Sophomore quarterback accounts for five touchdowns as Longhorns continue their five-game winning streak
Posted October 6th, 2018
DALLAS — In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to tell what’ll hold up as an instant classic. That only comes with hindsight. The 113th installment of the Texas-Oklahoma rivalry sure felt like one, though.
This one Saturday at the Cotton Bowl checked all the mandatory boxes.
Start with great players. One side featured the Austin-raised Sam Ehlinger willing his Longhorns by running for three touchdown and throwing two more. The other featured OU’s Kyler Murray, an incredible speedster who more than lived up to the hype.
Conjure up some drama. The Longhorns watched a 21-point lead disappear in the fourth quarter, fueled in part by Murray’s electrifying 67-yard touchdown run. “Oh, Kyler is legit,” UT safety Brandon Jones said. “You saw what kind of speed he has.”
And you need a hold-your-breath finish. Every Tuesday the last three weeks, Texas has opened practice with the two-minute drill. The end result is a field goal. Lo and behold, that situation presented itself — with 92,300 screaming fans watching how it’ll all play out.
After some dink-and-dunk maneuvering, Texas freshman Cameron Dicker hammered home a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left to help the 19th-ranked Longhorns capture a 48-45 win.
“It comes off your foot and you know it’s a good ball,” the Lake Travis product said. “Looking up after I kicked it, I saw the ball on the path there, and I was just like ‘OK, cool. It’s in.’”
A little prayer never hurt, either.
“I was thinking, ‘God told me we’re going to win this game. So why would he miss it?’” UT defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “Then I was like, wait, he went to Lake Travis. And I’m from Westlake. All of a sudden, he made it. Now I can finally say, Lake Travis, y’all are all right.”
Coach Tom Herman’s club is now in the Big 12 title hunt, all right. The Longhorns are 5-1 (3-0 Big 12) for the first time since the 2009 season. It was the most points UT has ever scored against Oklahoma in series history.
Maybe the Horns will see the seventh-ranked Sooners (5-1, 2-1) again this season in December. How does a Red River rematch at AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 championship sound?
“Congratulations to Texas,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said with a clenched jaw. “They played a very good football game. It was one of the epic ones there. That’s one people will be talking about for years and years and years.”
What they’ll be talking about was the matchup of two quarterbacks who couldn’t be more different.
Murray opened the game with an oh-so-easy 65-yard drive capped by Marquise Brown’s 4-yard score. It looked too easy, frankly. But Ehlinger answered with a 29-yard completion to Lil’Jordan Humphrey and a 36-yard strike to Collin Johnson and it was game on.
Ehlinger’s decision to keep it himself at times proved pivotal. Herman has joked that Texas doesn’t run the quarterback draw. “It’s quarterback power,” he corrected reporters last season. It was quarterback domination at times Saturday as Ehlinger scored from 9, 5 and 2 yards out.
Along the way, it was one big throw and one smart decision after another. The sophomore completed 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards. He ran for 72 yards on 19 carries. Herman said Ehlinger is a 6-2 athlete and “it would be foolish not to use him in those scenarios.”
Ehlinger found Tre Watson on a wheel route for a 28-yard score, giving Texas a 17-10 lead. He opened the next drive by rushing straight upfield for 14 yards, jumping up and signaling first down himself. That drive included a tremendous 19-yard catch-and-run by Johnson, who finished with six catches for 81 yards.
Ehlinger’s first touchdown run gave Texas a 24-10 lead, and the Horns were rolling. Ehlinger’s only negative rushing play of the day came on a sack early in the third quarter. That set up third-and-21 from the OU 46-yard line.
Most coaches would run a safe play there. Punt, play defense. Ehlinger found Humphrey for what looked like a 10-yard gain. The junior from Southlake Carroll buried his shoulder and bulldozed his way for 19 yards. The Sooners couldn’t get him down. “That to me was the play of the game,” Herman said of Humphrey, who had nine catches for 133 yards and threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Johnson early.
On fourth-and-2, it was Ehlinger again, this time for a 7-yard gain. Texas wound up scoring again to take a 31-17 lead.
Ehlinger ran for another touchdown and threw a dart to Humphrey from 15 yards out as Texas went up 45-24. By that point, the Horns had scored seven times on eight possessions, not including a Keaontay Ingram run that killed out the clock before halftime.
“He was pretty much their best rusher,” OU linebacker Kenneth Murray said, “so we pretty much knew that from the jump in critical situations, they’d try to get the ball in his hands.”
The fourth quarter got off to a rocky start with back-to-back holding calls on Texas. When OU took over, it wasn’t long before Murray found Lee Morris for a 19-yard touchdown pass. Then Murray got loose down the OU sideline and raced 67 yards on a dazzling display to get the Sooners within one possession.
After a bad three-and-out by Texas, OU needed only three plays to tie things up as Trey Sermon scored from 7 yards out. Murray finished with 304 passing yards and 92 more on the ground.
An interception thrown straight to UT’s Brandon Jones early and one fumble in traffic were his only mistakes. Hager, who wore the hallowed No. 60 jersey, gobbled up the loose ball and then held it aloft for the world to see. “That was for Tommy Nobis,” he said. “That was for all the football gods.”
Said Herman: “I was proud of us obviously to take the lead and then we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit in the fourth quarter. But there was zero negativity. There was zero bad body language. there was zero hanging of heads.”
Ehlinger couldn’t engineer a game-winning drive last season against OU. This time, he simply had to get into field-goal range. An 18-yard catch by Devin Duvernay and a 7-yarder by Andrew Beck got things going. Soon enough, it was time for Dicker the kicker. And the classic finish.
“We were coming up in this elevator as players, and I told them it feels a lot better coming up than it did last year,” Ehlinger said. “I still can’t put to words how great this rivalry is and to be a part of it. I honestly can’t.”
Ehlinger has now attempted a school-record 163 passes without an interception. Keep that up, and the Horns will keep on winning. Gov. Greg Abbott stopped Ehlinger on the field afterward and asked if he’d like a rematch against OU.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Ehlinger said, “but yes!”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.