike Gundy’s got a complete team with a suffocating defense that held Cyclones quarterback Brock Purdy to 105 passing yards until the final two minutes.

During Herman’s three years, his three-loss team to that point in 2017 fell in overtime to an 11th-ranked OSU team only by three, Tylan Wallace exposed a secondary without two suspended cornerbacks in a tight 38-35 Cowboys win in 2018, and Gundy insisted on relying solely on Chuba Hubbard in a 6-point loss to Texas last year. Nutty stuff.

“As for the craziness that happens, I don’t have an explanation for you,” Herman said. “They’re usually one of the better teams in our conference, and they’ll put up a good fight in Stillwater. And I do know we’re going to have to bring our A game.”

What’s even better, Texas has A game that still matters.

Win that one, and everyone is aware of Texas once more.

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