Another week, another heartbreaking loss for the Texas Longhorns because of a massive special teams mistake.
This week, it was freshman punter Michael Dickson letting a good snap get through his hands, leading to a game-winning 40-yard field goal for the Oklahoma State Cowboys with six seconds remaining for the final 30-27 margin in Austin.
It was an ugly ending for an ugly game that featured several egregiously bad calls by the officials against the Longhorns. On the critical Oklahoma State possession late, sophomore defensive tackle Poona Ford got called for a phantom defensive holding penalty, prompting an explosive reponse from head coach Charlie Strong that drew a personal foul penalty.
Here's what the penalty looked like:
Strong admitted after the game that he shouldn't have gotten the call and lost his composure, but it felt understandable given the previous calls. The head coach added that he's never seen defensive holding called on a run in all of his years of coaching. Unbelievable.
As a result of those penalties, the Cowboys were able to kick a 41-yard field goal despite losing a yard on the four offensive plays they ran. For the game, the Horns got hit with 16 penalties for 130 yards, tied for the second most by the team since 1996. Some were justified. Quite a few were not on a day when none of the breaks went in the Texas direction. On one holding penalty that negated a touchdown, the announcers were unable to spot a hold anywhere on the play.
The ending ruined a strong performance by the Texas defense in the second half, as the much-maligned group scored a touchdown on freshman cornerback Holton Hill's interception, intercepted another pass, and then forced two punts. Overall, Oklahoma State posted 395 yards of offense after entering the game averaging 510.3 yards per game. The run defense in particular looked significantly better than it has at any other point in the season, holding Oklahoma State to 103 yards rushing on 46 carries. None of the three Cowboys running backs averaged more than 3.2 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, the stagnant offense was unable to help the cause. A blitzing Oklahoma State defense was able to control the dynamic scrambling ability of Jerrod Heard, sacking the Texas quarterback seven times, mostly by bringing a variety of blizes that the Texas offensive line couldn't handle.
Here's how the possessions went for Texas in the second half -- punt, interception, punt, turnover on downs, punt, punt, punt. The longest of those drives lasted six plays and went for 34 yards.
The second-half struggles marred an overall performance that featured much more effectiveness in the first half. Junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes made his debut as a short-yardage runner for the Horns and picked up three first-down conversions, 35 yards, and a 4th and 2 conversion for a touchdown on three carries as Texas rallied from an early deficit to take a 20-17 lead into halftime.
During the opening half, coverage issues continued in the Texas secondary as Oklahoma State quickly marched down the field for touchdowns on the first two drives. Despite claming that personnel wasn't the issue, Strong quickly pulled redshirt freshman John Bonney and sophomore Antwuan Davis, inserting freshmen Kris Boyd and Holton Hill at cornerback instead.
The youngsters responded, as Hill recorded the team's third pass defensed this season and Boyd recorded an interception negated by a questionable roughing the passer penalty.
The biggest play, however, was a fumble return for a touchdown by junior defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who scooped and scored after Oklahoma State sophomore Mason Rudolph simply dropped the football as he went to throw a pass.
Texas had just settled for two field goals and appeared in danger of losing touch in facing a 14-6 deficit.
In the second half, the Horns added the second defensive touchdown when Hill made an impressive read in Cover 2, intercepted an overthrown pass from Rudolph under pressure, and returned it 41 yards.
It was the first time the Horns have recorded two defensive touchowns in the same game since doing so against Oklahoma State in 2009.
Offensively, redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard was efficient through the air in the first half in completing 7-of-9 passes for 84 yards, including a 47-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson in his return from an ankle injury, and adding seven carries for 40 yards.
Heard wasn't quite as sharp after halftime, taking two bad sacks on consecutive possessions. The first happened when senior right tackle Marcus Hutchins didn't block either of the two Oklahoma State players coming on a fire-zone blitz and Heard retreated far enough to take a loss of more than 20 yards that pushed Texas out of field goal range. On the next drive, another sack allowed by Hutchins put the Horns behind the chains and ultimately resulted in a fourth-down attempt that featured Heard taking another sack instead of throwing the football away.
Hutchins entered the game because junior right tackle Kent Perkins left with a knee injury and he's a guy that Texas can't afford to lose. The bad news is that Strong said after the game that it will take some time to get Perkins back. Freshman cornerback Devante Davis also left the game with a knee injury and did not return.
After the mistakes, Texas inserted junior college transfer Tristan Nickelson at right tackle, but then went three and out on that drive when sophomore tight end Andrew Beck dropped a pass on second down to keep the Horns behind the chains and effectively end the possession. It was one of at least four drops on the day, including two by senior wide receiver Daje Johnson and another by Marcus Johnson that resulted in an interception.
As much responsibility as the referees hold for making some terrible calls, the Horns have to be more disciplined as a football team and avoid the drive-killing mistakes on offense and game-killing mistakes on special teams. In the offensive struggles, the run game seriously stalled, too, as the running backs only gained 28 yards on 17 carries and the coaches were wary about running Heard as much as last week. However, the offense also had to deal with not being able to use their headsets during the game after the Oklahoma State headsets went out. Strong said it impacted the ability of the booth to communicate down to the field, so perhaps there's hope for improvement there as long as the headsets function in Fort Worth.
A week after the heartbreaking loss to Cal provided some hope for the future, the late meltdown against Oklahoma State felt much more crushing for a team that is struggling to just win a game. Now TCU and Oklahoma loom in the next two weeks.
Can the team show the mental resiliency to recover or will Texas enter the home game against Kansas State with a 1-5 record? After losing another swing game, there's little margin for error in becoming bowl eligible, so the Horns will have to quickly discover the consistency eluding the program since Strong took over.