Football

Texas 41, No. 6 Oklahoma State 34 (OT): Horns answer the bell, get back into the Big 12 race

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Story highlights
  • It was Texas’ first road win over a top-10 ranked team since 2010.
  • “I thought that fourth down play, fourth-and-7 to Jake Smith, I thought that was the best play of his career,” Herman said of Ehlinger.
  • Ossai got the first step, rocketed past offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and got all the way home for the game-ending sack.

Posted October 31st, 2020

STILLWATER, Okla. — When Texas needed it most, on fourth-and-7, Sam Ehlinger delivered.

When the Longhorns needed one final fourth down stop, Joseph Ossai went all out.

For any team to have any modicum of success, the star players have to play like stars. That means the Horns’ best players have to deliver in the clutch.

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As a wild Halloween nail-biter against Oklahoma State went into overtime, it was time for the moment of truth. Were these Longhorns going to answer the bell at winning time or not?

Ehlinger threw a critical fourth down touchdown pass to Jake Smith and then the overtime game winner to Joshua Moore. Then, Ossai blew past the right tackle and sacked Oklahoma State’s Spencer Sanders on fourth down of OSU’s first overtime drive, capping one of the best eye-popping individual performances any Texas defender has enjoyed in years.

And Texas captured a 41-34 overtime win Saturday over the sixth-ranked Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium.

It was Texas’ first road win over a top-10 ranked team since 2010. The Horns (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) are now back in the Big 12 championship hunt while the Cowboys (4-1, 3-1) now have at least one loss, just like everyone else in the league.

Texas fans have started rolling their eyes whenever anybody talks about practice. But Ossai said there was a different feel at practice all week. He was one of the few who didn’t practice because of a shoulder injury, though.

“I just wish y’all were there,” Ossai said on his post-game Zoom call. “Everybody was flying around. Everybody looked fast. Everybody was sharp. And it wasn’t just like physically ready. Guys were mostly mentally sharp.”

Texas coach Tom Herman badly needed his team to look sharp. His defense most certainly did by generating four turnovers. The woebegone special teams unit even had a shining moment when D’Shawn Jamison scored on a 100-yard kickoff return.

Jamison drew one of UT’s 13 penalties for shushing the crowd, a rather ticky-tacky call, to be sure. But OSU coach Mike Gundy forced the Horns to back up 15 yards on the extra-point attempt, and Cameron Dicker missed it, costing UT a free point while closing the Cowboys’ lead to 31-26 with eight minutes left.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) is tackled by Oklahoma State’s Brock Martin (40) and Thomas Harper (13) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

That’s how it goes with this club, which Herman continues to call “a work in progress.” UT’s 13 penalties matched the high-water mark for flags in his four seasons. Texas also finished 2-for-15 on third-down conversions, a mark that would normally topple even the mightiest world-beaters.

Herman entered the night with a 1-12 record at Texas when trailing at the start of the fourth quarter. The Cowboys had an 11-point advantage when Sanders found Tylan Wallace for a nine-yard score with 8:09 remaining in the third.

Jamison followed that with his third career special teams return for a touchdown, but OSU still led by five when the fourth quarter began.

The Horns appeared to be stopped on third-and-16 when Ehlinger was sacked for a six-yard loss. But on the ensuing punt, OSU’s Kanion Williams was called for roughing UT punter Ryan Bujcevski. The Horns had new life and kept marching.

Facing fourth-and-4, Ehlinger found Smith for a nine-yard gain when he sat down in zone coverage. The Horns reached the 12-yard line and faced fourth-and-7. This time, Ehlinger rolled to his right, escaped pressure and threw what looked like a calm ball to Smith for a 12-yard touchdown.

“I thought that fourth-down play, fourth-and-7 to Jake Smith, I thought that was the best play of his career,” Herman said, as serious as could be.

Said Ehlinger: “That’s a great question. I don’t know. I appreciate the love, but I’m not sure about that.”

Now leading by only one, 32-31, Texas had to attempt the two-point conversion. Ehlinger said they went back in time and conjured up the same two-point play that he and Cade Brewer converted against USC in 2017. It worked again as Brewer caught a ball between two OSU defenders, giving Texas a 34-31 lead. At that point, it was the highlight of Ehlinger’s rather off night. He would finish 18-for-34 for 169 yards while throwing three touchdowns.

OSU still had plenty of gas, though. Sanders came out firing for Wallace, who had 11 catches for 187 yards and two scores. The Cowboys marched down the field and collected a game-tying field goal with five seconds left in regulation.

In overtime, Ehlinger got sacked for the fifth time on first-and-goal at the 8-yard line. but on the next play, he found Moore — his third option on the play — for a sizzling 15-yard touchdown catch. It would be the only play Moore would make all night, but it was a big one.

“I’m a team player, man; as long as we get to win, that’s all that matters to me,” Moore said. “But I am thankful that I was able to contribute the way I did.”

It was then up to the Texas defense. Ossai was simply incredible. The guy who couldn’t practice Tuesday because of shoulder pain had 12 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

He wasn’t alone, though. Jalen Green had an interception, Jacoby Jones had a sack and Ta’Quon Graham rumbled 33 yards after one of Ossai’s strip sacks. Why couldn’t he go all the way? “Honestly, I got tired,” Graham said.

Texas’ Ta’Quon Graham (49) is tripped up by Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard (30) at the end run on a fumble recovery in the second quarter during the college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys and the University of Texas Longhorns at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Photo by Sarah Phipps, The Oklahoman

The biggest play of the night happened on fourth-and-8 from the 12-yard line, with the Cowboys needing a touchdown to force a second overtime. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash told Herman he was going to call a max blitz. Was the head coach OK with that? Herman suddenly had flashbacks to last year’s LSU game, when a max blitz backfired in spectacular fashion.

“I smart-alecky said, ‘Well, at least we got the lead and it’s not third-and-17,’ ” Herman said. “It was a hell of a call by him, very well executed by our guys.”

Ossai got the first step, rocketed past offensive tackle Teven Jenkins and got all the way home for the game-ending sack.

On Monday, Herman said UT’s lackluster sacks total this season was “a bit misleading.” What’s that old saw? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

The Texas bench went wild, spilling onto the field in joy. This team needed a win like this after a heart-breaking, quadruple-overtime loss to Oklahoma and the off-field uproar over “The Eyes of Texas.”

Herman needed this win something fierce.

“This was not pretty. Not pretty,” he said. “But when you take the ball away four times and don’t turn it over at all, you give yourself a chance to win.”

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

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