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Golden: Leaders will determine Texas' season fate after Red River collapse vs. Oklahoma

Kickoff is at 11 a.m.

  • The Horns attempt to bounce back after blowing a 21-point lead in a 55-48 loss to Oklahoma.
  • Texas enters the game at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play.
  • No. 12 Oklahoma State is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in Big 12 play.

“It’s in the past. Let’s move forward”

“We can’t change what happened, but we can determine what happens in our next game."

More:WATCH: Picking up the pieces after Texas-OU

“Let’s get after Oklahoma State and get this sour taste out of our mouth.”

More:Moving past loss to OU, Texas players lean on things learned from past disappointments

If none of these sentences have been uttered over the last five days, then the Texas Longhorns have a problem in the leadership department.

This is the time for steely calm to prevail over panic because the Horns (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) are still feeling the sting from the biggest collapse in Red River rivalry history. They allowed Oklahoma to escape the Metroplex with a win and now have to avoid letting this season slip into a tailspin with a tough opponent arriving Saturday.

Texas wide receiver Xavier Worthy celebrates his touchdown to open last week's Red River Showdown game with Oklahoma with fellow wideout Jordan Whittington at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Worthy, a freshman, experienced a big low and a big high in the final minutes, losing a costly fumble on a kickoff return that set up OU's go-ahead score but then tying it up with a late touchdown grab.

The Horns are now at one of those “T” intersections. A right turn would mean a bounce-back, tough-minded response at home against the unbeaten Cowboys, sending a message to the rest of the league that Oklahoma didn’t kill them.

More:As 4-2 start shows, Texas needs more linemen depth to hold steady in tight games

But if they show up punch-drunk and unsure of themselves, a talented OSU squad is more than capable of handing it to the Horns.

This is where leadership has to reveal itself, not just in what the older guys say to the newbies but in actions. Someone has to show teammates that the OU loss won’t define the team.

It’s one thing to hear all the motivational stuff from the coaches, but it’s something to behold when the players take ownership of what’s happening.

Freshman wideout Xavier Worthy could have gotten lost in a sea of self-doubt after he fumbled a kickoff that led to the Sooners' go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but there were two familiar faces waiting for him when he got back to the sideline.

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams breaks away for a gain during the second quarter of last Saturday's 55-48 win over Texas. The freshman replaced Sooners quarterback Spencer Rattler.

“Give me a smile,” head coach Steve Sarkisian told him.

The other was his road roommate Bijan Robinson, who's just one year ahead of Worthy in experience but carries himself like a 30-year-old motivational speaker. Each week Robinson is giving credence to the growing belief that he's the best running back in college football, but he’s also well-versed in human nature.

Last year at this time, Robinson was preparing for his first career start, so he isn’t too far removed from being the new kid. Worthy is filled with confidence and game-breaking ability as evidenced by those nine catches for 261 yards in his Texas-OU debut, but he’s still young. Robinson suspected he needed a pick-me-up.

“I brought him to the side and said, ‘Man, we’re still in this game. Don’t let that hold you back. Don’t worry about that situation,’” Robinson said.

Worthy went back out and scored the tying touchdown, giving the Horns a chance to pull it out of the fire. It didn’t happen — OU running back Kennedy Brooks saw to that — but Robinson provided the type of locker-room leadership his team will sorely need over the second half of the season.

“We talk every night,” Worthy said. "He’s a real big role model to me and a leader on the team too. Him just saying that helped me keep my confidence in the game.”

More:Texas coaches reshuffle the offensive line going into Oklahoma State week

It’s that type of encouragement and accountability that will go a long way in this reset even if the team’s collective gut is still feeling the weight of what went down in Dallas.

We've seen worse starts. No. 12 Oklahoma State represents another test, not just between the lines but in the team’s collective psyche. To that end, I asked Sarkisian if he saw the right mix of anger, hurt and resolve when he looked into his players’ eyes at Monday’s practice.

He answered in the affirmative and added no one is feeling sorry for the Horns for losing to the Sooners. And if they’re in the right mental space, that includes themselves.

"When you invest in something and you don’t get the outcome you’re looking for, that’s painful, but that’s that agony of sport and that’s why we do what we do,” Sarkisian said. “There’s those tremendous highs we get to appreciate and there’s some really tremendous lows that we have to endure, but the key to that is accepting that feeling and then using that feeling of pain or suffering to help springboard you to the next one.”

More:Bohls: Texas drops out of rankings on my Top 25 ballot as A&M soars after beating Alabama

We’re about to see a nice little gut check with Mike Gundy’s Cowboys rolling in as one of only nine remaining unbeaten Power Five teams. For what it’s worth, of those unbeatens, the Cowboys are by far the least potent offensively at 25.4 points per game though they do have an experienced quarterback in Spencer Sanders.

Gundy is an offensive coach, but the Cowboys are winning with defense so far. They’re allowing only 18.6 points per game and lead the Big 12 with 3.2 sacks per outing.

We won’t see 35 points scored before lunch on Saturday, but the Cowboys have shown in the past that they are beyond capable of lighting up the scoreboard in a hostile environment.

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian leaves the field after the 55-48 loss to Oklahoma. "When you invest in something and you don’t get the outcome you’re looking for, that’s painful, but that’s that agony of sport and that’s why we do what we do,” Sarkisian said on Monday.

More:Bohls: Former Texas coach Leon Black left a legacy of admirers of his integrity, decency

Some in Longhorn Nation remember being down 35-7 in the first half of a 2004 meeting. Texas had won three straight after a 12-0 shutout loss to the Sooners and was on the rise nationally, but Rose Bowl aspirations were fading after an OSU ambush at DKR.

Down 35-14 at the half, coach Mack Brown calmly gathered his troops and claimed victory in the midst of a storm.

“We’re going to win 42-35,” he told them. “Let’s go.”

The Horns did him two touchdowns better with a 42-0 shutout in the second half to win going away.

Leadership reveals itself during those rough patches. Players from that era remember that game as being a springboard to Texas capturing a national title one year later.

Sark’s group can turn anger and hurt into fuel. A win before the bye week would be a real catalyst in regaining the team’s footing. They must respond in fiery fashion against OSU, Baylor, Iowa and the others, lest they will fall short of the desired destination: payback against Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game.

“We do want to see these dudes again at the end of the year,” Robinson said.

Saturday's game

12-Oklahoma State at Texas, 11 a.m., Fox, 104.9