Listen to Austin 360 Radio

There were lead changes with TCU, lots of missed chances, but Texas is learning how to win

FORT WORTH — Building a championship program is a painstaking process, full of fits and starts. It’s a hair-pulling, teeth-gnashing experience, especially with Texas.

The Longhorns are experiencing the misery and ecstasy of that growth right now.

Texas had a slew of missed opportunities Saturday against TCU but still pulled it together for a 32-27 win. The best team on the field wore its “icy white” jerseys at Amon G. Carter Stadium, but darn if you couldn’t tell at times. 

“I’ll say this, I’d much rather win ugly than lose pretty,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “This was an ugly one.”

When the Longhorns (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) finally do leave for the SEC, they’re not going to miss the Horned Frogs (2-2, 0-1) one bit. The TCU student section in the rowdy crowd of 43,337 spent the entire day giving the UT bench the business. There were Horns Down galore, but plenty turned the other direction afterward, too. 

Texas defensive lineman Moro Ojomo motions to teammates before a play in Saturday's 32-27 win over TCU on Saturday.  The Longhorns forced three turnovers, which helped them to improve to 4-1 on the season and 2-0 in Big 12 play. Next week's game is against Oklahoma.

“They’re going to talk, they’re going to do whatever they’ve got to do to prove that we still need to be in this league,” linebacker DeMarvion Overshown said, “and we came out (on top.)”

Now, it’s on to next week’s Red River showdown against No. 6 Oklahoma.

Texas football: Eyes on Texas: Film study sounds boring, but it’s laying winning foundation for Longhorns

Texas football: Plenty of points, and plenty of reasons why Texas’ offense looks like well-oiled machine

“Honestly, probably on the bus ride home, I’ll start watching some OU film,” quarterback Casey Thompson said. “We have to be prepared to play four quarters of winning football.”

History will record this as a career day for Bijan Robinson, who set new personal highs with 216 yards and 35 carries. He also scored twice and picked up a critical first down on third-and-6 of Texas' final drive that slammed the door for good. Simply put, Thompson said his running back played “big-boy football.”

“It’s fun to break a defense’s will,” Robinson said. “When you know that defense is broken, that’s when everything starts to flow and open up.”

Said Overshown: “I hug that guy every time I see him.”

Texas running back Bijan Robinson had a career day in the Longhorns' 32-27 win over TCU, finishing with 35 carries for 216 yards and two touchdowns, including some key gains in the fourth quarter. He had 37 touches in the game.

Cameron Dicker — the kicker — hit four field goals, all of them coming after Texas punctured the opposing 20-yard line. 

Sarkisian passed on a field goal chance with 9:32 remaining that could’ve broken the Frogs’ spirit. But Robinson got stuffed on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line. TCU then went 99 yards the other way with relative ease and made it a five-point game with 4:23 remaining.

“We knew coming into this game it was going to be a four-quarter game,” Overshown said. “We had to keep our cleats in the ground, and we came out on top.”

Sarkisian was right. Ugly wins sure beat the alternative. And to be clear, there were times it was mind-boggling. Start with the opening kickoff. TCU’s JD Spielman returned the kick 87 yards to set up the first score. TCU was up 7-0 within 52 seconds. 

“That didn’t send us into a tailspin,” Sarkisian said, “and we just kept grinding away.”

TCU giftwrapped two golden opportunities in the first half, and Texas couldn’t capitalize. The Frogs got off to a strong start with Zach Evans and the ground game. But they got cute and tried a reverse midway through the first quarter. Derius Davis fumbled the exchange, and UT’s D’Shawn Jamison scooped up the loose ball and returned it 15 yards. 

Texas started at the TCU 23-yard line, but went three-and-out and settled for a 38-yard field goal.

Then in the second quarter, Texas was finally forced to punt for the first time in three games. Dicker sent a ball sailing 52 yards, and Davis muffed it at his own 7-yard line. Overshown, who was happy not to have to cover punts the last two weeks, pounced on the loose ball turnover.

But instead of punching it in, the Horns advanced it just one yard and had to take another 26-yard field goal.

Points off turnovers are always appreciated, but great teams punish other teams for mistakes with touchdowns. With field goals, you’re letting the other team off the hook. With that second kick, Texas led 16-14 but could have easily been up more.

“I’ll say this, I’d much rather win ugly than lose pretty,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said after the Longhorns' 32-27 win over TCU. “This was an ugly one.”

The next drive showed why touchdowns matter. TCU went 67 yards in 15 plays and booted a 25-yard field goal to retake the lead. 

At this point, things started getting chippy. Big 12 officials shouldn’t feel good about some of their calls, either. Overshown was flagged for a personal foul call for … well, it’s still not clear. TCU’s Ochaun Mathis got called for pushing and shoving. There were 11 flags for 127 yards walked off in the first half alone. 

In the second half, Anthony Cook had a terrific blitz sack that jarred the ball loose from TCU quarterback Max Duggan for a turnover. Four Horns ran to the end zone and posed for imaginary photos, just like the pros do on Sundays now. That unsportsmanlike penalty was one of nine ofUT’s flags. 

“We’ll get that taken care of,” Sarkisian said. “We’re not in the National Football League. I know we all want to be, but we’re not, so we'll take care of that one.”

There were other things that’ll draw his ire, like Jamison letting the ball roll to the 1-yard line that flipped the field in TCU’s favor. The offensive line struggled again to get consistent push, and the receivers dropped some passes. Thompson completed just 12 of 22 passes for 142 yards.

The Longhorns closed the first half with a textbook two-minute drill opportunity. But Thompson locked into Xavier Worthy and threw a deep ball into triple coverage for an easy interception. Then to start the third quarter, Texas went three-and-out as Thompson got sacked on third down.

Still, the Horns made winning plays in the fourth quarter. Robinson raced around the right end for nine yards on a key third-and-9. The next play, Thompson found Jordan Whittington over the middle for a 32-yard touchdown.

Texas wide receiver Jordan Whittington was the Longhorns' top pass-catching threat in the 32-27 win at TCU, finishing with three receptions for 79 yards and a key touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Then Robinson put the entire team on his back and carried the Horns to victory.

“No. 5 kind of epitomized our football team, the grit,” Sarkisian said. “He was exhausted. Thirty-five carries, the last one was the most important one to seal the win.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.

Texas football: Texas football recruiting notebook: Jaydon Blue doubles down during running backs' strong showings

Texas football: Bohls: Texas quarterback Casey Thompson says coaching a possibility after football ends

Texas football: As Texas remembers Jake Ehlinger, carrying his '48' flag becomes an honor for former teammates