Football

Texas offense goes out with a whimper, not a bang, as season closes

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Posted November 25th, 2016

Perhaps fittingly, Texas’ 2016 football season ended with an interception.

Freshman Shane Buechele’s heave toward the end zone was nabbed by TCU safety Niko Small in the final seconds of a loss to TCU on Friday. The 47-yard throw was meaningless — Texas lost 31-9 — but it closed the chapter on an offense that struggled to score points as Charlie Strong, the school’s defensive-minded coach, attempted to hang onto his job.

In its 22-point loss, Texas (5-7, 3-6 Big 12) was forced to settle for three field goals over its five trips to the red zone.

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“It is disappointing,” Buechele said. “We drove down the field, we were in the red zone a couple times. It’s just frustrating not getting it in the end zone.”

TCU went 75 yards on its opening drive on Friday, as Kenny Hill capped a 6-of-6 passing performance with a 4-yard scoring run. TCU, however, collected only 27 more yards before halftime.

The players on Texas’ offense, though, failed to take advantage.

Texas made five trips to the TCU 30 in the first half, but the Longhorns were limited to Trent Domingue’s 21-yard field goal and Mitchell Becker’s 24-yard kick. Sandwiched in between those scores were a misfire by Buechele on fourth-and-4, a 38-yard miss by Domingue and TCU’s stuffing D’Onta Foreman’s fourth-down run from the 1.

Texas trailed 7-6 at halftime.

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“We couldn’t execute, we couldn’t convert, we couldn’t score,” offensive lineman Connor Williams said. “When you get in the red zone, you’ve got to score, and we weren’t doing that.”

Given a halftime show and a three-minute TCU drive to make its adjustment, Texas reached the TCU 8 on its first drive of the third quarter. The Longhorns settled for another short field goal and did not score again.

Texas finished with 407 yards on 85 snaps. The nine points were the team’s fewest since a shutout loss at Iowa State in 2015. It marked a disappointing ending to a unit that opened the season with 50, 41 and 43-point performances.

After averaging 41 points per game in its first five games with new offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert, the Longhorns sulked as opposing defenses caught on to an offense that did feature a 2,000-yard running back. Texas failed to score 28 points in five of its final seven games.

“I feel like we were getting some better schemes against us, but, heck, we put up 407 yards. That isn’t too bad,” Williams said. “We’re producing, we just need to execute on some levels.”

UT offensive lineman Tristan Nickelson pauses on the field after losing to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
UT offensive lineman Tristan Nickelson pauses on the field after losing to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Friday November 25, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Against TCU, Texas was a woeful 4 of 19 on its third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth downs. Foreman rushed for 165 yards on 31 carries, but he accounted for 87.3 percent of the rushing offense. Buechele declined to use fatigue as an excuse, but his 218 passing yards were compiled just two weeks after he hit the 300-yard mark for the first time (Buechele had 165 yards in last week’s loss at Kansas).

All of this came against a TCU defense that was allowing 29.4 points per game. The Horned Frogs (6-5, 4-4) were ranked fifth in the Big 12 in scoring defense and fourth in total defense (420.8 yards per game).

“I don’t know if they were that much better than us,” Strong said. “I think we had opportunities and didn’t take advantage of it.”

Buechele ended his freshman season with 2,958 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and a 60.4 completion percentage. Whoever is coaching Texas next year can expect to return eight of the team’s top nine pass-catchers and four of the offensive linemen that started on Friday. The big question will be Foreman, a junior who is eligible to enter the NFL Draft.

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