Texas’ offense goes three-and-out eight times on the day as the program’s chances of getting to the Big 12 title game disappear, too
Posted November 16th, 2019
AMES, Iowa — Last-second wins are amazing things, as Texas fans can attest. It’s miserable when that last-gasp field goal sails through the uprights against you, though.
Saturday’s 23-21 loss to Iowa State wasn’t decided on a late pass interference call. It wasn’t decided when multiple UT defensive linemen jumped offside on fourth-and-5, giving the Cyclones new life to milk the clock just a little more.
It wasn’t even decided on Connor Assalley’s 36-yard field goal as time expired, although the box score says otherwise.
This loss was the culmination of what happened over the course of 60 minutes at Jack Trice Stadium, not to mention October and early November. Iowa State players deserved to run around and celebrate to “Sweet Caroline” with their 58,946 fans. On balance, the Cyclones (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) were just better, and it was a painful lesson for Tom Herman’s Longhorns.
Texas hasn’t been consistent enough this season to truly deserve a spot in the Big 12 championship game. The 19th-ranked Longhorns (6-4, 4-3) were essentially knocked out of the title race on a day when the defense actually played well. It was a lackluster offense, the same unit Herman controls, that spit and sputtered.
“Really, really poor performance by our offense for the first few quarters,” Herman said. “We’ve got to really examine our game plan in the run game and our execution.”
Texas finished with 327 yards and even pulled ahead 21-20 on a fearless, go-for-broke fourth-down call in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Malcolm Epps with 5:37 remaining, and for a moment, Texas had the escape hatch open.
The Horns even got the ball back with 4:01 remaining and needed one or two first downs to put it away. But they went three-and-out for the eighth time on the day and punted it away.
And along with it went UT’s Big 12 title hopes, flying off into the cold Iowa night.
“Obviously it hurts, especially I know for the seniors,” safety Brandon Jones said. “This was our last chance and last opportunity to get to that point (a Big 12 title). But it doesn’t end here. We’ve still got some season ahead of us.”
Now that a trip to Arlington is off the table, Texas is likely looking at bowl trips to Orlando or Houston. The Horns know all about the Texas Bowl in Houston. Playing there means the program had a mediocre season.
It was clear that the offensive struggles left Herman perplexed. How could this offense plod along for long stretches and then suddenly turn it on like it did at the end of the first half?
Texas looked lost in a corn field for the first 29 minutes but suddenly found a spark, going 75 yards in 30 seconds just before halftime. “It’s a great question,” Ehlinger said about the unit’s inconsistency. “If I knew the answer, I would fix it and play that way every drive.”
Herman said the Horns were not able “to run the ball the way that we thought we were going to be able to, that was the biggest difference.”
On a day that the running game had to produce, the Horns managed just 54 yards. Asked if the staff was out-coached, Herman said, “I’d never say we got out-coached. I think we continued to make adjustments. They had a couple of wrinkles that we adjusted to, and I felt like we were putting our guys in a good position.”
Herman said it’d be hard to answer questions “without watching the film (to know) all of the answers to give to you.” Running back Keaontay Ingram sure knew what was going on out there. He finished with nine yards on eight carries. Roschon Johnson had 18 yards on six.
“They played us different. They loaded the box,” Ingram said. “We’ve just got to keep hammering them and soften them up. That would open up other things. Hats off to them. They had a couple extra hats in the run game.”
As blah as it was, Texas pushed its way to the Iowa State 21 in the second quarter. Herman rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-2 instead of sending out Cameron Dicker for a possible 38-yard field goal. The Cyclones were all over it and stuffed Ehlinger for a 1-yard loss.
Three points would have been a godsend later.
The Cyclones had a 15-play, 67-yard drive in the latter stages of the first half. UT’s Kobe Boyce had a terrific pass breakup in the end zone on third-and-9. But Iowa State still took a 35-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead.
Whether Herman felt innate pressure or discovered that forward passes were allowable, the Horns came out firing. UT’s ensuing drive began with 47 seconds left before half. Ehlinger hit Duvernay for a 17-yard gain, then found Brennan Eagles for a 33-yarder.
Duvernay caught a tunnel screen pass for 11 yards that moved things down to the Iowa State 14. Ehlinger then fired toward the corner to Eagles, who somehow got his right foot down on the goal line before his left foot landed out of bounds.
It happened so quickly, the officials looked momentarily stunned. On the field, it was called a completed catch. Big 12 official Reggie Smith took a long look and determined it also was a touchdown, a rather impressive one, too. Texas had rung up 75 yards in 30 seconds and went into the break trailing 10-7.
The Horns probably felt like they had righted the ship. They were back in it, and a bad first half could be laughed off. Then the third quarter began.
On the first play from scrimmage, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy spun away from Ta’Quon Graham and rolled to his left. The secondary somehow lost track of Deshaunte Jones, who was running free on the other side. Jones literally kept running and Purdy heaved the ball into the Iowa twilight.
Jones caught it like a center fielder and finished off the 75-yard score. Brandon Jones tried in vain to make the shoestring tackle, to no avail. Iowa State went back up by 10 points. Texas’ answer? A drive that featured three incompletions and a punt.
Literally moments after the UT punt, it was announced that cornerback Anthony Cook would miss the rest of the game with a knee injury. Then Iowa State got a 48-yard field goal to go up 20-7 with 12:09 left in the third quarter.
Ehlinger floated a pass to Ingram from 22 yards out to put Texas back within six points, 20-14. Epps’ score turned the entire stadium silent. But fans came roaring back to life on La’Michael Pettway’s 22-yard catch on Iowa State’s final drive. UT’s Caden Sterns was then flagged for interference.
Still, Texas forced Iowa State to try a field goal with more than two minutes left. But multiple Longhorns jumped, giving Iowa State new life and a new set of downs. It sealed UT’s fate.
“Obviously the last drive hurt,” Herman said. “I was proud of the offense for continuing to fight and not giving up, but it was too little, too late.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.