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Golden: Texas pulls another second-half vanishing act in lackluster loss to Cowboys

David Copperfield once made an airplane disappear, but we all knew there was a trick in there somewhere.

Planes just don’t vanish into thin air.

The acclaimed magician has made millions by dazzling us with sleight of hand and optical illusions, but he isn’t in the class of the Texas Longhorns, who have mastered the art of disappearing over the last two weeks.

Where do these guys go in the second half?

Oklahoma State, just like their Bedlam rivals one week before, flirted with getting blown out but hung around and waited for the Longhorns to show some give.

Texas gave.

Again.

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Texas coach Steve Sarkisian and players leave the field at Royal-Memorial Stadium after Saturday's 32-24 loss to Oklahoma State. The Longhorns, who have lost two straight games, are 4-3 and 2-2 in the Big 12 heading into the bye week.

Saturday’s 32-24 loss doesn’t reveal the closeness of this one and it also doesn’t reveal that Texas (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) was oh so close to blowing open the game in the first half for the second straight week.

“They made the plays and we didn’t,” quarterback Casey Thompson said. “We’ll go back to the drawing board.”

The merchant who supplies the program with drawing boards should double the next shipment the way things are going. Same song, different verse. Same results.

The Horns blew a chance to pummel Oklahoma last week and pulled an awful double with yet another second-half no-show. 

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Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders looks for room to run during the second half of Saturday's win over Texas. He broke one important 15-yard run in the game and scored one rushing touchdown.

Over the last two games, the Horns outscored Oklahoma and Oklahoma State by 22 points in the first half and averaged 185 yards of offense, but the second half of each game has been, in a word, horrible.

The Horns are minus-37 in points over the last two weeks in the third and fourth quarters and have given up an astounding 612 yards.

If we thought blowing a 28-7 lead to Oklahoma was an anomaly because of how fast Texas came out of the gate, this one has to sting more because the Horns just seemed to be the better team in the first half leading up to that momentum crusher that came on Jason Taylor II’s 85-yard pick six in the second quarter. A 24-3 lead was in Texas' sights, but just like that, it was 17-10.

The Horns mustered only seven points over the last 38:36, meaning they have scored only 17 total points in the second halves of the last two games.

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Oklahoma State quarterback Spencer Sanders motions across the line of scrimmage on Saturday. He finished 19-of-32 for 178 yards, one touchdown and one interception through the air.

So what gives?

Is it Thompson playing behind a porous line?

What about the defense that kept three Cowboys drives going with personal fouls?

Or is it just symptomatic of a team that isn’t that good?

Yes, yes, and yes.

Thompson had his moments, but he didn’t give us the quality we got in last week’s 388-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Sooners. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown but was under siege in the second half and coughed up a pair of interceptions behind a makeshift line that reaffirmed its below-average status.

I’m not sure if injured tackle Denzel Okafor was missed, but the line broke down in its protections and showed no signs of any improvement.

The Horns had no problems scoring in Dallas early, but the home field felt like a minefield and the Horns got blown up on offense over the final two quarters again. Six drives netted 12 yards. That won’t win in Pop Warner, middle school, high school, intramurals or powder puff. It damn sure won’t win in the Big 12.

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Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian celebrates a touchdown against Oklahoma State with running back Bijan Robinson during Saturday's 32-24 loss to Oklahoma State at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The Horns led 24-13 in the third quarter before losing.

Steve Sarkisian isn’t used to this kind of offensive offense, but it’s his job to get this thing fixed. How these guys can feel any kind of complacency with the program registering just one season with double-digit wins since 2009 is beyond me.

“Football is 60 minutes,” Sarkisian said. “This has been two weeks in a row. Whether we’re just trying to hold on as opposed to attacking … we’ve got to get it rectified.”

It feels mostly mental, but it’s obvious the Horns have been physically beaten in the second halves these last two games. I thought the defense held its water amid the offensive struggles early on but eventually broke down, and like Sark said following the game, the dam eventually burst and once again, tackling became a real issue.

Just like Oklahoma’s Kennedy Brooks before him, Oklahoma State running back Jaylen Warren laid the smack down on the Horns down the stretch. Brooks went for 217 at the Cotton Bowl. Warren went for 193 on Saturday against a Texas defense that was missing linebacker DeMarvion Overshown. Agent Zero went down with a concussion on the last play of the first quarter and did not return.

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At this rate, the bye week may run for 250 on this bunch.

With that said, the collective tongue of any defense will be dragging the ground with all those three-and-outs and Texas' second half drives went like this: touchdown, punt, punt, punt, punt, turnover on downs and interception. Every one of those punts capped three-and-out efforts.

Even up 17-13 at the half, there was a feeling the Horns were in control, especially after they came out and scored on Bijan Robinson’s 38-yard run on their first possession of the third quarter.

After that? Nada for the next 26-minutes plus.

“We can’t look at the scoreboard,” Robinson said. "We have to understand what our job is and we have to understand what our focus.”

The coaches will hammer home the idea of finishing games over the next couple of weeks leading into the Baylor game, as I’m sure they did coming into this game. Between now and the kickoff on Oct. 30, the players will have to figure out why this keeps happening or the second half of the season will get bloody.

“For us to go as a team where we want to go, we can’t just hold on,” Sarkisian said. "We have to think something good is going to happen around the corner.”

Hopeful fans will say there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The realists will wonder if that light is a train.