There’s no magic secret as to why Texas beat Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 6. Watch the game again, and it’s obvious.
Keep quarterback Kyler Murray contained in the pocket. If the Longhorns can’t do that Saturday in the Big 12 championship game, it’ll be a long day at AT&T Stadium.
“A lot of his big scrambles have come when you’re covering them but not getting good pressure on him,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “He’s sitting back there, sitting back there, nobody is open, OK, go.”
Murray has produced three of OU’s 10 longest rushing plays this season — 75, 67 and 55 yards, all for touchdowns. The 67-yarder was against Texas, an electric run that beefed up his final statistics in UT’s 48-45 win.
“That’s probably the biggest thing I learned,” UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “When he has the ball in his hands, he’s just as dynamic. He can run 50-60 yards just as fast as he can throw a football 50-60 yards.”
Murray had just 34 yards rushing on three carries through the first three quarters. Granted, he’d also completed 15 of 20 passes for 245 yards by that point, but the Horns still had a 21-point lead. He’s hard to sack; the Longhorns had two all day.
Murray threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to get OU going late. His 67-yard score was a magic show. Two OU offensive lineman pulled and got in each other’s way, but Murray just drifted outside and turned on the jets.
The game-tying score was set up by somewhat of a busted play for Texas as Murray found Trey Sermon for 35 yards.
Neither Murray’s long run nor Sermon’s catch were brilliant schematic designs, per se. They just caught the Longhorns flat-footed. Next thing anybody knew, a blowout had morphed into a 45-45 thriller.
“That’s the main key point, getting pressure and keeping him contained,” UT defensive tackle Chris Nelson said. “If you can do that, you have a great chance of winning the game.”
Texas defensive end Charles Omenihu said this week that the defense can’t let Murray “run like a jackrabbit” around the field. Linebacker Gary Johnson was a defensive spy in the first matchup, hanging back and waiting for Murray to make his move before breaking to the ball.
In OU’s last four games, the 5-10, 195-pound speedster has averaged 94.8 rushing yards and has run for five touchdowns. It’s a critical reason why the Sooners average 8.9 yards per play.
Asked how he felt the Horns did against him the first time, Omenihu said on Tuesday, “I mean, the scoreboard said that UT won, so I think we did pretty well.”
Said Nelson: “We did a good job, but it wasn’t our best, honestly.”
A true forensic examination of that picturesque day in Dallas reveals about what you’d find in any football game. There were some terrific individual performances, some brilliant play designs and technique mistakes on both sides.
Texas safety Caden Sterns took a bad angle on a play where Sermon changed direction and went 16 yards. Murray and Marquise Brown pulled off a terrific leverage move whereby UT cornerback Davante Davis got caught in no-man’s land. Brown caught a 4-yard touchdown.
The Horns converted a fourth-and-2 play from the OU 31 with a swing pass to Tre Watson. It wouldn’t have worked if Lil’Jordan Humphrey hadn’t blocked his man out wide. Watson later just ran straight past a linebacker and caught a 28-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route.
On one of Sam Ehlinger’s three touchdown runs, OU’s Tre Brown got blocked, spun around and could only watch helpless as the quarterback ran into the end zone.
Ehlinger had not yet suffered a sprained AC joint in his right throwing shoulder. That would happen in the next game one week later, against Baylor. So he was going full throttle against the Sooners and finished with 72 yards rushing.
Ehlinger aggravated the injury against Iowa State and looked off against Kansas. Will Texas run him as much this time knowing the shoulder is bothersome?
For the rematch, the Texas offensive coaches will scrutinize OU’s last six games and look for new defensive tendencies. OU fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops after the loss to Texas. Longtime defensive coach Ruffin McNeill took Stoops’ place.
Asked about OU’s changes, UT offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, “Some, yeah, I don’t want to get into too much detail on that, but there are some differences.”
Orlando said he cannot make wholesale defensive changes to UT’s scheme. “Our kids would look at us like we’re crazy,” he said. By this point, both the Longhorns and Sooners are who they are. College is nothing like pro football, where teams can totally change from week to week.
High-scoring games are the norm in the Big 12, and this could be no different. Orlando is stressing to the Longhorns to take things one play at a time. If Murray gets loose for big yardage, shrug it off and get ready. He’s coming back for more.
To Orlando, stopping Murray and the Sooners means limiting their possessions via turnovers or third-down stops, ratcheting things up inside the 20-yard line and not getting beat over the top.
“To me, just play the next play,” Orlando said. “It’s kind of like our motto around here, go 1-0. OK, I screwed that play up, that’s fine. Let it go. The biggest thing is not letting people behind us to give up 60-yard touchdowns.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.