Another impressive performance by the Texas Longhorns defense wasn’t enough to overcome a huge mistake by freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger as the Oklahoma State Cowboys pulled out a 13-10 overtime victory in Austin at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The defense held enough in regulation to force the extra frame, then held the Cowboys to a field goal. A questionable pass interference penalty on Oklahoma State set the offense up near the goal line, but Ehlinger inexplicably lofted the ball up to a defender in the end zone when he should have thrown the ball away on third and goal.
It was the second overtime loss for Texas this season and the third against a top-10 team. So much for finishing this week.
Oklahoma State entered the game averaging more than 48 points and 610 yards per game, but only scored 10 points in regulation, with 428 total yards on offense. Even with some injuries along the offensive line for the Cowboys, it was an impressive effort from Todd Orlando’s defense, especially holding the ground attack to less than three yards per carry.
The game plan by Oklahoma State didn’t help much, as head coach Mike Gundy remained stubborn trying to run the ball against a Texas defense that mostly played in a dime package and either outnumbered or with even numbers in the box.
Unfortunately, sophomore safety Brandon Jones missed a potential interception that hit him in the hands late in the game that might have put Texas in position to kick the game-winning field goal.
The Texas defense started strong and finished strong in holding Oklahoma State to only seven points in the first half, a remarkable accomplishment given that the nation’s No. 1 offense has averaged more than 28 points per game in the first half this season.
On that drive, star Cowboys quarterback Mason Rudolph racked up 83 of his 151 passing yards in the first half. After beating man coverage early with short routes, Rudolph was able to find openings in the Texas zone to set up a touchdown run by JD King.
Making the Oklahoma State offense largely one-dimensional by holding running back Justice Hill to 2.5 yards per carry helped the passing defense, as did mostly solid coverage that produced two sacks. The cornerbacks, particularly junior Holton Hill, also did an excellent job of tackling in the open field to reduce extra yardage by the Pokes.
The biggest play defensively came after a methodical drive by OSU took the ball inside the Texas 10-yard line. A big run stop of Hill resulted in a seven-yard loss when senior defensive tackle Poona Ford ripped the ball out as Hill was laying on top of junior defensive end Chris Nelson. The ‘Horns recovered to negate the scoring threat.
Offensively, the biggest play of the first half put Texas in position to tie the game. Following a five-yard loss when quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw a dump-off pass that running back Daniel Young caught with his knee down in a freshman mistake, Ehlinger threw a short pass to forgotten junior wide receiver John Burt.
In a remarkable display of athleticism, Burt managed to stay in bounds during five tightrope steps down the sideline, eventually using his track speed to race 90 yards down the sideline. It was the sixth-longest passing play in school history, the first play over 50 yards for Texas this season, and the longest non-scoring play in school history.
The play helped tie the game when Ehlinger got to the line quickly and carried it himself into the end zone. And it also produced one of the best pictures of the season so far, courtesy of the Austin American-Statesman:
Look at the smile on this guy's face. And the one-fingered tackle attempt. pic.twitter.com/ahpO6OBJLP— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) October 21, 2017
As far as we know, one-finger tackle attempts do not have a history of success in football.
The Texas offense didn’t have much success in the first half either, though, as junior Chris Warren III received the only three carries at the position. He gained three yards.
With the patchwork offensive line once again using largely overmatched junior Terrell Cuney at right guard and center Zach Shackelford struggling with his snaps and in pass protection, Ehlinger spent most of the first half on the run.
Limited time to throw the ball hurt the passing game — the freshman quarterback averaged only 6.2 yards per completion other than Burt’s long catch.
In the second half, the Texas offense largely cratered after an opening possession that marched 71 yards on 13 plays using small but consistent gains in the running game and short passes to put the ‘Horns in the red zone. Unfortunately, Ehlinger couldn’t connect with sophomore wide receiver Devin Duvernay on a would-be touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal.
After that drive, the next seven drives featured three plays six times and four plays once. It was an absolute display of ineptitude. Penalties, sacks, and the inability to consistently create big plays in the passing game or the running game were the story.
Defensively, the group bent at times but didn’t break in the red zone. Oklahoma State was able to move the ball, but couldn’t find the end zone in the second half. Texas twice stopped the nation’s top offense close to the goal line, then benefited from a missed 29-yard field goal that would have given the Cowboys the lead late.
Unfortunately, the only turnover of the game by the offense was the difference. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck didn’t help things much with his play calling and the offensive line struggled to protect him. The wide receivers struggled to create much separation with sophomore Collin Johnson mostly sitting on the bench. Losing redshirt freshman Reggie Hemphill-Mapps to a knee injury in the first half didn’t help things.
Credit the defense once again for playing well enough to win. But until the coaching staff can find some more answers on offense and the offensive line can at least holds its own, this won’t be the last heartbreaking loss this season.