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Season sunk: Texas suffers third straight second-half meltdown, this time to Baylor

Texas (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) is once again a .500 program. Another year of average.

WACO — Just Sic.

There’s no other way to describe what happened at McLane Stadium on Saturday.

For the third straight game, Texas had a double-digit lead in the second half and gave away a winnable game. No. 18 Baylor was the fortunate recipient of UT’s generosity this time in the form of a 31-24 burnt-orange disaster.

Saturday was the day Steve Sarkisian’s first season officially sank to the bottom of the Brazos. 

Baylor’s terrific rushing attack, Texas’ missed tackles, the lack of someone stepping up in key moments and a botched fake punt ... it’s all irrelevant now, to a large degree. 

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Texas wide receiver Joshua Moore fumbles the ball after making a catch at Baylor's 22-yard line in the first half of the Longhorns' 31-24 loss at McLane Stadium in Waco. Moore later dropped what would have been a 29-yard touchdown pass right before halftime.

Texas (4-4, 2-3 Big 12) is once again a .500 program. Another year of average. Baylor (7-1, 4-1) is the team storming into November.

“That was a tough one to swallow,” Sarkisian said. “Any time you lose a game like that, with a little bit of a trend that we’ve had now for three consecutive weeks, that’s tough. It’s tough on our locker room.” 

The frustration was palpable. Texas is suffering through its first three-game losing streak since Charlie Strong closed out the 2016 season with three losses and got fired. UT hasn’t lost four straight in a single season since 2010. A road trip to No. 23 Iowa State looms next week.

“I wish I had answers for everything that you want to ask; I swear I do,” defensive tackle Keondre Coburn said. 

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Edge rusher Ovie Oghoufo was just as baffled. “We play really good football for the most part,” he said. “It’s just the end. And it hurts. These losses, they’re not blowouts or anything like that. They’re small-margin losses. Those are the ones that hurt the most."

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian and players listen to "The Eyes of Texas" after losing 31-24 to Baylor at McLane Stadium in Waco on Saturday. The Longhorns are now 4-4 on the season.

Blowing big second-half leads against Oklahoma (18 points) and Oklahoma State (11 points) sparked two weeks of soul searching. That’s why it was impossible to relax when the Horns went up 11 after Bijan Robinson’s 1-yard touchdown run — powered by defensive tackles-turned-blockers Coburn and Byron Murphy II. 

At that point, Texas led 21-10 with 8:49 remaining in the third quarter. Sure enough, Baylor answered by going 75 yards in nine plays. Gerry Bohanon raced in from 6 yards out. The emotions from 45,834 fans in the building ranged from anxious to agnostic. 

Texas wide receiver Joshua Moore catches a 10-yard touchdown pass over Baylor cornerback Raleigh Texada in the first quarter. The Longhorns have now lost three straight games, all to ranked opponents, as they prepare to play at ranked Iowa State next week.

“It is frustrating. We just lost three games in a row. I mean, who wouldn’t be frustrated in that type of scenario, knowing that we’re supposed to come out victorious in those games?” Coburn said. “But all I can do is just constantly continue taking the coaching that I’m given and take it the right way and have the right mindset.”

Texas’ Cameron Dicker found himself in the middle of the action down the stretch for all the wrong reasons.

First, officials did not call what looked like an obvious roughing the punter penalty when he got the ball away with 3:24 left in the third. Dicker was smashed, but officials ruled the ball was tipped. That no-call would have given Texas a first down.

Instead, Baylor took over at its own 20. The Bears put together a methodical 14-play, 80-yard drive that gobbled up time and sapped UT’s momentum.

Tight end Ben Sims started the fourth quarter with a terrific 28-yard catch down the sideline. He capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Suddenly, Baylor had a 24-21 lead.

Baylor fans cheer during Saturday's 31-24 victory at McLane Stadium. Depending on when Texas actually leaves the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, this could have been the Longhorns' last game at the stadium. At least for a while.

The ensuing Texas drive highlighted everything wrong with this team and this season.

Marcus Washington caught passes for 4 and 11 yards and a third for a gain of 8. Things are looking up, right? On first-and-10 from the Baylor 48, Robinson whiffed on his block and Casey Thompson was sacked. 

On second-and-16, Thompson found tight end Jared Wiley for a 10-yard gain. But on third-and-6, guard Tope Imade was called for a false start. Big steps forward, 5 yards back. 

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On third-and-11, Thompson was rushed from the pocket and threw off his back foot. A deep ball to Washington was broken up and fell incomplete. That brought up fourth-and-11 from the Baylor 49. The safe play would’ve been to punt, even though UT was 2-for-5 on fourth-down attempts all day.

Sarkisian rolled the dice.

“It was a run-pass option. They feathered it and played it pretty well,” Sarkisian said. “He had a go-call option, which he took. They played it well. Hindsight is 20/20. If I saw the look again, I would probably check out of it and probably punt the ball. But when you fake punt and do those kinds of things, you’re rolling the dice.”

For a brief moment, Dicker looked as if he wanted to throw. He kept the ball and got smashed after just a 2-yard gain. Baylor took over with 9:23 remaining. Three plays later, Abram Smith spun away from defenders and raced 32 yards for a stadium-electrifying touchdown.

Baylor tallied 199 rushing yards compared to Texas’ 102. The Bears had two sacks; the Horns had none. Thompson did throw two touchdown passes, one apiece to Joshua Moore (10 yards) and Xavier Worthy (66 yards). But he missed another deep throw to Worthy, who was open in the end zone, and had to hustle around to stay upright most of the day.

“I think getting punched in the face by a really good Texas team, I think was anticipated,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “So it was good that we were able to get our hands back up and throw some punches of our own. I'm proud of this team.”

The Texas defense held for one last stop, and the offense got one final chance with 2:07 remaining. Someone badly needed to make a play. The Horns just couldn’t do it.

Texas defensive end Ovie Oghoufo puts pressure on Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon during Saturday's game. Bohanon, who had only one interception in Baylor's first seven games, was picked off twice by the Longhorns.

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Thompson threw four straight incompletions, including a long throw to Washington that he absolutely had to come down with but couldn’t. Once Baylor took over for three straight kneel-downs, the student section went wild. “SEC! SEC! SEC!” Baylor students yelled.

In Sunday’s postmortem, Texas coaches will look back at the second quarter for all their missed chances. It was one hair-pulling moment after another.

Xavier Worthy watched a ball get knocked to the turf on fourth down from the Baylor 44-yard line. Moore made an impressive catch, spun away from a tackler and then fumbled at the Baylor 22. 

Moore also couldn’t reel in a potential 29-yard touchdown catch just before halftime. Then on the next play, the pass bounced off Moore’s hands and floated into Baylor safety JT Woods’ arms at the Baylor 21.

Three chances on Baylor’s side of the field resulted in no points. Robinson, the Big 12’s leading rusher, had seven carries for 15 yards at the break. He finished with 43 yards on 17 carries. 

Robinson didn’t have any answers, either. Only the look of total frustration. 

“You never want to lose. They all suck,” Robinson said. “I try to do what I can for this team. We work really hard throughout the week to get wins. But some things just don’t go our way.”

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