Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas is playing inspired defense, but not enough to will the offense to points or wins

Posted October 21st, 2017

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It’s fitting that Texas stumbled in its first game past the halfway point of the season because it’s painfully obvious that Texas has half a team.

And the bad half got the Longhorns beat Saturday.

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The other half played not just winning football, but championship-caliber football as the Longhorns wowed 11th-ranked Oklahoma State and a Royal-Memorial Stadium announced crowd of 92,506 with a stingy performance befitting what may be shaping up as one of the better defenses in the Big 12.

Texas is hardly at TCU’s level, but it kept the nation’s No. 1 offense in check for almost the entire game, holding Oklahoma State more than 35 points under its average. But the offense cratered in an all too familiar outcome for a 13-10 overtime loss.

“We’ll keep digging,” Longhorns safety DeShon Elliott said. “We’ll eventually get to the diamonds.”

This was throwback Saturday, a good old-fashioned Southwest Conference slugfest with the two teams running the ball a combined 84 times and needing 15 punts over the last 18 possessions, not counting a truncated end-of-the-half series. Tommy Nobis would have been proud. But then he’d be turned off by a slipshod offense that produced just two first downs and 56 yards offense in the final quarter and overtime.

Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) and defensive back Holton Hill (5) break up a pass to Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington (28) in the second half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Texas is far, far from a complete team and won’t be until an offensive line materializes out of thin air — or from 2018 recruits — and the Longhorns find some semblance of a running attack beyond the pathetic 42 yards they were credited for.

Tom Herman promised a championship defense in the future, and defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has almost delivered that, except for the fact there will be no championship this season. As inspiring as Herman’s defense played throughout — and in Dallas after falling behind Oklahoma 20-0 — there’s no escaping the harsh truth of a 3-4 record and an uphill climb to even bowl eligibility.

Orlando can’t coach offense, too, can he?

He copied TCU’s blueprint that led to a Horned Frogs’ victory over these same Cowboys a month ago. He relied on Cover 2 and some Cover 3 in the secondary and kept only five and sometimes six in the box, giving Oklahoma State a run look that the Cowboys just could not resist. Mike Gundy’s bunch took the bait, which took the ball out of the hands out of terrific passing quarterback Mason Rudolph and into those of an elusive Justice Hill, who ran for 117 yards but never broke a huge one.

“It was a heck of a gameplan, heck of an execution of that gameplan by our players and defensive staff,” Herman said. “We knew we needed to stop the pass, which is a bit unconventional, obviously. But we’ve figured we’ve got enough athletes that when they decided to run that we could get off blocks and didn’t need the extra hat in the run game.”

The ploy worked. Or would have if Texas had mounted any offensive threat at all.

“Our defense played well enough today to beat any team in the country,” running back Chris Warren III said.

Gundy didn’t disagree but knows, like Texas, he’s also playing with a thin offensive line, relying on a third-string guard and a backup center.

“We’re down to the bare minimum,” Gundy said. “It’s like Gene Hackman in ‘Hoosiers’ when he started looking on the bench for replacements and there was nobody there. And I don’t think Mason was off. I think the other team was on.”

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The defense got outstanding play from rush end Breckyn Hager, who had a career-high two sacks, and all-star cornerback Holton Hill, who helped limit All-American candidate James Washington to just four catches for 32 yards. Linebacker Malik Jefferson and nose tackle Poona Ford excelled as well, particularly on a goal-line stand after Oklahoma State had a first-and-goal early in the fourth quarter and had to settle for a field goal.

“That was sweet,” Hager said.

But it went for naught because Sam Ehlinger and Co. had the ball 20 fewer snaps and 8 1/2 fewer minutes than Oklahoma State. The fact that the Longhorns haven’t thrown a touchdown pass at home against the Cowboys in 22 quarters since Colt McCoy in 2008 wasn’t lost on Gundy, who used a conservative philosophy to improve to 6-1 and remain in both the Big 12 and national championship picture.

As for Texas, the Longhorns remain perplexed and frustrated.

The best team won Saturday, but Texas is inching ever closer to knocking off a highly ranked team.

“We’re very close,” Elliott said. “Eventually we’ll rally together and get this thing right.”

But is he only half right?

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