It was a night in which 50 points were allowed by Texas, but a play that didn’t contribute to that total is what’s sticking with me the most. Sure, the sports journalist in me recognizes that the ‘Horns’ loss can largely be attributed to the secondary being methodically picked apart for nearly 400 yards in the air. I should be pondering how Texas’ performance against Cal mirrored the 5-7 2015 season, and how there are a myriad of issues the ‘Horns must fix to still enjoy a successful year. But I’m not thinking about this.
See, the fan in me aches not because of the Davis Webb-to-Chad Hansen touchdowns or Texas’ sloppy tackling. I could endure highlights of Hansen sporting the dreaded “horns down” taunt after a touchdown, and I could even re-watch the Swoopes and Buechele interceptions with minimal desire to turn my head away from the replay. However, I simply can’t watch Cal running back Vic Enwere’s fumble again.
For those somehow unaware of what happened, Enwere bursted up the field on third down with just over a minute to play with his team up by seven, surely destroying Texas’ hopes as the Longhorns had no time outs. The smart move for Enwere would’ve been to have fallen down after the first down so that Cal could take a knee and end the game, but the Texas native instead went straight for the end zone. The running back in celebration dropped the pig-skin at the 1-yard line and the Longhorns subsequently casually picked up the ball.
However, the refs ruled that since there was no “immediate recovery”, that the Golden Bears would receive the ball at the 1-yard line. This angered me for a plethora of reasons including:
1. Getting the ball at the 1-yard line actually increased Cal’s chances of winning. The minuscule chances of Texas performing a miracle touchdown-onside kick-touchdown were effectively destroyed by the Golden Bears getting the ball back at the one. While 14 unanswered Texas points in a minute surely wouldn’t have happened, I would’ve rather seen Sterlin Gilbert’s high powered offense go down swinging. Games ending in an opponent taking a knee are always the most painful defeats.
2. Texas did recover the ball, and pretty immediately. I have no doubt that what made Texas’ recovery “not immediate” wasn’t the time that had passed before Dylan Haines picked the ball up (which was only a second or two), but the way the Texas safety grabbed the fumble. If Haines had snatched the fallen fumble with intent and tucked it away rather than grabbing it in a fairly lack-luster, one-handed manner, Texas would’ve been awarded the ball. It’s pretty silly that the game essentially came down to Dylan Haines’ body language when picking up the dropped ball.
3. Texas hadn’t gotten a turnover all game. A combination of poor positioning and bad luck has resulted in the ‘Horns recording only one turnover in three games. The Longhorns even jarred the ball loose on a Cal kickoff return, but failed to recover (the Golden Bears ended up getting a go-ahead touchdown). While saying that recovering Enwere’s fumble would’ve jump-started the defense to cause more turnovers in the future is a stretch, it is fair to say Texas was certainly due for a game changing play on defense. Cal’s two interceptions were timely and crucial, but Texas didn’t get the chance to capitalize on the opponent’s mistake for themselves.
4. A one touchdown game with a chance to tie would’ve been thrilling. Texas fans yawned through their Saturday nights for a mess of a game when we could’ve been watching Netflix. At the very least, Longhorn fans deserved a finish as exciting as that of, say, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, rather than a conclusion to the game that sputtered out more disastrously than the Dexter finale.
* * *
I know Texas didn’t deserve to win last Saturday, and I knew even before the match began that the ‘Horns weren’t worthy of the No. 11 ranking they boasted. But this was Texas’ chance to reverse the bad luck which began against Cal in 2015 after Nick Rose missed an extra point to tie the game in the waning seconds. Every sports fan should expect untimely errors, officiating mistakes, and pure heartbreak to plague his or her team, but this felt like the season the burnt orange would cause misfortune for other teams, not be the recipient of it.
Somehow before the Cal game last Saturday, I got caught up believing this would be the year where the only weight on Texas players’ shoulders would be Charlie Strong being lifted in celebration. Now Strong is back to earth, and missed opportunities hang heavy on the young unit’s shoulders yet again.