Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas stuns TCU, the latest hint that the Longhorns are rising again

Posted September 22nd, 2018

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Story highlights
  • With the victory over TCU, Texas snapped a four-game losing streak to the Frogs and improved to 3-1 for the first time since 2012.
  • The back-to-back wins over No. 22 USC and No. 17 TCU mark the the first time for such success over marquee teams since 2008.
  • "I'm just happy to beat TCU," said Longhorn junior wide receiver Collin Johnson.

The best team won.

How long has it been since we’ve written that about the home team on a big stage?

But it’s the unvarnished truth as Texas bested TCU and in dominating fashion at that. There was nothing fluky about this one.

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Starving for relevance, unranked and unappreciated Texas staged yet another comeback victory in consecutive weeks to break the TCU stranglehold, snapping a four-game losing streak in this series and knocking off the 17th-ranked Horned Frogs 31-16 in a Big 12 opener before a raucous crowd of 95,124 on Saturday.

Texas finally sustained something. It’s a learning process.

“In the past, when we beat a ranked opponent, we’d blow it away the next game,” said junior wide receiver Collin Johnson with yet another breakout performance with seven catches for 124 yards and a diving touchdown. “We can be a special team.”

Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) celebrates his interception with defensive back Josh Thompson (29) during an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

On the heels of a remarkable turnaround in which the Longhorns overwhelmed 22nd-ranked Southern Cal 37-14, they stuck it to the Frogs at Royal-Memorial Stadium as well and walked off with a gritty upset for their second straight win over a ranked opponent.

Texas hadn’t done that in consecutive weeks in 10 long years. Not since 2008, when Mack Brown’s second best team ripped No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 11 Missouri and No. 7 Oklahoma State in three straight weeks before falling to No. 6 Texas Tech on Michael Crabtree’s heroics. That Texas team went 12-1.

This edition may not be 12-1 good. We remember Maryland. No one’s seriously expecting Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) to run the table, but no one should totally discount it either. After dropping that ugly season-opener to Maryland, the Longhorns have escaped Tulsa and routed both USC and TCU to signal good things ahead.

It’s a very effective formula that Tom Herman is using.

Texas is doing it with a ravenous defense that had four takeaways Saturday, has been rock-solid the last two games and has given a sputtering but effective offense time to gather itself after going 0-for-8 on third downs and strike for enough points to seal the deal. For the third straight week, quarterback Sam Ehlinger didn’t throw an interception as he connected with Johnson as one of the Big 12’s most dangerous tandems.

Johnson made a diving catch in the end zone to mimic similarly acrobatic scores this season from teammates Devin Duvernay (Maryland) and Joshua Moore (USC). Asked to rank them by degree of difficulty, Ehlinger said, “One, one and one.”

That’s also the position Texas currently occupies in the Big 12 standings. No. 1.

Texas defensive back Brandon Jones (19) tackles TCU running back Sewo Olonilua (33) during an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Yes, it’s very, very early, and the Longhorns travel next Saturday to Manhattan where they haven’t won since 2002 with five straight road losses.

That’s why Herman’s not being smug. He knows how hard the journey will be.

“All (the win over TCU) does is validate that we have taken another step,” Herman said. “We’ve got many, many, many steps to take. I really like our grit and the tenacity of this ballclub.”

And he likes how explosive his team is.

Texas trailed USC and then scored 34 straight points to win going away. Texas fell behind TCU 16-10 on a field goal midway through the third quarter, then roared to life with 21 unanswered points to topple a team that was in last year’s Big 12 title game.

For now, Longhorn Nation can crow that its team is 3-1 for the first time since 2012 and has won three straight games for the first time in four seasons.

“I’m just happy to beat TCU,” Johnson said. “We hadn’t done that since I’ve been here.”

Texas did Saturday with a well-balanced offense that bade its time and a defense that is growing fangs by the hour.

We’ve all seen other positive signs turn sour before, but this dramatic victory over a potent TCU team that played Ohio State toe-to-toe a week ago stamps Texas as a legitimate team on the rise. It’s got stars galore in probably the league’s scariest secondary in freshman Caden Sterns — who had two interceptions Saturday — and the physical Brandon Jones as well as linebacker Gary Johnson and a line led by the belly-rubbing Chris Nelson, who unveils the happy gesture after big plays.

Lord knows how hungry Texas is, and this was as satisfying a win as there’s been around here in a while.

“Yeah, CN started it,” Gary Johnson said of the gesture. “It’s something we love doing.”

For a program as hungry as this blueblood franchise is, the “Eyes of Texas” sung at game’s end sounded a little more robust. There’s no guarantee the Longhorns won’t have more stumbles, but these two wins are laying the foundation for a Tom Herman team that’s finally breaking out.

“It’s good to see us moving forward and not stalling,” Ehlinger said. “We haven’t even scratched the surface.”

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