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Texas finally creates turnovers vs. Oklahoma and can’t take advantage

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Three points on four turnovers isn’t good enough.

NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the Cotton Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners for the Red River Showdown, the Texas Longhorns ranked No. 127 in the country with one turnover forced, ahead of only the Toledo Rockets.

But when the defense now led by head coach Charlie Strong forced three turnovers against the Sooners and the special teams was the recipient of another, the offense couldn’t take advantage, scoring only three points.

Continued poor luck recovering fumbles didn’t help either — Texas entered the game having recovered only one of six fumbles forced on the season and wasn’t able to come up with two potentially game-changing fumbles late.

All told, the ‘Horns have gained only three of 10 fumbles in 2016, a recovery rate that consistently ranks among the 10 worst in the country over a full season.

While recovering fumbles is random, failing to take advantage of the other turnovers gained is completely on offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s attack.

Here’s how it went down.

Dylan Haines interception at the 50-yard line

Gilbert tried to get the drive started with a pass and freshman quarterback Shane Buechele took a five-yard loss on a sack. Behind the chains on the first play, Texas ended up in 3rd and 9, resulting in an incomplete pass from Buechele.

Going against tendency early in the game isn’t quite a questionable decision from Gilbert, but it didn’t work on either of the first two drives, which produced only four combined yards.

In addition, the first two drives didn’t feature any short passes to help Buechele’s rhythm, either.

Haines interception return to the OU 13-yard line

The increasingly ineffective 18-Wheeler package only managed to produce two yards on two carries before putting Buechele in another long down-and-distance situation. A false start penalty moved the ‘Horns back five yards before Buechele missed freshman wide receiver Collin Johnson on a slant.

Having missed on all of his passes to the point, the normally-inflappable freshman didn’t lead his fellow early enrollee into the end zone. In such a high-pressure situation, perhaps it’s understandable that Buechele missed after Gilbert failed to help him get comfortable with easy completions. Failing to hit open receivers has also been unusual for Buechele over the start of his career.

Joe Mixon fumble recovered by Poona Ford at the Texas 24-yard line

The Sooners went 51 yards on eight plays before a clear game-week emphasis on ripping out the football finally produced a fumble for the Longhorns.

Perhaps the best result of the fumble was avoiding giving up points, as Texas wasn’t able to move the football after freshman wide receiver John Burt dropped a pass and Buechele took another sack to end the drive.

Texas converted twice on third down before Burt’s drop on a pass that should have gone for a first down. The sophomore gained only six yards on two receptions as he struggles continued since a hand injury sustained following the season opener.

Buechele continues to target Burt, but whether it’s a result of the hand injury or a lack of confidence, the team’s big-play receiver entering the season hasn’t made plays in the last four games.

Mixon fumble recovered by Kris Boyd at the OU 23-yard line

The football struck Mixon in the chest on a bouncing punt he tried to avoid it, giving Texas possession deep in Oklahoma territory when Boyd recovered.

After an incomplete pass, D’Onta Foreman’s eight-yard run put the ‘Horns in a favorable down-and-distance situation with a 3rd and 2.

Lacking confidence in the 18-Wheeler package, Gilbert dialed up a pass despite Foreman’s second-half success and Buechele was late on his pass intended for wide receiver Armanti Foreman, who didn’t break hard enough on the football to help his quarterback.

Foreman eventually came out of a scrum with the football, but the call on the field was an interception and it stood on replay. Had the officials ruled it a catch for Foreman, an overturn was unlikely — it was a 50-50 play that went against Texas.

With Buechele missing a touchdown pass, Burt dropping a drive-extending pass, and the poor play call in the red zone that resulted in the interception, the Texas offense just didn’t do enough in crucial moments after turnovers.

There’s no one player or coach to blame, so it’s another instance where this Longhorns team can’t put together enough plays to win close games, a consistent issue through head coach Charlie Strong’s tenure.

However, if there’s one crucial decision here, it was Gilbert deciding to pass on 3rd and 2 late in the game and not taking advantage of an obvious situation for the 18-Wheeler package or a Foreman run.

To say that the momentum swung after the interception would be an understatement, as Oklahoma used 13 plays and nearly six and a half minutes to take a two-touchdown lead that tired the Texas defense.

Criticize Strong’s unit for playing a poor game, but scoring more points off of turnovers likely produces a different result.