Senior QB accounted for six touchdowns while the Horns had mistakes galore at Cotton Bowl
- Drake Stoops, son of former OU coach Bob Stoops, made the difference with a 25-yard touchdown catch in the fourth OT.
- Ehlinger: "Making mistakes in crucial times. The best teams don't do that. It's unfortunate, but can't change the past.”
- Ehlinger dropped to 1-4 against OU. Herman still has the same number of wins over OU at Texas as he did at Houston. Only one.
Posted October 10th, 2020
DALLAS — Only in 2020 could the Red River Showdown test everyone’s emotions in ways that force you to question everything.
Saturday was shaping up to be the most embarrassing loss in Texas coach Tom Herman’s four-year tenure. It was sloppy football through three quarters as Oklahoma pulled ahead on willpower and UT’s stunningly undisciplined play.
Then, it was going to be the best comeback of Sam Ehlinger’s career. The senior led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives in storybook fashion, forced overtime and seemingly cemented his place in Texas-OU history.
Instead, it was something far more unpredictable — a spirit-crushing 53-45 loss in quadruple overtime. The longest game in Texas-OU history, with only 24,000 fans socially distanced around the Cotton Bowl, will be remembered as the day Ehlinger carried an entire university on his shoulders and came up just short.
Drake Stoops, son of former OU coach Bob Stoops, made the difference with a 25-yard touchdown catch in the fourth OT. When Ehlinger got his last shot, a deep ball intended for Tarik Black was picked off by OU’s Tre Brown.
“Crushed,” Herman said about his quarterback. “Absolutely crushed that we as a family didn’t do enough collectively for him to finish his career against these guys the way that he deserved to. I feel like we all let him down.”
Ehlinger was the only UT player standing ramrod straight afterward. He held up the “Hook ’em” hand sign and sang “The Eyes of Texas” while the rest of the team ran up the tunnel. He scored four rushing touchdowns, threw two more and tallied 399 total yards. But once again, OU players were the ones waving and planting their flag in a wild crimson-and-cream celebration.
No. 22 Texas (2-2, 1-2 Big 12) has now lost two straight league games and will certainly lose more if Herman can’t figure out a way to keep the Horns from beating themselves. Oklahoma (2-2, 1-2) is no great shakes, but the Sooners temporarily stopped their own bleeding.
“This team is a good team,” Ehlinger said. “We have the talent. That’s not the issue. We have the schemes. That’s not the issue. We always seem to be tripping ourselves up. Getting in our own way. Making mistakes in crucial times. The best teams don’t do that. It’s unfortunate, but can’t change the past.”
Where to begin? Start with Texas’ 11 penalties for 101 yards. The Horns have drawn double-digit flag totals in all three Big 12 games.
It’s easy and cliché to blame Herman. He’s the head coach after all and the face of the program. There was a time he was viewed as this unyielding taskmaster who wouldn’t tolerate such shoddy play. But some of these mistakes were on the Longhorns themselves. “A lot of them are self-inflicted wounds,” he said.
Herman trusted running back Keaontay Ingram even though he fumbled at the goal line last week against TCU. He fumbled it again on his first carry and was benched for a quarter.
Herman didn’t instruct center Derek Kerstetter to shove an OU player after Ehlinger made it to the goal line on third-and-16. He didn’t tell punter Ryan Bujcevski to roll into the parking lot before unleashing a rugby-style punt that was blocked. “I can’t tell you how many times we drilled our punt team this week. I mean, it’s uncountable,” Herman said. The punter even drew an unsportsmanlike penalty for trash talking.
He sure didn’t tell guard Junior Angilau to flinch for a false start penalty on fourth-and-2 or miss his block on a blocked field goal in the third OT.
“I’m disappointed. Again, it’s my job to make sure that they don’t happen,” Herman said before commenting again on how great last Sunday’s practice had gone after the TCU loss.
Still, Ehlinger was ready for clean-up duty, just like he was against Texas Tech.
The Sooners appeared to put the game away with an excruciating 17-play, 87-yard drive in the third quarter. OU had a 31-17 lead on T.J. Pledger’s second touchdown run. Then, Ehlinger threw an interception with 5:02 left in regulation that appeared to seal the deal.
But Texas got the ball back after OU went three-and-out. It was one of the few times the Sooners didn’t convert as they were 8-for-18 on third-down conversions. Ehlinger ran for a 20-yard gain and, after two OU penalties, hit Joshua Moore for a 9-yard score to make it 31-24.
OU still led by seven and didn’t need to worry. But on third-and-9, OU coach Lincoln Riley called for a pass play over the middle instead of a clock-chewing run even though the Longhorns were out of time outs. Spencer Rattler’s pass fell incomplete, stopping the clock. UT got it back with 1:52 left in regulation. Ehlinger put together an eight-play drive to the OU 3.
On first-and-goal, he went looking for the running back he’s never lost faith in. This time, Ingram slipped out of the backfield and was wide open for a 2-yard touchdown catch, tying the game with 14 seconds left.
It was a huge moment of redemption, and the play looked eerily similar to the touchdown catch he dropped last year against LSU. “To call his number there at the end shows all the trust that we have,” Ehlinger said.
Ingram’s big play aside, Texas couldn’t run the ball for squat. Ehlinger had 112 rushing yards, including a dazzling 25-yard score in double overtime. Take his stats away, and UT finished with 29 yards rushing on 34 carries. The Horns simply cannot run the ball effectively.
Oklahoma sure did, though. Pledger averaged six yards per carry and had 131 on the day. Rattler completed just 23 of 35 passes for 209 yards and threw three touchdowns. When the Texas defense watches this film, the players will be stunned at their missed tackles and the missed opportunities.
“I don’t think the problem is talent at all,” said defensive tackle Ta’Quon Graham, who had two tackles. B.J. Foster, playing for injured safety Caden Sterns, had 13 tackles, and DeMarvion Overshown had 11 and a critical interception that led to UT’s first points. Joseph Ossai had 10 tackles and a forced fumble, and Juwan Mitchell had 10 stops and a fumble recovery.
“The problem is discipline and execution,” Graham said. “And those things go hand in hand, and I think we need to do that on a consistent basis.”
The game turned into 7-on-7 drills in overtime as both teams were simply gassed. Players were cramping left and right while fans crammed into the lower stands, social distancing be damned.
Ehlinger waltzed into the north end zone for a 3-yard score, but then Austin Stogner caught an 11-yard touchdown pass. Rattler scored on a 1-yard run on a fourth-and-goal gamble from Riley, and then Ehligner scored on his long dash, sending Fox’s Gus Johnson into a tizzy.
Still, it wasn’t enough. Ehlinger dropped to 1-4 all-time against the Sooners. Herman has beaten OU the same number of times at Texas as he did at Houston. Only once.
“Are we deficient in certain areas? Yeah, we are,” Herman said. “And we know what those areas are, and we’re going to continue to get those areas better and/or find replacements for those that we can get better.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com