Normally, football games don’t come down to one play. But this was no normal year at Texas.
Unbelievable, are-you-kidding plays were the norm this season, and several helped the Longhorns to their 5-7 record.
There were times it looked as if coach Charlie Strong didn’t have bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. Teams must create their own, to be sure. Texas had the worst defense in school history this season and the third-worst scoring offense in the Big 12.
So how did this bunch beat No. 10 Oklahoma and No. 12 Baylor? It’s a question UT fans will kick around for years to come.
“I don’t have an answer for this team. I wish I did,” Strong said after the season finale.
Here are the 10 worst plays of Texas’ season:
No. 10: Malik Zaire’s dagger. Thousands of Texas fans migrated to South Bend for the season opener. Things didn’t go well in the first half, but Tyrone Swoopes found John Burt for a 48-yard completion early in the third quarter. That led to a field goal, and UT trailed 17-3. But the biggest play of the game was just ahead. On second-and-8 from Notre Dame’s 34, Malik Zaire stepped back and fired one of the best passes you’ll see to Will Fuller for a 66-yard touchdown. Cornerback Duke Thomas expected safety help that never came. Game over.
“We just gave him too much time to throw it and they have really outstanding receivers,” Strong said afterward. “When you allow him the time and he can find him, which he did, he’s going to make those throws.”
No. 9: The immaculate tip. This SportsCenter highlight didn’t turn the Thanksgiving night game, but it typified the Longhorns’ season. Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes threw a deep ball to Devin Lauderdale, one that Texas cornerback Holton Hill was ready to grab for an easy interception. Lauderdale, however, smashed into Hill while the cornerback was still trying to control it. The ball popped loose and went into the hands of a trailing Jakeem Grant, who snagged it in mid-air and finished off a demoralizing 65-yard touchdown.
“(Lauderdale) made the defensive back cough the ball up, and I just made a great play,” Grant said. “It was just the hand of God, and it was an unbelievable moment.”
This play seems to sum up Texas' season. Jakeem Grant with the ultimate concentration. https://t.co/aFmP7xXqX7
— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) November 27, 2015
No. 8: What’s a Wildcat again? How should coaches react when everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming, and your defense can’t stop it? Baylor’s third-string quarterback, Chris Johnson, was knocked out with a concussion in the season finale, leaving the Bears no choice but to run a duct-tape system that relied heavily on the single wing — the Wildcat.
Baylor opened the third quarter with an eight-play, 69-yard drive with nothing but running plays. The Bears used a four-wide receiver formation, but simply ran off tackle via direct snaps all the way down the field. Johnny Jefferson’s 20-yard touchdown run put an exclamation point on Texas’ need to recruit and develop more defensive linemen this offseason.
“We had some turnovers here and there, but we knew we were going to have to run the ball to have a chance to win,” Baylor tackle Spencer Drango said. “It (the Wildcat) was working, so we just kept going.”
No. 7: Connor Williams gets a grip. The second-most questionable officiating call of the season came at West Virginia. On first-and-10 from the Mountaineers’ 29-yard line, quarterback Jerrod Heard rolled out to his left and raced in for the score.
But it came right back. Officials flagged UT’s freshmen tackle for holding. The drive ended in a field goal. Considering this young team struggled on the road all season, the Horns needed all the confidence they could get, even on a four-point swing in the first quarter.
Penalties negated several big Longhorns’ plays this season. Two touchdowns and an interception were taken off the board against Oklahoma State. This wasn’t a sloppy team overall, but it had critical errors and awful times.
No. 6: A frightful interception: The dreary showing in Ames, Iowa, on Halloween may have been the night Jay Norvell lost the play-calling duties for 2016. Texas didn’t get any deeper than Iowa State’s 47-yard line through three quarters en route to a 24-0 embarrassment.
Ironically, Heard’s worst individual play of the season came on third-and-4 from Iowa State’s 47.
He rolled right and looked, but no one was open. Instead of throwing the ball away or running out of bounds, Heard threw up an easy interception at ISU’s 32. If Heard learned anything this season, there are times you simply have to eat it and go to the next play.
“We can get in sync, but there were breakdowns at every position,” Strong said after the game. “When you look at it, it is not just at the quarterback position. We have to get better all across the board. It is not just on the quarterback position, it is on all of them.”
No. 5: A bad snap in Fort Worth. From the way TCU’s Trevone Boykin played this season, there may not have been much Texas could have done to upset TCU anyway. But the Horns helped the Horned Frogs plenty.
Trailing 7-0 early and facing a fourth-and-11 in the shadow of Texas’ own goal line, deep snapper Kyle Ashby’s punt snap sailed over punter Michael Dickson’s head. The ball went out of the back of the end zone for a safety. TCU, up 9-0, got the ball back and quickly scored again, taking a 16-0 lead with 9:48 left in the opening quarter. The rout was on.
“It’s frustrating,” Strong said after the game, when asked about Texas’ special teams miscues.
No. 4: Done in — by a play called “Hook ‘em.” If the Iowa State game didn’t cost Norvell, then asking Swoopes to throw a difficult downfield pass to Daje Johnson on fourth-and-7 in crunch time against Texas Tech sure did. It gave the Red Raiders, leading 41-38 with just under three minutes left in the game, a first down at the Longhorns’ 40.
Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury stole a trick play from the Auburn-Texas A&M game where players bunched together at the line of scrimmage. Grant, who’s 5-foot-6, took the ball, raced around the left side, avoided UT tacklers Hill and Jason Hall and scored, giving Tech a 10-point lead. The Red Raiders held on to win, 48-45.
“It was a midget play called Hook ‘em,” Grant said.
No. 3: Holding … on the defense? Big 12 officials have a difficult job. But some calls defy belief. Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford was called for defensive holding on a running play where Oklahoma State’s Rennie Childs carried up the middle for no gain. Strong quickly complained, though the league office later said the majority of the calls were right.
As sideline rants go, Strong is no Will Muschamp. He let one official know his feelings, but replays showed the official leaned in and bumped Strong and then threw a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct. OSU, which was trailing 27-24 in the final minutes of the game, ended up with the the ball at Texas’ 19-yard line and tied it 27-27 on a 41-yard field goal.
After the game, Strong was asked about the holding call. “That’s what is surprising,” he said, “because when you think about it, the play before we got the interference call, and the very next play you get a defensive holding call, and they run the football. I’ve never heard of that. In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen that, so I thought it was holding on them, so I was clapping thinking we were going to get a call at one point … and then the guy said it was a defensive holding call, and I said, ‘On a run play on the offense, that cannot happen,’ but it did.”
Strong then was asked if that was when the unsportsmanlike conduct flag was thrown. “Threw the flag on me for sayin’ a little more than that,” Strong answered.
No. 2: Michael Dickson’s drop. As bad as the previous sequence was against Oklahoma State, the Horns still had a chance to pin the Cowboys deep after going three-and-out on their next drive. Tied at 27-27 with less than a minute to play, OSU coach Mike Gundy was already looking at overtime anyway.
But Dickson bobbled the punt snap on fourth down and managed to get off only a 10-yard effort. With 36 seconds left, Oklahoma State took over at Texas’ 18. Ben Grogan’s 40-yard field goal with six seconds left gave the Cowboys a 30-27 win. At the time, the Longhorns fell to 1-3.
“When you’re sitting there expecting to go to overtime, that’s your mentality and you’re just getting ready to play another down, and then to have that taken away from you,” safety Dylan Haines said afterward, “you just look there and say, ‘I wish I had done more, I wish I would’ve played better.'”
No. 1: The missed PAT. California players should be kicking themselves for almost giving up a 21-point, fourth-quarter lead. Heard and D’Onta Foreman both scored to get Texas within striking distance, then Heard broke loose for a dazzling 45-yard touchdown run to make it 45-44 with 1:11 left to play.
All Texas needed was Nick Rose’s extra point, and the game likely would have headed into overtime. But Rose pushed his kick wide right. Cal ran out the clock and won. Complete heartbreak.
“Nick has been doing well, and for that to happen there, he got the pressure coming from the outside and just mishit it,” Strong said. “Just go ahead and kick through it. If anything, the guy may have ran at you when you’re ready to kick. I think he just didn’t kick through the ball. … (After the game) I was just talking to him, and I said, ‘You’ve got to get your head up.’ Mistakes have been made, but it’s a mistake that can be corrected.”
When the season was all said and done, Rose finished the year 38 of 39 on extra-point attempts.