A touchdown pass from benched Texas Tech Raiders quarterback Nic Shimonek with 1:47 remaining following an interception by Texas Longhorns quarterback Sam Ehlinger was the difference in an ugly and monumentally disappointing performance on Senior Night in Austin.
With the ‘Horns driving and facing a 3rd and 2 from the Texas Tech 37-yard line, Ehlinger threw across his middle into the middle of the field. The pass was intercepted by Justus Parker and returned 55 yards to the Texas 14-yard line.
Two players later, Shimonek capitalized with a 16-yard touchdown pass to cap the senior’s rescue effort.
The first interception by Ehlinger was too characteristic for this season. So characteristic, in fact, that it was hardly surprising when he threw another interception on the final drive of the game for the ‘Horns.
Texas finished with four turnovers in a game marred by questionable calls by the officials and unacceptable ineptitude across the board.
After receiving the opening kickoff, it took only 91 seconds for the ‘Horns to score, with freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger accounting for all 75 yards. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck opened the game with a reverse throwback to Ehlinger for 27 yards before the Austin native hit graduate transfer tight end Kendall Moore for 16 yards. Senior Armanti Foreman finished the drive with a 27-yard catch and run touchdown that was one of the best efforts of his career.
The Texas offense stalled after the first possession, however, as the decision by Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury to start sophomore quarterback McLane Carter over senior Shimonek paid off early. Carter scored a touchdown on a zone read keeper to tie the game and connected with former Longhorns commit Keke Coutee for 104 yards in the first quarter.
At the start of the second quarter, however, the Longhorns defense was able to hold in the red zone and force a field goal by the Red Raiders.
Against a solid Texas Tech defensive front in the red zone, Texas struggled to convert opportunities into touchdowns, settling for two field goals in the first half from 19 yards and 20 yards — difficult decisions for a head coach who admittedly hates kicking field goals from that distance.
The play calling in those situations will come under scrutiny, as it should, but the offensive line also struggled to create any holes against a defense that is better in the front than it has been in recent years.
Entering the game, the Longhorns ranked tied for 63rd nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage, even though the struggles to score with a condensed field seem more significant than that. In fact, Texas ran eight plays inside the Texas Tech 3-yard line in the first half and lost a yard overall.
Beck tried passes, with Ehlinger unable to find any open receivers on two attempts and what appeared to be a run-pass option for wide receiver John Burt resulting in an incomplete pass intended for the quarterback. Ehlinger also had two called runs for zero yards. Running backs Daniel Young and Kyle Porter lost a yard on three attempts.
Three of those plays came at the end of the first half after junior Chris Warren III caught a 19-yard pass that came close enough to breaking the plane of the goal line to draw a review. Yet the ‘Horns couldn’t punch it in.
The lone successful play was a counter to Daniel Young for a nine-yard touchdown run when the line was able to create a crease up the middle.
Without two interceptions forced by the defense — one by Kris Boyd and one by Davante Davis that lead to 10 points — the halftime deficit of 20-10 wouldn’t have been possible.
A long completion that beat Davis for 40 yards and a pass interference penalty on senior nickel back Antwuan Davis led to a field goal by Texas Tech to star the drive. Fortunately, the Texas defense was able to survive fumbles by Toneil Carter and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps by forcing two three and outs.
It wasn’t until early in the fourth quarter that the offense finally got moving with a third-down completion to Foreman and the third defensive pass interference call of the season. Ehlinger couldn’t take advantage, however, as he missed an open Collin Johnson in the end zone by leaving the ball out of bounds.
The Longhorns settled for a 40-yard field goal by Joshua Rowland that was hardly guaranteed given his struggles this season to stretch the lead to 23-13.
Following the quarterback change to Shimonek, however, the game changed — his first pass found Keke Coutee for 52 yards after the pocket passer picked up a 3rd and 9 with his legs. A 13-yard touchdown pass to TJ Vasher cut the lead the three.
Texas couldn’t hold on.
In a year filled with plenty of plausible excuses for this team, there’s nothing that excuses this performance across the board.
So much for that momentum heading into the bowl game.