Want evidence that Texas plays to its level of competition?
Well, call up that DVR copy of the thrilling 48-45 win over seventh-ranked Oklahoma that you’ve watched two or three times and then re-watch the second half of Saturday’s near-disaster against Baylor.
Tale of two different games. The Horns were up 21 before the Sooners roared back, but there was the feeling three quarters in Dallas that Tom Herman’s group had turned the corner. At game’s end, the feeling was a reality and a top-10 ranking soon followed.
Then Baylor happened. And good thing it did. The No. 9 Horns won by half a dozen but won’t have to spend this off week reading and hearing about how great they are because the second half was a real struggle. Expect Tom Herman and his staff to drill into their players’ heads that a scoreless second half may work against Kansas State or Baylor but it certainly won’t fly against someone like West Virginia or Texas Tech.
Such is life when you’re nationally ranked. The expectations go up, as well they should. Texas will have to bring more juice in the third and fourth quarters if it wants to remain a card-carrying member of the Associated Press Top 10. The Horns have figured out how to win these nailbiters, but sooner or later they are going to bite off more than they chew if they don’t embrace the idea of keeping their collective foot on the throats of beatable opponents.
Saturday’s 23-17 win over the much-improved Bears did come with starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger missing all but 10 plays after hurting his shoulder. But a team that has aspirations of winning the Big 12 title will have to do a better job of coming up with the goods when it matters most.
Still, the name of the game is winning and Todd Orlando’s defense avoided becoming the lead story in the made-for-television movie of soon-to-be Baylor legend Charlie Brewer, who certainly did not disappoint against the best competition he has faced this season. The defense came oh-so close to being on the business end of an Elway-esque 97-yard drive, but thanks to some timely pressure from defensive end Charles Omenihu, the Horns survived the upset bid.
What you see is a mature group, borne from tough experiences from last year’s losses against USC, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, games that slipped away late.
“(Being more mature) has something to do with it,” Omenihu said. “It’s a mindset of just finishing teams off and making that an emphasis for us moving forward.”
So, Tom Herman, what was your message to your defense after consecutive near-choke jobs in the the last two fourth quarters?
“Great stop,” he said. “‘Almost’ only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. They came up when they needed to.”
Yes they did because the post-Oklahoma hangover was realer than Real Deal Holyfield. To their credit, the Longhorns sprung to life in the second quarter behind the artist formerly known as the starting quarterback. Buechele shook off some rust and led the Horns to football’s version of a unanimous decision though that fourth-quarter interception near midfield kept Baylor breathing along with a couple of misses from kicker Cameron Dicker.
Just like Evander for most of his legendary boxing career, the Horns were able to recover from early struggles to take out an opponent it was heavily favored to beat. Once again, style points don’t really matter at this point since the Horns are the owners of a six-game winning streak with the chance to heal up during this open week.
Ehlinger will benefit from some rest-up time, but it’s an even more important time for Orlando and Co. to delve into what’s befallen this defense late in games. It’s much easier to tackle a problem when a team is winning because players are more coachable when they see the results starting to happen. The breakdowns in the secondary where receivers found the soft spots of that zone late and up front where the pass rushers lost containment on two big Brewer scrambles in the fourth quarter will undoubtedly be addressed.
“What it is, I don’t know,” Herman said of the recent fourth quarters. “That’s again what another great reason or great feeling it is to have the bye week right now so we can kind of evaluate who we’re playing and what we’re asking them to do and how we’re coaching it.”
Looking ahead to Stillwater, Texas will be a double-digit favorite again with the Cowboys experiencing some of their biggest struggles of the Mullet era. History tells us that better teams than the 2018 Longhorns have gone out to there with plenty of confidence only to be ambushed in the early going. Shoot, the 2005 national champions were down 29-17 at the half before Vince Young pump-faked his way to an 80-yard touchdown run and the eventual comeback win.
This team doesn’t have a VY, but it does have some nice momentum going into the break.