Texas defensive end Joseph Ossai (46) tackles Oklahoma State Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders (3) to end the game in overtime at Boone Pickens Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Football

With Texas, everything about these Longhorns is a debate, each week a new referendum

Herman: ‘As long as we continue this trajectory of improvement, we’re going to have a chance and every ballgame that we're in’

Posted November 1st, 2020

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Story highlights
  • For hard-core Texas fans, it was the first road win over a top-10 team since Texas knocked off No. 7 Nebraska in 2010.
  • The anti-Herman crowd — the fans wishing for UT’s failure as to trigger a coaching change — had to be miserable.
  • Sustained effort, from the first play to the last, makes the difference. “That could change the game,” Ossai said.

STILLWATER, Okla. — In a time where truth is ignored and false narratives take root, everything becomes its own Rorschach test.

What exactly did you see during Texas’ 41-34 come-from-behind, overtime win over Oklahoma State on Saturday? There was something for everyone’s discerning tastes.

To the novice, it sure looked like the Longhorns erased an 11-point deficit and thrust themselves back into the Big 12 race. Is this two-game winning streak real momentum or just a mirage? It’s understandable, if not outright predictable, that T-shirt fans and those in the skyboxes choose to disagree.

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The seesaw program that is Texas (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) is back on the upswing. The Horns are even back in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at No. 22. The next referendum comes Saturday at home against West Virginia (4-2, 3-2 Big 12).

“As long as we continue this trajectory of improvement, we’re going to have a chance in every ballgame that we’re in,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.

Final statistics from Texas’ 41-34 overtime win over No. 6 Oklahoma State on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

For hardcore fans, it was the first road win over a top-10 team since Texas knocked off No. 7 Nebraska in 2010. Granted, there weren’t many UT fans at Boone Pickens Stadium, what with social distancing and all. But they had to love dodging the seat cushions being thrown onto the field afterward.

The anti-Herman crowd — the small-but-vocal group of fans wishing for UT’s failure to trigger a coaching change — had to be miserable. Nobody eats their own quite like this fan base. No, Urban Meyer is not coming to the rescue, at least not this week.

The search for the next coach is nothing new around here. Mack Brown never liked the Nick Saban rumors. Charlie Strong hated the noise so much, he planted his flag after beating Oklahoma in 2015. “This is Charlie Strong’s program. Don’t need to blame anyone else,” he famously said that day at the Cotton Bowl. It was his program, until it wasn’t.

Herman hadn’t enjoyed a moment with his players like what was witnessed Saturday night. At least, if there has been one, it didn’t go public, let alone viral. There’s video showing Herman crowd-surfing in the locker room, even him kicking a ceiling tile in the process. You simply don’t get that emotion on Zoom. Whether you enjoyed it or not depends on how you view the current Texas coach.

“I was really proud to walk off the field and have them cheer us and have our guys thank them for being there,” Herman told reporters afterward. “And then our fans in Austin, in Texas, across the country, across the world for believing in us and understanding that we’re a work in progress.”

Those who believe Herman and his staff are poor teachers have fresh ammunition. Defensive backs don’t, can’t or won’t turn their head to look for the ball. Defensive coordinator Chris Ash and cornerbacks coach Jay Valai teach that players should “play the hands.” Coaches today will gladly take a 15-yard interference penalty rather than giving up a touchdown.

The Horns had 13 penalties overall, setting a new season high. They’ve had double-digit penalties in four of the team’s five Big 12 games.

Even when things go well, penalties ruin it. D’Shawn Jamison had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. But he drew a 15-yard penalty for signaling the Oklahoma State crowd to shush, and the Horns missed the longer extra point.

Ash had the intestinal fortitude to call a max blitz when Oklahoma State faced fourth-and-8 from the Texas 12-yard line in overtime. A max blitz? Oh dear. Ash wasn’t here last year when a max blitz cost Texas big-time against LSU. Even Herman joked that “at least it wasn’t third-and-17.”

Ash, a rather bland fellow when Zooming with reporters, was grinning from ear to ear when Joseph Ossai brought down Sanders for the game-ending sack. Ash and Herman found each other in the mayhem and shared a celebratory hug.

Ossai. If anyone can win All-America status with one game, he would’ve done it against the Cowboys.

Texas’ Joseph Ossai, left, carries a the ball after recovering an Oklahoma State fumble in the second half of Saturday’s 41-34 overtime win in Stillwater. (Sue Ogrocki/The Associated Press)

Anyone who questioned whether he could truly take over games have forfeited all speaking privileges for the time being. He flashed that potential briefly against Texas Tech. Then, it happened again for a moment against Oklahoma. But this was a fully-sustained attack — from an athlete who really didn’t practice last week because of his shoulder injury suffered against Baylor.

Ossai most assuredly will be the Big 12 defensive player of the week when the awards are announced Monday. If not, this week’s voting was definitely rigged. On Sunday he was tabbed the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week.

“If I can remember correctly, when it started was in high school,” Ossai said. “It was spring ball of my freshman year, and my D-line coach told me — because I took a play off — he said, ‘Always keep running to the ball, because you never know.’ You never know.”

Sustained effort, from the first play to the last, makes the difference. “That could change the game,” Ossai said. “If there’s a .5% chance of it changing the game, we have to do it.

Quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s fans can rejoice in another memorable finish. He completed two critical fourth-down passes in regulation, including one to Jake Smith for a touchdown. Then, Ehlinger found Joshua Moore in overtime for his third touchdown of the day.

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a touchdown with offensive lineman Derek Kerstetter (68) and offensive lineman Denzel Okafor (78) in front of Oklahoma State linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez (20) on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

But that doesn’t change the fact Ehlinger had a rough day overall, something that will definitely be forgotten over time. He completed only 18 of 34 passes for 169 yards while his counterpart, OSU’s Spencer Sanders, threw for 400 yards with four scores.

The running back argument only looks more lopsided after Saturday. Herman will keep defending the three-man rotation, but Bijan Robinson’s play demands more carries. He had 39 yards on five carries in the first quarter, then got only three touches the next two quarters.

Robinson, the five-star freshman from Arizona, finished with 59 yards on 13 attempts. Roschon Johnson had 49 yards on nine carries, and Keaontay Ingram suffered an ankle injury before his one-yard touchdown run, cutting his day short after two carries.

Does this team beat Oklahoma State if the Cowboys don’t turn it over four times? Maybe, maybe not.

Aren’t you going to credit the Longhorns for those turnovers? Any reasonable football scholar should.

It’s all in what you see when you look at Texas.

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

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