The Texas Longhorns offense struggled to get going and failed to create big plays, but three turnovers forced by the defense helped the ‘Horns make it to halftime in the Cotton Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners trailing 14-13.
The Sooners out-gained the Longhorns 281-130 in total yards, yet converted on only 2-of-6 third downs and had four big penalties for 40 yards, including 30 on one play that set up the lone touchdown for head coach Charlie Strong’s offense.
Texas won the toss and elected to start the game on defense in a 3-3-5 look in a change from last week. There were also significant lineup changes, with sophomores Kris Boyd, Holton Hill, and PJ Locke starting at cornerback and senior Dylan Haines at safety.
Unlike last season, the Sooners came out emphasizing the running game to take pressure off of quarterback Baker Mayfield, but after allowing some yardage, the Longhorns were able to hold to force a long field goal attempt after limiting Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon to three yards on three carries.
The 50-yard field goal went wide and Texas had some momentum to start the first offensive possession.
However, disaster nearly struck on the first play, as quarterback Shane Buechele and wide receiver Armanti Foreman weren’t on the same page and the hitch was nearly returned for a touchdown. After a run by D’Onta Foreman, Buechele almost hit wide receiver John Burt on a deep ball, but Oklahoma cornerback Jordan Thomas made a fantastic leaping play to knock it away.
On the next possession, Oklahoma looked to have a big third-down completion over the middle, but Fox end Malcolm Roach hit wide receiver Mark Andrews just after the ball arrived and safety Dylan Haines was in position to secure the first Texas interception of 2016 one play after having another potential pick go through his hands on a diving effort.
Offensively, coordinator Sterlin Gilbert bucked the heavy early-season trend of running the ball on first down and it didn’t work out with the near interception and a sack of Buechele on the ensuing drive.
In total, the running game gained only 51 yards on 27 carries in the first half, with a long run of eight yards by Buechele on a scramble.
Haines came up big again after Texas got lucky in not drawing a flag when two defenders knocked down the Oklahoma intended target, setting up the Longhorns offense with a short field.
Unfortunately, Texas wasn’t able to capitalize, as the 18-Wheeler package couldn’t find any headway and Buechele missed wide receiver Collin Johnson in the end zone on what should have been a touchdown.
And so while the ‘Horns converted the field goal, scoring only three points from two turnovers wasn’t an ideal scenario.
Early on, Texas managed to win the field-position battle until the fourth Oklahoma possession, but was getting out-gained 124-6 in total yardage. The dropped interception, a pass play on 3rd and 2 at the Texas 45, and the two turnovers loomed large.
Then the momentum changed once again — after Foreman finally got two carries, he fumbled and Buechele was unable to secure the fumble, resulting in a Sooners recovery.
Three plays later, Oklahoma took the lead on a two-yard touchdown run by Samaje Perine.
Buechele responded with his first completion to pick up a big first down on a throw to Johnson, then completed another short pass and drew a pass-interference penalty on a play that also included a personal foul after the whistle.
The 30 yards gained by the ‘Horns on the penalties exceeded the team’s 24 total yards of offense to that point. Foreman finished the drive with three straight runs to reclaim the lead.
The Sooners running game continued to rumble, but a concerted effort by the Longhorns to rip out the football finally paid off. Mixon’s knee was down or extremely close to being down after getting into scoring position, but officials called the play a fumble on the field and there was not enough to overturn the play following review.
Once again, Texas was unable to capitalize, as Buechele had to throw the ball a little bit more quickly than he wanted just before Burt broke open and the Longhorns wide receiver was unable to adjust to the off-target pass.
Instead of a touchdown, the Longhorns had to punt, but were able to pin the Sooners back near the Texas goal line, then got a three and out with a swarming defense and a dropped pass on the third-down throw against good coverage from Brandon Jones.
After the offense couldn’t convert on the short field, the defense finally gave up a huge play, as cornerback Davante Davis got beat by Oklahoma’s best wide receiver, Dede Westbrook, on a momentum-changing 71-yard touchdown. It was the longest played allowed by the beleaguered Longhorns defense.
Texas mounted a long drive to end the first half, but more good plays from Thomas — who had four passes broken up — and outside linebacker Ogbo Okoronkwo helped force the ‘Horns into a third and goal from the 13-yard line.
The two missed touchdown passes by Buechele loomed large, but the defense looked improved and the ‘Horns once again showed some grit in the Cotton Bowl, while Strong did his part in avoiding any game-management mistakes.
Now it’s time to see whether Texas can reverse the trend of losing all 13 games under Strong when trailing at halftime.