Forced to watch from the sidelines last season on Thanksgiving against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, Texas Longhorns running back D’Onta Foreman got his opportunity to run through and past the wet paper sack known as the Red Raiders defense for a slightly flawed but important 45-37 win in Lubbock.
Not only did Foreman go past 100 yards for the 10th straight game, which leads the FBS and is now only one more 100-yard performance from tying the school record set by Earl Campbell, the big back threatened the single-game school record of 350 yards by Ricky Williams.
The junior finished with 33 carries for 341 yards and three touchdowns — once again setting career highs in carries and yards. The highlight was his 74-yard touchdown run on 3rd and 3 early in the fourth quarter to give the ‘Horns a 45-30 lead.
The most incredible part of the run? Foreman did it without his right shoe on — running away from defensive backs without it.
Foreman also was the unfortunate main character for the Longhorns in one of his best collegiate runs, albeit one that ended in disaster.
Foreman’s run nearly converted a 3rd and 24 after a touchdown pass out of the 18-Wheeler package was negated by a chop block called on right guard Kent Perkins.
Replays didn’t clearly show whether Foreman extended the ball over the goal line before Texas Tech’s Douglas Coleman ripped it out for the game-changing play.
Longhorns wide receiver Devin Duvernay used his 10.27 100-meter speed to nearly chase down Coleman from across the field, actually forcing Coleman to step out of bounds before the goal line.
Officials never appeared to review the scoring end of the play, so it stood as called.
The bigger news in the game was the response of the Longhorns offense and defense to that play — Texas answered directly to each Texas Tech score and had runs of 17-0 and 14-0 to take that 15-point lead in the fourth quarter.
However, when Foreman tweaked his ankle and freshman running back Kyle Porter replaced him, disaster struck again, with the Red Raiders once again receiving some help from the officiating crew.
A week after linebacker Malik Jefferson had a late touchdown stolen from him against Baylor with a questionable call of stopped forward progress, Tech defenders were allowed to do so against Porter, eventually forcing the fumble after driving him back several steps.
Officials let the call stand, but were then quick to blow the whistle on the ensuing possession when the ‘Horns did the same to an opposing wide receiver.
A touchdown run finished the drive with what the announcers terms an obvious holding call, eventually dubbing the home team the “Kings of Thievery.”
Or perhaps that was a reference to another questionable display by Big 12 officials.
Faced with a crucial drive after the Longhorns defense came up with a big stop courtesy of cornerback John Bonney’s deflection on a potential touchdown pass and effort pressure by Malik Jefferson through a hold, the offense suffered from another questionable play-calling series.
On the first play, quarterback Shane Buechele pulled the ball on a zone read for no gain. Instead of going back to Foreman, Buechele suffered his third deflected pass. On third down, a go route to Armanti Foreman resulted in an incomplete pass to stop the clock for a second straight time.
Fortunately, as it did most of the day, the defense responded. Texas Tech was able to convert one 4th and 1, but was unable to get the quarterback sneak for a second time, giving the ball back to Texas with just over four minutes remaining and an eight point lead.
The stop prompted an odd call of “Ballgame!” from play-by-play announcer Tim Brando, but his opinion hardly represented a consensus. Or even any particular apparent version of reality.
The next drive actually featured two runs by Foreman before Really, Really Bad Sterlin surfaced again.
Facing 3rd and 2 from the Texas Tech 27-yard line, Gilbert dialed up the 18-Wheeler package, albeit the recent version without Foreman on the field. The defense, unsurprisingly, knew what was coming and stopped it. So Gilbert went right back to it. The defense, unsurprisingly, knew what was coming and stopped it.
On arguably the two most important plays of the game, Foreman was standing on the sidelines.
For a final time, however, the defense came up big, forcing Texas Tech to throw passes underneath, then rallying to make tackles. With the game on the line, cornerback Kris Boyd came up with the game-sealing interception in the end zone after nickel PJ Locke dropped a difficult opportunity to do the same.
Red Raiders star quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 367 yards, but only averaged 6.3 yards per attempt and was consistently under pressure and unable to complete long passes.
With Jefferson used as a spy, the ‘Horns managed to limit the noted scrambling ability of Mahomes, holding him to -16 yards on 15 carries, with a long run of eight yards and no touchdowns.
And the secondary also looked better — generally more organized, more successful, and able to limit massive mistakes, as the longest passing play for Tech was 31 yards. That qualifies as success, with Boyd, Bonney, and benched cornerback Holton Hill all stepping up.
The play from Hill was especially heartening, as he made numerous critical open-field tackles and avoided destructive coverage busts.
Credit to those players for getting better and to Strong and the defensive backs coaches for bringing those players along.
If wins and losses are all that matters, the ‘Horns got the job done. Reviewing the offensive play calling is something that Strong needs to look at — he says that he doesn’t interfere much with Gilbert, but maybe he needs to intervene in key situations to make sure that consecutive series like that don’t happen again in critical situations.
Right now, the bottom line is that the team is showing more toughness, an improved defense, and an offense that is difficult to stop with the heroics of D’Onta Foreman.
This is a better football team than it was two weeks ago at Kansas State, so we can all take another big step further away from the edge of the abyss.