For Texas Longhorns decision makers, an uninspiring 31-9 loss to the TCU Horned Frogs on Friday’s Senior Night at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium will likely seal the fate of head coach Charlie Strong, who was given one last opportunity to impress this week.
At the end of the game, there was no more body surfing for Strong to create a scene similar to Les Miles at LSU last season, just resignation and a sad post-game scene.
When TCU running back Darius Anderson raced 70 yards for an easy touchdown and the final margin with 7:32 remaining in the fourth quarter to put his daily tally over 100 yards on three carries, there was no more denying the reality of the situation.
For the second straight season, the ‘Horns failed to reach six wins, dropping Strong’s record to 16-21 over three seasons and missing a bowl game in two straight seasons for the first time since 1992-93. In the program’s storied history, that’s the worst all-time winning percentage for a head coach in Austin.
Missed opportunities defined the first half and early part of the third quarter — Texas trailed at halftime, 7-6, despite four trips into the red zone. When the game clock hit zero in Austin, Strong dropped to 1-18 when trailing at halftime.
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.
During the second half, a 44-yard run by junior running back D’Onta Foreman put Texas into the red zone and put Foreman over 2,000 yards rushing for the season. Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams is the only other running back in school history to reach that mark.
In a distressingly familiar storyline, however, Texas was unable to convert. A double move on a hitch and go intended for junior wide receiver Jake Oliver gave a blitzing defensive back the time to reach freshman quarterback Shane Buechele for a crushing sack.
When back-up kicker Mitchell Becker was able to sneak the 31-yard field goal inside the left upright, Texas had turned five red-zone drives into only nine points — just over 25 percent of the points available.
Overall, the offense descended deeply into predictability in the second half as the Horned Frogs sat on the endless hitch routes, played with a single-high safety, and dared Buechele to hurt them over the top.
Between spotty protection against opposing blitzes and Buechele’s continued issues with his down-field accuracy, head coach Gary Patteron’s calculations worked.
Banged up and ineffective, Buechele finished the game 16-of-39 for 218 yards and an interception to close the season with two rough performances.
In starting the second half with the same defensive personnel that gave up a touchdown on TCU’s first drive, Texas experienced a similar result, but sophomore nickel back PJ Locke forced a field goal with a touchdown-saving deflection:
PJ Locke saves a touchdown. #Hookem https://t.co/HUATqRWeFW— Hookem Football (@hornsfootball) November 25, 2016
Nursing a hamstring injury on the following drive, TCU quarterback Kenny Hill was able to find running room against the Texas defense, including on a 41-yard touchdown run.
Tempo was likely a factor on the play, but the ‘Horns identified the personnel and formation poorly, as the Horned Frogs lined up an H-back next to Hill — a clear signal for a quarterback draw. When senior safety Dylan Haines missed yet another open-field tackle, Hill found the end zone to stretch the lead.
With the game seemingly on the line, sophomore punter Michael Dickson flipped the field with a 74-yard, rugby-style punt to the TCU 5-yard line.
When Hill went out with an injury to join banged up running back Kyle Hicks, the defense had a big opportunity to hold the Horned Frogs and get the ball back to the struggling offense, the run defense collapsed.
Trevorris Johnson had runs of 14 and 15 yards taking handoffs from back-up quarterback Foster Sawyer, while Darius Anderson gashed the defense with a 27-yard gain.
Texas blitzed both linebackers as TCU hit a big passing play when sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd got beat for a 28-yard gain. When Johnson bounced outside for an easy five-yard touchdown run, the Strong era looked over, as the game was effectively over with the ‘Horns facing a 24-9 margin.
All that was left was a brutal 9:18 remaining.
Now the focus turns to the future.