Football

Texas 24, Iowa State 10: With a little help, Longhorns jump back into the Big 12 title race

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Story highlights
  • Did the Horns know about the Cowboys' win? “I mean, yeah, it was up on the big screen!”
  • Texas QB Sam Ehlinger suffered a bruised shoulder but wanted back into the game.
  • With a win at Kansas next Friday, Texas advances to the Big 12 championship game.

Posted November 18th, 2018

All Texas coach Tom Herman ever talks about is going 1-0 each week. The big picture is irrelevant, he claims. Focus solely on that week’s opponent. On this front, he stays remarkably on-brand.

Then, Herman and his players looked up Saturday during pregame at the Royal-Memorial Stadium video board.

Splashed across 7,505 square feet was a broadcast of Oklahoma State’s win over West Virginia, one that propelled UT forward in the Big 12 title race. For a moment, No. 16 Iowa State was an after-thought.

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“Yeah, I’ve got to talk to our video board operator doing that during pregame,” Herman said. “You talk about not worrying about the big picture, and there it is in freakin’ high-definition.”

Texas players suddenly had crystal-clear certainty about where they stood. Now back in control of their own destiny, the Longhorns looked dominating at times during a 24-10 win on Senior Night. The sold-out crowd of 102,498 — the second-largest in school history — had a rollicking good time, too.

Fueled by that pregame knowledge, how could the 15th-ranked Longhorns (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) not play well?

“I mean, yeah, it was up on the big screen!” defensive end Charles Omenihu said. “I wasn’t really paying attention to it. If we didn’t take care of business, it wouldn’t matter.”

Texas now heads into the final week of the regular season needing only to beat Kansas (3-8, 1-7) next Friday to clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

There’s some cosmic irony in here somewhere. Two years ago, Texas lost in Lawrence as a 24-point favorite, and it cost UT coach Charlie Strong his job. Now things are completely different.

“We all know what happened, and it’s good,” quarterback Shane Buechele said. “I feel like it’s a good thing to look back and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened. Let’s fix it and go get a win.’”

Texas wide receiver Jerrod Heard (13) salutes the crowd as he is announced during senior night presentations before an NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The Big 12 tiebreaker scenario can be a quagmire, but it’s rather straightforward thanks to coach Mike Gundy’s Cowboys. A win over Kansas seals the deal. As for the would-be opponent in the title game, Friday’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game is the de facto Big 12 semifinal.

If Oklahoma wins, WVU would then have three conference losses and would be eliminated. The league would get its dream scenario — a Texas-OU rematch in Arlington minus Big Tex and the corny dogs.

If the Mountaineers win, they would have head-to-head wins over the Sooners and Longhorns. So West Virginia would automatically get the first spot.

Then, Texas and OU would each have two conference losses. The Horns hold the head-to-head advantage due to their win over the Sooners on Oct. 6. Texas would meet West Virginia for the Big 12 title in that scenario at 11 a.m. on Dec. 1 at AT&T Stadium.

“It’s so surreal,” UT defensive back P.J. Locke III said. “My sophomore year, we’d be fighting just to get to a bowl game right now. Just to be in the situation to where we pretty much control our own destiny again. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a first down during an NCAA college football game against Iowa State in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

The Longhorns heard all week about the dangerous Cyclones (6-4, 5-3). Their star running back, David Montgomery, was suspended throughout the first half for fighting last week against Baylor. Texas needed to make hay early and rattle freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, who had led Iowa State to five straight wins.

The defense was flying all over the place from the start. Anthony Wheeler got a sack on third-and-9 to force Iowa State to punt on its first possession. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger wasted no time finding Collin Johnson for 35- and 13-yard gains to spark a scoring drive.

On second-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Texas lined up with five wide receivers, but Ehlinger ran it in himself following a block from senior left tackle Calvin Anderson.

Ehlinger pushed the lead to 14-3 on a pass to Keaontay Ingram in the right flat for a 19-yard touchdown. Iowa State just couldn’t get much going and had only 116 total yards at halftime.

Texas defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (90) scoops up a fumble in front of Iowa State offensive lineman Bryce Meeker (74) during an NCAA college football game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Sophomore safety Chris Brown snagged the first interception of his career midway through the second quarter. The Horns couldn’t convert, though, as kicker Cameron Dicker missed a 28-yard attempt wide right.

Ehlinger got Texas back in scoring position again just before halftime. On a 13-yard run, he was diving for yardage when Iowa State’s Greg Eisworth slammed into the quarterback’s right shoulder, the same one that he’d suffered a sprained AC joint against Baylor five weeks ago.

Most Texas fans held their collective breath when Ehlinger didn’t return to the field with his teammates after the break. Eventually he did, but Herman turned things over to Buechele, who was 10 for 10 for 89 yards and threw one touchdown.

Herman said Ehlinger suffered an AC contusion, which is like a bruise. “Even Sam would tell you that it feels different than the last time,” Herman said. Ehlinger tried to talk his way back into the game in the second half, but the coach was having none of it.

Texas didn’t need Ehlinger. On third-and-2 from the Iowa State 27, Buechele got a pass to Humphrey, who caught it at the 14-yard line, broke a tackle and raced in for another eye-popping score. This one gave Texas a 24-3 lead and it was basically over.

During a fourth-quarter timeout, school officials cranked up some Journey. The song “Don’t Stop Believin’” is a universal favorite. Fans held up their cellphone flashlights and sang along, stamping an unforgettable moment on the 500th game in the stadium’s history.

Texas fans sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin” during a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

“That was organic,” said athletic director Chris Del Conte, who shared the game’s final moments with Gov. Greg Abbott.

“That was incredible,” tight end Andrew Beck said. He nudged Johnson, a junior, to look  around and take it all in. “All of a sudden, coach was like, all right lets go. And I’m jogging out and I tap Shane and said, ‘Hey man, what’s the play?’ I don’t even know what we’re supposed to be doing.”

In this decade of false starts and frustrating moments, Texas football is finally fun again. This is how it’s supposed to be, frankly.

“We put ourselves in position to have a shot,” senior running back Tre Watson said. “We’ve got to finish. Finish the journey.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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