The Texas Longhorns flag flies proud following a touchdown in the second half of the AT&T Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Tx., on Saturday, October 10, 2015. (RICARDO BRAZZIELL / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Football

Longhorns now looking up as season’s second half begins

Posted October 17th, 2015

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Story highlights
  • Judging by the schedule, the Longhorns can still fight their way to winning record, bowl game.
  • Texas' four losses have come all against ranked opponents.
  • West Virginia, Texas Tech could be the swing games that decide if 2015 is a winning year or not.

Things looked awfully bleak when Texas was 1-4. It’s not dramatically better at 2-4, either.

But the win over Oklahoma changed the mood inside the program. Players and coaches both felt incredible relief after the 24-17 upset. Now, they must focus on the final six games and saving their season.

Yes, there is a clear path to a bowl game and a winning record.

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The final six games are mostly against teams in the middle or bottom half of the Big 12 standings. All four of UT’s losses have come against teams that were ranked in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. Those teams were a combined 22-2 before Saturday’s games.

Here’s a look back at Texas’ first six games and next six opponents.

Will Fuller of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after making a touchdown reception against the Texas Longhorns during the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
Will Fuller of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after making a touchdown reception against the Texas Longhorns during the first quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

LOOKING BACK

Sept. 5, at No. 11 Notre Dame

Final score: Notre Dame 38, Texas 3

Key play: Will Fuller hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass from Malik Zaire, giving the Irish a 21-point lead and leaving no doubt this wasn’t the Horns’ night.

Key stat: The UT defense allowed 527 total yards, including 214 on the ground.

What they said: “We are just a better football team than what we showed,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said.

What happened next: Strong announced the following Tuesday that assistants Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline would no longer call the plays. Those duties fell to receivers coach Jay Norvell.

Sept. 12, vs. Rice

Final score: Texas 42, Rice 28

Key play: Freshman Kris Boyd rushed upfield and disrupted an option play. Rice’s Driphus Jackson fumbled the ball, and it bounced right into Malik Jefferson’s arms. Jefferson raced 26 yards for a score, giving UT a 35-14 lead.

Key stat: Texas scored touchdowns in all three phases. Jerrod Heard, in his first career start, threw two touchdown passes, and Daje Johnson returned a punt 85 yards for a score.

What they said: “There’s always a little bit of bias, and I’m in this class. But I really feel like this is the (freshman) class that’s going to change the program,” receiver John Burt said.

What happened next: After a breakout performance, Heard cemented himself as the team’s starting quarterback going forward.

UT kicker Nick Rose walks off the field moments after missing an exrtra point that would have tied the game against California at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 19, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT kicker Nick Rose walks off the field moments after missing an extra point that would have tied the game against California at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday September 19, 2015. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sept. 19, vs. California

Final score: California 45, Texas 44

Key play: Texas battled back from a 21-point deficit and got within one on Heard’s 45-yard touchdown run. But kicker Nick Rose missed the extra-point attempt with 1:11 remaining.

Key stat: Heard had 527 total yards (163 rushing, 364 passing) and bumped Vince Young from the top spot in the UT record book.

What they said: “It’s nice knowing we’re close. We’re right there, we’re at the door. But at the end of the day, we lost,” guard Sedrick Flowers said.

What happened next: After three games, Texas was allowing 240.7 rushing yards per game.  That prompted multiple questions about what’s wrong with the defense. “It’s gap control. It’s coverage principles. It’s so many things,” Strong said.

Sept. 26, vs. No. 24 Oklahoma State

Final score: Oklahoma State 30, Texas 27

Key play: OSU tied things up with 1:33 remaining, and UT responded by going three-and-out. But punter Michael Dickson dropped the snap and got off a 10-yard punt. OSU kicked the winning field goal with 6 seconds left.

Key stat: Texas was 4 for 16 on third down conversions. The Horns didn’t have a single first down after Kent Perkins left with a knee injury with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter.

What they said: “We do it to ourselves,” Strong said.

What happened next: UT fans spent the following week focused on Big 12 officiating. Referee Alan Eck’s crew made several questionable calls, though the group was praised by the league supervisor.

Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) is sacked by TCU defensive tackle Chris Bradley (97) and TCU linebacker Travin Howard (32) in the first quarter during the Texas at TCU game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AMERICAN-STATESMAN / Rodolfo Gonzalez)
Texas quarterback Jerrod Heard (13) is sacked by TCU defensive tackle Chris Bradley (97) and TCU linebacker Travin Howard (32) in the first quarter during the Texas at TCU game Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, in Fort Worth, Texas. (AMERICAN-STATESMAN / Rodolfo Gonzalez)

Oct. 3, at No. 4 TCU

Final score: TCU 50, Texas 7

Key play: Receiver Josh Doctson showed terrific footwork to get one foot down and score on a 15-yard touchdown pass. That gave the Frogs a 16-0 lead less than 6 minutes after kickoff.

Key stat: The Frogs had 604 yards in what ranked as the biggest loss in Strong’s head coaching career. A late touchdown catch by Lorenzo Joe prevented it from being the fifth-worst loss in UT history.

What they said: “We’ve just got to keep fighting. There’s nobody on defense who gives up. We’ve just got to play smart,” linebacker Peter Jinkens said.

What happened next: National media spent the week speculating about Strong’s leadership when it was revealed Boyd had been on Twitter during halftime.

Oct. 10, vs. No. 10 Oklahoma (Dallas)

Final score: Texas 24, Oklahoma 17

Key play: Texas needed a big defensive stand to finish things off. Naashon Hughes and Poona Ford sacked Baker Mayfield for a 17-yard loss on third-and-14. Texas got the ball back with 3:33 remaining and ran out the clock.

Key stat: The Horns ran for 313 rushing yards, the team’s highest total since 2013.

What they said: “We got called out because of our 1-4 record. Said we were soft, not tough, couldn’t fight, had no pride. We showed that today. Guys have a lot of pride in the locker room, have a lot of fight,” running back Johnathan Gray said.

What happened next: Strong and the Longhorns got a spring in their step going into an off week after UT’s first win over a top-10 team since 2010.

Longhorns defenders Sheroid Evans (21) and Davante Davis (9) take down Oklahoma receiver Jarvis Baxter during the AT&T Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Tx., on Saturday, October 10, 2015. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Longhorns defenders Sheroid Evans (21) and Davante Davis (9) take down Oklahoma receiver Jarvis Baxter during the AT&T Red River Showdown between Texas and Oklahoma held at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday, October 10, 2015. (RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

GOING FORWARD

Oct. 24, vs. Kansas State

Series history: K-State leads 9-6

About the matchup: For many years, this has been the team that’s burned the Longhorns; K-State has won six of the last seven games dating back to 2006. Coach Bill Snyder’s crew had TCU on the ropes on Oct. 10, but eventually lost. Quarterback Joe Hubener hasn’t been consistent, but this team always plays well against UT. The Wildcats do a lot of things well, but none exceptional.

Prediction: Momentum from OU victory carries over. Texas wins.

Oct. 31, at Iowa State

Series history: Texas leads 11-1

About the matchup: On paper, this should be tilted in UT’s favor. But Halloween at Jack Trice Stadium? Against a team that feels like it got the raw end of replay reviews two years ago? Anything can happen. The Cyclones are reeling, and coach Paul Rhoads is fighting to save his job. Texas and Iowa State have similar numbers, but Heard’s playmaking skills give the Horns an edge.

Prediction: Texas gets quite a scare, but comes out alive.

Nov. 7, vs. Kansas

Series history: Texas leads 12-2

About the matchup: Kansas had new life under first-year coach David Beaty, but the Jayhawks were 0-5 going into Saturday’s game against Texas Tech. The Jayhawks can’t catch a break and rank at the bottom of almost every statistical category out there. Texas is playing this one at home, too. No Big 12 matchup is a bona fide walk-over, but this one is close.

Prediction: Horns win easily, improving to 5-4.

Nov. 14, at West Virginia

Series history: Tied 2-2

About the matchup: West Virginia and Texas Tech look like toss-up games when it comes to bowl eligibility. Prior to Saturday’s game against Baylor, coach Dana Holgorsen’s club was averaging 518.3 yards in four home games compared to the 369 it amassed at Oklahoma. Remember, it took two huge defensive plays by Steve Edmond late to seal a UT victory there in 2013.

Prediction: Hard to gauge. A split of WVU and Tech seems likely.

Nov. 26, vs. Texas Tech

Series history: Texas leads 49-15

About the matchup: The Red Raiders have toned down the uniform craziness this season and got back to scoring points. Tech was averaging 52.7 points per game prior to Saturday’s game against Kansas. This will also be the Raiders’ regular-season finale. So it’ll be the last time for Patrick Mahomes, DeAndre Washington and Jakeem Grant to do something big. If Texas loses at West Virginia, this becomes an absolute must-win.

Prediction: If Texas’ defensive line shows up like it did vs. Oklahoma, a win is possible.

Dec. 5, at No. 2 Baylor

Series history: Texas leads 74-26-4

About the matchup: Baylor coach Art Briles has already gone on record to proclaim this his best team yet. If the Bears are still undefeated by this point, they’ll be angling for a spot in the playoffs. And that means Baylor will want to run it up. Briles may be forever motivated by getting passed over for the Texas job after the 2013 season. It’s up to the Horns to slow down Seth Russell as much as possible.

Prediction: If Texas pulls this off, it’d be one of the biggest upsets of the entire college football season.

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