Football

Texas 31, TCU 16: This is no illusion, the Texas football program is coming back to life

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Story highlights
  • Texas S Brandon Jones: “Me being a junior, that’s my first time actually beating them.”
  • Tom Herman: “Caden Sterns, hell of a football player. Hell of a football player.”
  • Longhorns had not even held a lead over Gary Patterson's club since 2013.

Posted September 22nd, 2018

Momentum may be an illusion, as Texas coach Tom Herman is wont to say. Try telling that to the 95,124 fans at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

What they saw was no illusion, as the 17th-ranked Horned Frogs can attest.

The Texas football program is indeed coming back to life. Slowly, but surely, raising those Horns a little bit higher with each passing week.

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Trailing by six in the third quarter, the Longhorns converted two turnovers into points and made enough plays down the stretch to capture a 31-16 victory over the Horned Frogs.

It was UT’s second straight win over a top-25 program in as many weeks. This is no mirage, either. The Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) will wake up on Sunday tied for first place in the league standings having crossed a major hurdle.

“I think it’s a huge win,” UT safety Brandon Jones said. “Me being a junior, that’s my first time actually beating them.”

Texas hadn’t even held a lead against coach Gary Patterson’s club since 2013. But the Horned Frogs (2-2, 0-1) left town knowing their four-game winning streak in this series, one in which they dominated, is over.

“This is just one step. One step. This is not the end-all, be-all,” Herman said. “This is a good win against another ranked opponent, an opponent that’s going to win a lot of games in their season as well.”

Freshman Caden Sterns had two interceptions as part of a four-turnover day for the Texas defense. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw two touchdown passes and the rushing game tallied up 112 yards for the Horns.

“I mean, we had two times inside the 15-yard line and we had to kick field goals, too, so we had our opportunities,” Patterson said. “You’ve got to make plays.”

Texas defensive back Caden Sterns (7) intercepts a pass during an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

To beat USC, Texas stacked one winning play on top of another. That’s exactly what happened against TCU, too. Same as last week, the Horns didn’t tense up after a bad break, like Cameron Dicker’s two missed field goals. And they didn’t crack after one bad call, like not getting pass interference near the goal line when Vernon Scott practically tackled Collin Johnson.

“It’s different. We’re a different team,” cornerback Kris Boyd said. “Everyone is believing in each other. I don’t know. We’re all just bought in and I love it.”

If Herman truly turns this program around, the third quarter may be forever known as the turning point.

Dicker missed a 43-yard field goal attempt, and TCU took over with 4:05 left in the period. Two plays later, Texas defensive end Marqez Bimage got just enough of the football to knock it loose from TCU’s Shawn Robinson. Brandon Jones pounced on it for the turnover.

The Horns wasted no time. Ehlinger couldn’t connect with Johnson streaking toward the end zone. But on first-and-20 from the TCU 31, Ehlinger reared back and put it out there again. This time, Johnson made a catch fully extended for the score.

Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson (9) catches a touchdown pass during an NCAA college football game against TCU in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It was the highlight moment of Johnson’s active day. He finished with seven catches, tying his career high, for 124 yards. Ehlinger, who threw for 255 yards, evened his record to 5-5 as a starter.

On TCU’s next possession, Robinson tried to throw over the middle. It seemed like a dicey proposition considering how the UT defensive backs were swarming all over the place. UT’s Kris Boyd knocked a sure-fire touchdown pass out of Jalen Reagor’s hands in the first quarter. Those two went at it all day.

Robinson’s pass was eaten by the wolf. Sterns, known for his three wolf tattoos, had an easy interception at the TCU 35 and returned it to the 2-yard line. It was his second of the game and third of his young career.

“Caden Sterns, hell of a football player,” Herman said. “Hell of a football player.”

Said Boyd: “You see little Sterns. He’s balling every weekend. I just have a big smile on my face.”

Ehlinger went for the kill. On first-and-goal, Ehlinger faked a handoff to Daniel Young and then ran around the right side for the score. Texas led 24-16 with 28 seconds left in the period.

The Horns weren’t done. Lil’Jordan Humphrey was targeted only once in the first half as TCU clamped down on him. But he got loose on a fourth-quarter crossing route. Just like against USC, Humphrey made a catch and turned it into something more. His 38-yard touchdown with 3:18 left put this one on ice.

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“Devin (Duvernay) and Collin are two great playmakers,” Humphrey said. “If it’s not me, it’s going to be one of them, and we’ve shown that. I feel like we’re one of the best receiver groups in the nation, and we’re putting that on film and showing that every Saturday.”

All week long, Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando stressed the importance of just getting lined up properly. That’s how TCU beats you, he said. Ohio State gave up some big plays last week at AT&T Stadium simply because the Buckeyes couldn’t get lined up right against TCU’s hurry-up offense.

“If we get lined up, we were OK,” cornerback Davante Davis said. “So that’s what we worked on all week — just getting lined up.”

TCU managed 372 total yards, but the Frogs were 6 of 16 on third down. Texas didn’t have a sack but had four quarterback hurries and five tackles for loss.

The last four years, athletic director Chris Del Conte walked around after TCU games wearing a purple blazer and a huge smile, especially after beating Texas. Nowadays, he runs UT’s athletic department. He wore an orange-colored sport coat and couldn’t help but soak up good vibes.

Even bad breaks on Bevo Boulevard turned out in UT’s favor. Aloe Blacc’s early flight was cancelled due to bad weather. But Texas officials scrambled, got him on another plane and a police escort to the Longhorn City Limits stage just in time for the pre-game concert.

The only ones singing the blues were those in purple. And even their band was so high up on the top level of Royal-Memorial Stadium, you couldn’t hear them anyway. In search of a true home field advantage, Del Conte puts all visitors on the top deck in the northeast corner.

The product on the field is why thousands stayed, though.

“All it does is validate the fact that we have taken another step, that’s all,” Herman said. “We have got many, many, many more steps left to take.”

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

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