Charlie Strong defiant afterward, “It’s not a program that’s in disarray, which many of you think”
Posted October 29th, 2016
This season’s roller-coaster of emotions has left many Longhorns fans emotionally exhausted.
The first half Saturday against Baylor was a rock-’em, sock-’em affair where Texas showed plenty of fight and took a two-point lead. The third quarter and most of the fourth was disheartening as Baylor showed why it leads the Big 12 in rushing.
But when the head coach walked out of Royal-Memorial Stadium, trailed by his excitable athletic director, fans were chanting his name — “Charlie! Charlie!”
Charlie Strong sure looked relieved after a white-knuckle finish that ended with a 35-34 upset win over the eighth-ranked Bears. Trent Domingue’s pressure-packed 39-yard field goal with 46 seconds left made the difference.
And a massive difference it was. Texas (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) is back to .500 after a critically important must-win game for a coach on the hot seat.
“It’s not a program that’s in disarray, which many of you think,” a defiant Strong said. “It’s not a program that’s going backward. It’s a program that’s headed forward. It’s going to be special one of these days when you really watch this program really take off.”
Strong, who is 15-18 in three seasons, has never flashed any anger whatsoever toward reporters. But it would appear the constant drumbeat about Houston coach Tom Herman or any other fill-in-the-blank coach replacing him is finally getting under his skin.
Strong called the noise “an embarrassment to everyone.”
“He takes a lot of bullets for us, which is unfortunate that he shouldn’t have to do,” tight end Andrew Beck said. “But he does a very good job of making sure we focus on what’s going on in the building.”
Fans chanting "Charlie!" pic.twitter.com/uNj9oiLYPP
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) October 30, 2016
The dynamic finish will be scrutinized for days so come, starting with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s use of the 18-Wheeler package at some of the oddest times. The defense practically melted down in the third quarter, allowing 167 rushing yards in the period alone and 398 for the game.
One particular play summed up the defense’s ups-and-downs this year. On first-and-10 from the Texas 34, Baylor quarterback Seth Russell got into the open field and hurdled Dylan Haines on a 28-yard run that reached the UT 6. That drive ended in Chris Callahan’s 24-yard field goal, giving the Bears a 34-26 lead with 8:54 remaining.
Instead of falling apart, the Longhorns showed incredible resolve. Shane Buechele found Lorenzo Joe over the middle, a Baylor defender slid off his back and “LoJoe,” as he’s nicknamed, went 61 yards on a momentum-turning swing play.
Buechele (12 for 21, 291 yards) then found Beck for a 7-yard touchdown, and the Horns were within two. On the two-point conversion, the Bears first had 12 men on the field. So the Horns got another yard closer. It felt like a perfect time for D’Onta Foreman.
The junior had 100 yards in the first quarter alone, making this his ninth consecutive 100-yard game. Earl Campbell holds the school record with 11. Foreman finished with a career-high 250 yards and crossed the 1,000-yard threshold for the season. Nobody’s done that since Jamaal Charles in 2007.
“I went in there after the game and I shook everybody’s hand, and I gave them all a hug and told them thank you,” Foreman said. “Without the blessings of God, I wouldn’t be able to do it.”
But instead of giving it to Foreman, Gilbert chose to split him out wide. The Horns went with Tyrone Swoopes, who got stuffed at the goal line. Texas had to get the ball back one more time. “I just started all-out blitzing,” Strong said.
The Bears moved 41 yards in eight plays but eventually had to punt it away. “We just got off the ball as fast as we could and got in the backfield. That’s all it was,” defensive tackle Chris Nelson said.
The Horns got it back with 3:10 remaining and needed 80 yards. Foreman ran for 4 and 12 yards. Then, Buechele found Armanti Foreman, D’Onta’s twin brother, down the sideline for a 38-yard gain.
With time winding down, Domingue drilled the biggest field goal of his season. Baylor couldn’t get anything going on its final drive, and Strong walked out a winner.
“Any win is big, but especially this one just to get confidence back and just bring it to a higher level,” Buechele said.
Strong still controls his own fate. The Longhorns have four regular-season games remaining. First comes next week’s road trip to Texas Tech. Strong’s players have probably heard plenty about the team’s road woes, and it’s well deserved. Texas is 1-7 in true road games since the start of the 2015 season.
“We know we have struggles on the road, but this is a step in the right direction,” senior Paul Boyette Jr. said.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.
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