The torch is passed: Texas rides youth to 55-23 Alamo Bowl win
It's over at the Alamodome in San Antonio — and by over, we mean Texas' season, which after some twists and turns has ended with a fourth straight bowl win of the Tom Herman era. The 55-23 win over Colorado also is Texas' second straight Alamo Bowl win.
But really, the big news was Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Even when he's not playing, the Texas quarterback finds ways to make big news.
Ehlinger started this Alamo Bowl as Texas' last remaining captain, after almost all the other ones had decided to skip the game in order to prep for the NFL draft. But the senior quarterback who made his 43rd — and, quite possibly/probably, his final — career start started the second half still in UT's locker room.
Casey Thompson, who had thrown all of seven passes this season, stepped onto center stage as the unproven backup trying to lead the Longhorns in a bowl game. Ehlinger, it was announced, had hurt his shoulder sometime in the first half and was out for the game.
That symbolic passing of the torch all felt so January 2010, when Colt McCoy gave way to Garrett Gilbert after suffering a neck/shoulder stinger against Alabama. The stages, of course, of that BCS national championship game and Tuesday night's Alamo Bowl couldn't be more different. But this very likely is Ehlinger's final game as a Longhorn — unless he takes the NCAA up on its offer, weighs his NFL future and looks at a potential draft class that includes Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields and more than a half-dozen other big-time pro prospects and decides that one final season at Texas is the right call for him.
Either way, the second-half development reinforced what should be an encouraging storyline for Texas fans: At least tonight, it looks like Texas' future will be led by players with real potential.
Why Texas (7-3) won
The offense started hot, cooled off, then got hot again — after losing the star quarterback for the game. Over the past few games, we've seen Bijan Robinson elevate himself into the Horns' top running back. Thompson surely put fans at ease, a great insurance policy if Ehlinger does indeed bolt. The defense, even with all the missing big names, was solid throughout, quieting the Pac-12's offensive player of the year even on a night when he scored twice. For whatever reason, Texas play-caller Mike Yurcich forgot about Robinson in the second quarter. Fortunately for the Horns, they rediscovered the freshman in the second half.
Why Colorado (4-2) lost
The Buffaloes need a quarterback. Sam Noyer was picked off twice, then benched, then reinserted. Brendon Lewis, the freshman, sparked a couple of scoring drives — Colorado should have stuck with him after he led the team to its first score of the night. Jarek Broussard scored twice but never quite got going; he averaged 3 yards a carry. There was a missed field goal that could have made it a 24-13 game in the third quarter, but even more costly: the Buffs dropped two potential pick-six interceptions, one in the first half, one in the second. Colorado hasn't won a bowl game since 2004.
What this win means
First, a 7-3 season with a bowl W and wins in five of the last six games sounds way better than a 6-4 season lowlighted by another loss to Oklahoma, canceled and rescheduled games and the Ehlinger injury at the end. Surely this will help with recruiting, which the Longhorns will take any help the can get with just a little more than a month to go before national signing day.
First quarter (Texas 14, Colorado 0)
Texas: Bijan Robinson 8-yard run (Cameron Dicker kick, 12:51)
Texas: Robinson 14-yard pass from Sam Ehlinger (Dicker kick, 5:28)
Second quarter (Halftime: Texas 17, Colorado 10)
Colorado: Jarek Broussard 2-yard run (Evan Price kick, 6:58)
Texas: Dicker 52-yard field goal (2:07)
Colorado: Price 40-yard field goal (:43)
Third quarter (Texas 34, Colorado 16)
Texas: Joshua Moore 13-yard pass from Casey Thompson (Dicker kick, 14:23)
Texas: Moore 25-yard pass from Thompson (Dicker kick, 8:00)
Texas: Dicker 35-yard field goal (3:33)
Colorado: Broussard 3-yard run (pass failed, 1:46)
Fourth quarter (Final: Texas 55, Colorado 23)
Texas: Robinson 23-yard pass from Thompson (Dicker kick, 14:42)
Colorado: Brendon Lewis 2-yard run (Price kick, 11:48)
Texas: Kelvontay Dixon 73-yard pass from Thompson (Dicker kick, 11:01)
Texas: Roschon Johnson 21-yard run (Dicker kick, 7:40)
So long, Sam?: Is this the way Ehlinger's UT career will end — in an arm sling, watching his understudy take over? He's dealt with a series of physical issues throughout the season and never quite has looked right. He finished 10-of-16 for 160 yards and a touchdown in one half. He was sacked twice — and perhaps it was the second one, in the second quarter, that ended his night.
Here's to you, Mr. Robinson: This game presented a big opportunity for Bijan Robinson, the five-star freshman who was matched up against Colorado running back Jarek Broussard, the Pac-12's offensive player of the year. This was Robinson's night. He had 91 yards in the first quarter, rattled off 66- and 50-yard runs and completely outshined Broussard, who ended the night with 82 yards on 27 carries and was injured on a fourth-quarter fumble.
Robinson had 10 carries for 183 yards and a touchdown and added a pair of receiving scores.
The future is now: All the opt-outs and season-ending injuries left big cleats to fill for Texas, suddenly facing a bowl game without leaders like Samuel Cosmi, Derek Kerstetter, Joseph Ossai, Caden Sterns, Chris Brown, Brennan Eagles and Ta'Quon Graham. And then Ehlinger — the only remaining team captain still playing — was lost, too. But new players emerged given their opportunities: Alfred Collins had an interception, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss in the first half; Vernon Broughton had a sack; Jordan Whittington was the Horns' leading receiver in the first half; Al'Vonte Woodard, Marcus Washington and Kelvontay Dixon all got receiving targets (and Dixon caught a touchdown). Two freshman started on the offensive line. And Thompson not only shined, he dazzled.
Game balls: Offense — Robinson, who has started the last half of the season, was the player of the game. Tips of the hat to Thompson (8-of-10 for 170 yards, 4 TDs) and Moore (5 catches for 86 yards, 2 TDs). Defense — DeMarvion Overshown led the team in tackles, had an interception and recovered a fumble. Tip of the hat to Collins, who had five tackles, half a tackle for loss, an interception and a pass breakup.
Horns up: Losing a quarterback like Ehlinger in a 17-10 game could have been disaster, but Thompson looked very comfortable running the offense. Quarterback will be an interesting topic this offseason, which is already started. ... Overshown had an interception in the first quarter, and it was at UT's 11-yard line, so it very well could have saved points, and he recovered a Broussard fumble in the fourth. ... On his 21-yard touchdown, Roschon Johnson broke three tackles and juked a fourth tackler.
Horns down: Ehlinger took back-to-back sacks in the second quarter, forcing Dicker into his long field goal. The second one may have been the costliest, though, as it appeared like that was the one that knocked Ehlinger out.
Texcetera: If this is it for Ehlinger's career, he'll end up No. 2 on the Horns' all-time list for passing yards and touchdowns. ... Juwan Mitchell, who sat out the first half because of his targeting ejection Dec. 5 at Kansas State, finished with three tackles. That gives him 62 for the season — tops on the team. Overshown finished with 60. ... Texas actually played four quarterbacks: Ehlinger, Thompson, Hudson Card and Ben Ballard. ... Texas scored 124 points in its final two games of the season.
First quarter: TD, downs, TD, punt, missed FG
Second quarter: punt, punt, FG
Third quarter: TD, TD, FG, TD
Fourth quarter: TD, punt, TD
This was the fifth Alamo Bowl appearance for the Longhorns since their 2005 national championship season. The previous four:
Dec. 30, 2006: No. 18 Texas 26, Iowa 24. In the Year After VY, redshirt freshman Colt McCoy capped a 10-3 season with a 300-yard night against the Hawkeyes.
Dec. 29, 2012: Texas 31, No. 15 Oregon State 27. The Horns rallied from 10 points back in the fourth, sparked by David Ash and Marquise Goodwin.
Dec. 30, 2013: No. 10 Oregon 30, Texas 7. Heisman winner Marcus Mariota (383 total yards) spoiled Mack Brown's final game (at Texas, anyway).
Dec. 31, 2019: Texas 38, No. 11 Utah 10 — Sam Ehlinger's 4 total TDs were outshined by Joseph Ossai's 9 tackles, 6 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.
Texas leads the all-time series with Colorado — the Horns' old Big 12 rival — 11-7 and is now 2-1 on neutral fields — wins in the 1975 Bluebonnet Bowl and 2005 Big 12 title game and a loss in the 2001 Big 12 title game.
Next up for Texas
The offseason — or, whatever semblance of a normal offseason the pandemic will allow in 2021. National signing day is Feb. 3, and Texas' class currently ranks 17th in the country. There may or may not be spring football.
Right now, the 2021 season opener is scheduled for Sept. 3 at home against Louisiana. Stay tuned.