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Texas HC Charlie Strong explains 4th-down play call

With the game on the line, the Longhorns made the wrong decision. Here's what happened.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

The short-lived fourth-quarter lead for the Texas Longhorns didn't last long -- 1:36 to be exact -- setting up a critical possession with the Horns trailing the Texas Tech Red Raiders 41-38 and the clock ticking down.

Two strong runs by freshman Chris Warren were sandwiched around a false start penalty to start the drive, but Texas Tech stoned junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes on the ensuing first down and then benefited from the patently ridiculous penalty on freshman left tackle Connor Williams for supposedly being too far downfield. He was not.

A run by Warren for no gain and a scramble by Swoopes for seven yards set up 4th and 7 from the Texas 33-yard line with under three minutes left on the clock.

Head coach Charlie Strong wisely called a timeout to set up the crucial play, but what resulted did not look like a smart call.

Here's the formation and the routes that the telecast could pick up:

4th and 7 again

Swoopes ended up targeting inside receiver Daje Johnson on the fade route, but his throw went well over Johnson's head to fall incomplete on the low-percentage play, then defended both the play call and the decision after the game.

"On the fourth-down play, we had a good call," he said. "We throw that route almost every day in practice, and I just missed it that time."

The Texas head coach also defended play caller Jay Norvell's decision after the game.

"It wasn't so much of that," Strong said when asked if the throw to Johnson was what he wanted.

"I think the thing that hurt us there at the end is we catch the out route there and then the lineman downfield, who was away from the field, that would have made it 3rd and 2, and we would have gotten the 1st down. Now all of a sudden, it backs up. The one play there, the 4th down play, we had a slant called, they pressed man on us, and Tyrone threw a chop on the outside."

There's no question that the penalty on Williams was extremely painful, but Strong's response was a little bit of the deflection -- while the second-down play was unfortunate, that's not an excuse for failing to make the right call on fourth down or to execute it correctly.

Strong is apparently referencing the slant run by freshman wide receiver John Burt at the top of the screen, as Swoopes initially looked in that direction before targeting Johnson. When working against man coverage, the slant should be effective as a man-beater route as long as the wide receiver makes sure that the defender doesn't cross his face when he makes his inside cut.

Burt isn't able to create much separation, but if Swoopes had delivered an accurate pass, Burt would have had a chance ot make a play and pick up the first down.

The inclusion of sophomore H-back Andrew Beck is also a bit confusing since Beck gave questionable effort on an earlier pass, hasn't been creating consistent separation, and hasn't shown consistent hands, despite all of Shawn Watson's talk last year about Beck looking like a natural in that department.

Why not substitute Beck out for another wide receiver after that timeout? Beck appears to run a post route that could have been effective for a speed wide receiver like sophomore Armanti Foreman.

And though it's difficult to tell what the progression was for Swoopes, he did also have senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson open for a brief moment when he used his hands to get a step on his own slant route at the bottom of the screen. Throwing that pass would have been a much better option than throwing to make the difficult throw to the other Johnson.

One final comment on Swoopes' decision? Overthrowing the pass is unaccpetable on that play -- he has to deliver a catchable ball and underthrown is better than overthrown.

The look on Jay Norvell's face after the play said it all:

Was Norvell upset merely due to the result of the play or because his quarterback didn't make the right read?

It's impossible to say which one without being highly speculative, but the bottom line remains that the coach either made the wrong call or Swoopes didn't execute it correctly. No matter which one it was, it didn't work and that means it wasn't good enough.

The Longhorns have to be better and until the game can execute consistently in key situations, the losses are going to keep coming when there are injuries, poor weather, bad calls by the officials, or a combination of all of the above.