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Red-zone issues result in 7-6 halftime deficit for Texas vs. TCU

The ‘Horns produced only six points on four red-zone trips.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Texas Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Battling for bowl eligibility and head coach Charlie Strong’s job, the Texas Longhorns fought the TCU Horned Frogs to a 7-6 deficit at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium following the first 30 minutes of action on Friday.

In front of a relatively small but vocal crowd, the ‘Horns out-gained the Horned Frogs 254 yards to 102 yards and dominated time of possession nearly two to one.

The difference was an offense that stagnated in critical moments, managing to convert four red-zone trips into only six points.

The red-zone struggles were hardly knew for the Longhorns this season — with the demise of the 18-Wheeler package throughout conference play, Texas entered the game ranking No. 91 nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage in converting 29 of 50 opportunities.

The defense did not have a strong start, as TCU quarterback Kenny Hill went 6-of-6 passing against a leaky zone defense, ultimately finishing the eight-play, 75-yard drive with an easy four-yard touchdown run.

Texas used a 48-yard completion to rather forgotten freshman wide receiver Devin Duvernay to key the ensuing drive, the offense’s second of the game, which ended with a 21-yard field goal. Duvernay recorded three straight games with touchdown catches of 63 or more yards in October, but didn’t have a gain of more than 14 yards between the Baylor and TCU games.

With the insertion of sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson on the second defensive series, the defense picked up its intensity and effectiveness. On the four drives after Jefferson entered the game, the Horned Frogs lost four yards on 13 plays.

Jefferson missed the Kansas game due to a concussion sustained early against West Virginia the previous week.

A 30-yard punt by TCU after the third possession gave Texas the ball near midfield and offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert dialed up another shot play for Duvernay, but freshman quarterback Shane Buechele left the pass a bit short while throwing on the move.

On 4th and 4 at the TCU 30-yard line, a slant intended for junior wide receiver Dorian Leonard was forced into coverage as Leonard broke his route off instead of putting himself in position to take a big hit.

Junior running back D’Onta Foreman was finally able to find some space on the ensuing drive, with three runs of 13 or more yards, but the drive stalled in the red zone, as so many have this season. Foreman finished the half with 23 carries for 10 yards, his 13th straight 100-yard performance of the season.

On 2nd and 7 from the TCU 17-yard line, Buechele tried to hit junior wide receiver Armanti Foreman over the middle, but junior right tackle Brandon Hodges was flagged as an ineligible player downfield on the run-pass option.

Behind the chains, the offense wasn’t able to recover and failed to put points on the board when shaky place kicker Trent Domingue missed wide right from 38 yards, his third miss on a row between 30 and 39 yards and third in his last four efforts from that distance.

Entering the Kansas State game, Domingue’s only three misses were from 40 yards or more. Since then, the LSU graduate transfer has fallen apart, with his lack of confidence apparent following his latest miss.

The red-zone issues continued on the next possession, set up by a 23-yard gain from freshman wide receiver Collin Johnson and two chunk plays from Duvernay.

However, Texas couldn’t punch the ball in, as four runs by Foreman couldn’t gain the final four yards, including a fourth-down effort from the 1-yard line that officials ruled fell short of the end zone. Even though replays showed Foreman scoring on a second effort while laying on a TCU player, the call stood, robbing Texas of a touchdown.

The defense responded with a rare turnover forced deep in opposing territory when sophomore safety DeShon Elliott intercepted Hill, then return the ball down to the TCU 9-yard line.

Once again, the Horned Frogs defense held when Buechele pulled on a zone read from the 3-yard line. After attempting to convert the previous fourth-down opportunity in a similar position, the Longhorns declined, inserting Mitchell Becker for the 24-yard conversion following a delay of game.

The difference could be an important one, as the Longhorns are 1-17 under Strong when trailing at halftime.