For the first time in school history, the Texas Longhorns defense has given up 45 or more points in three of the first four games with a 49-31 loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater.
The historic setback was the first for the ‘Horns on the road against the Pokes since 1997, which also happened to be the only Texas loss in Stillwater in school history.
The loss for Texas also ended a seven-game streak of road wins in the series.
Once again, the opponent scored first and led at halftime, 37-25, but head coach Charlie Strong’s program was unable to respond — the season-opening win against Notre Dame marked the only time in the Strong era that Texas recovered after conceding the first touchdown.
The ‘Horns still haven’t won after trailing at halftime.
A year after punter Michael Dickson contribute to the loss against Oklahoma State by dropping a snap, special teams continued to be a disaster for Texas.
During the first half, the ‘Horns only managed to convert on one of four extra points, as three were blocked, with one returned for two points and another nearly returned inside the Texas 20-yard line.
In the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Texas only missed three extra points combined, including the disastrous miss against Cal that kept that game from going into overtime.
And that wasn’t all. Rattled graduate transfer kicker Trent Domingue failed to get a 42-yard field goal attempt off before the play clock expired and then fell to his left in hooking the 47-yard attempt wide of the uprights.
By the time the first half finally ended, the Longhorns had left eight points on the board in trailing by 12 following the first 30 minutes.
Early on, some personnel changes on defense failed to produce improvement, as the first two drives featured numerous missed tackles from a group that included sophomore safety DeShon Elliott, senior safety Kevin Vaccaro, and freshman safety Brandon Jones.
More coverage busts and missed tackles ultimately resulted in Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph throwing for 310 yards and three touchdowns, as well as a rushing touchdown when Longhorns Fox end Breckyn Hager crashed hard on the play and lost contain.
By the second half, the ‘Horns had already long since gone back to the original starters — junior Jason Hall and senior Dylan Haines. Hall responded with two sacks, including a big one on 3rd and 5 in Texas territory early in the second half to stop a drive nearly extended as a result of an illegal substitution on the previous play.
The other big adjustment was that head coach Charlie Strong was seen coaching the defense after a possession in the first half and looked to call the defensive plays. At one point, Strong was ranting on the headset prompting defensive coordinator Vance Bedford to remove his own headset during the tirade.
The offense provided most of the positives in the first half, though a holding penalty on sophomore left tackle Connor Williams killed the promising drive that resulted in the missed field goal.
Most of the first half damage came courtesy of the strong Longhorns running game — Texas gained 205 yards on the ground on 28 carries, with a 46-yard run by sophomore running back Chris Warren and a 12-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in the 18-Wheeler package serving as the highlights.
The effort by Swoopes on a quarterback sweep included a spinning discard of talented Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns and another broken tackle on the way to the end zone.
Unfortunately for Texas, Warren wasn’t available for the second half as a result of a right knee injury.
The second half didn’t start out well, either, as the offense stalled and the defense lost field position, resulting in an 18 Wheeler appearance to start the drive pinned against the goal line.
In a flashback to the Cal game, two runs went nowhere and freshman quarterback Shane Buechele then threw a bad interception after staring down the receiver. Sterns returned the ball near the goal line and the Cowboys scored two plays later.
But at least Texas got in on the block party on the ensuing extra point!
The game reached a low point late in the quarter when Strong tried to decline a penalty for ineligible receivers downfield... on a completed Oklahoma State pass. The Longhorns head coach eventually accepted the penalty after the officials gave him a little assist by letting him know what he was doing.
Just before Strong’s near gaffe, D’Onta Foreman broke through the line of scrimmage and raced 68 yards for an important touchdown before nearly getting injured when a pursuing Oklahoma State cornerback attempted to force a fumble eight yards into the end zone.
The dangerous play somehow didn’t draw a penalty.
Foreman then left the game after going down without contact and grabbing his right side.
And even though the defense struggled so mightily in the first half, in the second half the performance was much better — other than the short touchdown set up by the Buechele interception, Oklahoma State was unable to find the end zone.
On two different occasions, the ‘Horns bent but didn’t break, holding the Cowboys to short field goals both times.
Texas ultimately out-gained Oklahoma State in total yardage, 568 yards to 555 yards, but after a week that saw the Cowboys turn the ball over four times, the Longhorns defense was once again unable to force critical mistakes by the opposing offense.
Without any turnovers, the improved defensive performance in the second half wasn’t enough as the offense stalled in the second half for a second straight week.
Injuries to Warren and Foreman certainly played a role, as freshman running back Kyle Porter gained only 12 yards on his first six carries until finally finding some space on a draw play for 19 yards.
But once again the offense sputtered, as Buechele was unable to connect with any receivers and Strong opted to meekly punt on 4th and 14 with just more than four minutes remaining.
There aren’t many plays that can consistently convert in down-and-distance situations like that, but it was another example of Strong basically conceding a game late due to lack of aggressiveness.
Why not try?
Overall, advanced scouting was a potential reason for some of the offensive struggles, as Oklahoma State defensive backs sat on the preferred routes of Texas wide receivers and the screen game never got going, in part because of some blocking issues by the rest of the receiving corps.
Now Texas heads into the Oklahoma game week with continued questions about the defense and even more pressure on the Texas head coach, who doesn’t have much margin for error left and now holds zero remaining goodwill from the recruiting success in the 2016 class and the season-opening win over Notre Dame.
The Strong era is on the line heading into the Cotton Bowl. Will the ‘Horns respond again this year or fold meekly?