Texas Tech Red Raiders running back SaRodorick Thompson (4) rushes against the Texas Longhorns in the second half at Jones AT&T Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Football

Now that the euphoria has worn off, No. 9 Texas must tackle some realistic concerns

Heading into TCU matchup, QB Sam Ehlinger said, ‘We got made a lot of mistakes. We’ve got to get better.’

Posted September 27th, 2020

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LUBBOCK — Winning is a powerful drug. But the euphoria eventually wears off, and then it’s time to tackle reality.

Texas coach Tom Herman minced no words Saturday after his team’s thrilling 63-56 overtime win at Texas Tech. “Really proud of our team,” he said before tackling some questions on his post-game Zoom call. “Obviously not our best performance.”

Herman mentioned the “tackling on defense” and how “we could be better on special teams.”

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Then, he got his head up, wrapped his arms around it and wrestled it to the ground talking about “as poorly as we tackled on defense” but added that “all of these are really good teaching moments.”

It stands to reason that No. 9 Texas (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) has plenty to tackle — rugby style or otherwise — this week heading into Saturday’s home matchup with TCU (0-1, 0-1).

Final statistics from Texas’ 63-56 overtime win over Texas Tech on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020.

Last season, the Horns were all out of sorts against the Horned Frogs in Fort Worth in a 37-27 loss. TCU coach Gary Patterson owns Texas, going 5-1 against UT in the last six matchups. And then after TCU is the Oct. 10 game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl.

Texas looked sensational against UTEP and uneven against Texas Tech. Two totally different games. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger was asked if this team is merely just a work in progress.

“Well, I think we learned that we’re never out of it,” Ehlinger said. “We made a lot of mistakes. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to continue to get better. But you look around college football in 2020 and there’s some weird things going on. So we’re just thankful to walk out of here.”

Running back Bijan Robinson is thankful to be walking anywhere after leaving his feet and getting turned into a human Slinky. Herman said afterward that the freshman was having his back examined.

Texas’ Bijan Robinson comes down awkwardly after trying to hurdle a Texas Tech defender during the second half of Saturday’s 63-56 overtime victory in Lubbock. (Brad Tollefson/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal)

Defensive coordinator Chris Ash’s strategy has multiple contortions now, too.

Yes, Herman watched the same game that fans did and could not stand all the missed tackles. Tech had 441 total yards. But all UT coaches simply need to do is put SaRodorick Thompson’s 75-yard touchdown run on a loop inside the facility this week.

And there must be a renewed emphasis on special teams.

“The special team thing, that’s a pretty easy fix,” Herman said. To some extent, he’s correct.

If D’Shawn Jamison simply catches the punt or lets that ball go, Tech wouldn’t have gotten a freebie touchdown. If the offensive line blocking is shored up, the Red Raiders may not get through to block Ryan Bujcevski’s punt. And getting blindsided on Tech’s successful onside kick can be chalked up to not being mentally prepared. No question, those things are fixable.

As good as Texas’ blocked punt for a touchdown was and as good as Malcolm Epps’ onside kick recovery looked, those can’t outweigh the special teams blunders. The special teams mistakes should have gotten Texas beat.

This offensive line needs work, regardless of Texas’ 214 rushing yards. Denzel Okafor and Christian Jones are still finding their way on the right side. They’ll only see more pressure as the season progresses.

Texas Tech Red quarterback Alan Bowman and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger meet on the field after Saturday’s game at Jones AT&T Stadium. (Michael C. Johnson/USA Today)

UT’s pass rush needs more calibration. The Longhorns did not sack Tech’s Alan Bowman, although to be fair, the Raiders’ offense is designed to get rid of the ball quickly so he doesn’t take sacks. Statisticians also did not credit UT with any quarterback hurries. Defensive end Joseph Ossai should have had at least one, probably two, on one series alone.

But the point remains true. Bowman threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns with little pressure.

One positive takeaway from Saturday’s shootout? It should be clear that Texas will have a chance to win every game as long as Ehlinger’s on the field.

It raised eyebrows when he took off jogging toward the locker room in the middle of the game. He came back a few minutes later while Texas was still on defense. Herman was asked about it, and the coach said, “He had to go to the bathroom.”

Always best to answer nature’s call. But it’s another reminder this team goes where Ehlinger does, be it to the bathroom or the promised land.

After Ehlinger orchestrated the wild come-from-behind win, defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said, “That’s the GOAT right there. That’s the Tom Brady of college football.”

You’ll get no argument from Joshua Moore, who now has four touchdown catches in two games. “Sam was a great boost,” he said. “It’s almost like he never loses faith.”

All in all, Herman shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. “And so we’re certainly not pleased with how we won,” he said, “but we are pleased with the result.”

Wild shootouts and high scoring games is life in the Big 12. The fact Texas won is a major confidence booster just as things are starting to take shape.

“You know, we saw the two teams that played in our conference championship last year had some real nail-biters,” Herman said. “I think Baylor had a couple overtime wins, things like that. So they all count the same.”

Just tackle it one game at a time.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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