The Texas Longhorns are three quarters of the way through the season — that means it’s report card time. Let’s take a look at this year, broken down by quarter, and find areas of improvement for the final stretch of games.
Q1 – Maryland, San Jose State, USC
Maryland 51, Texas 41
I think we can go ahead and chalk up the Maryland game as a fluke. Not only did the Texas defense give up 51 points to an improved, but still bad Terrapins team – the Longhorns somehow managed to score 41 points. That’s a season-high for Texas against a Power Five opponent.
Texas averages just 28 points-per-game in a league where being able to score 50 is a requirement. Naturally, the one game the Longhorns were able to score, the defense was nowhere to be found.
Texas 56, San Jose State 0
Texas coach Tom Herman says this game — even though it was against an awful opponent — was a confidence builder for the defense. At the time, I rolled my eyes. But he was clearly right. The Texas defense flipped a switch this week and became the dominating force on this team. It was also an introduction to college football for Sam Ehlinger — who would be thrust into the national spotlight the following week.
That being said, San Jose State is widely considered one of the worst teams in college football — ranking No. 121 in total offense and No. 127 in total defense. This game — in the grand scheme of things — was not supposed to matter. It now could be the deciding factor between bowl eligibility and a lonely, cold Austin winter for Herman.
No. 4 USC 27, Texas 24
Outside of a few extremely Texas plays (Ronald Jones touchdown as first half expired, Kris Boyd immediately giving up OT touchdown), this game was the first in a season filled with moral victories.
It was also the kick-off of injury season — Connor Williams went down early and Texas had to haphazardly throw together an offensive line whose only consistency was being inconsistent.
This loss still stings — because it really felt like Texas turned a corner. Ehlinger became a household name in Los Angeles — as did Collin Johnson — but it wasn’t enough. Texas walked out of the Coliseum with a losing record in non-conference play and a remarkably tough stretch of games ahead.
Q1 Grade: C-
Offense MVP: Sam Ehlinger
Defense MVP: Holton Hill
Teacher’s note: Should have studied harder for the Maryland game.
Q2 – Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma
Texas 17, Iowa State 7
Looking back, it’s honestly a miracle Texas beat Iowa State in Ames.
At the time, this Thursday night showdown was a bit of a letdown in terms of excitement. Similar to the TCU game, it featured few highlights.
This was the game DeShon Elliott officially became a Thorpe Award favorite by securing two interceptions for the second game in a row.
Shane Buechele, returning off of injury, wasn’t able to do much against a much-improved Iowa State team that would travel to Norman the following week and upset the Sooners. A pretty forgettable game, but seeing how Iowa State has played in the weeks following, a relatively impressive road victory.
Texas 40, Kansas State 34
Texas finally jumps above .500 for the first time this season. Ehlinger trucked a Kansas State defender and Elliott pulled in his fifth interception in three games.
We also learned that Texas has no business kicking field goals -- but, unlike 2016, Texas was able to overcome special teams failures and find a way to win. At 2-0 in Big 12 play, Texas now controls its destiny in conference play — and there is no game the Longhorns can’t win.
Oklahoma 29, Texas 24
Except this one. Oklahoma — which, unfortunately, had received its annual wake-up call from an unranked team only one week prior — jumped in front early.
Second half heroics from the Texas defense and Ehlinger weren’t enough to hold off the Sooners. Even when Texas went ahead 24-23 in the fourth quarter, you knew it wasn’t going to last.
It didn’t, and busted coverage in the Texas secondary led to Oklahoma’s easiest touchdown of the year. A big hit on Ehlinger prohibited him from orchestrating a game-winning drive. Texas drops a close one, but earns another moral victory.
Q2 Grade: A-
Offense MVP: Sam Ehlinger
Defense MVP: DeShon Elliott
Teacher’s note: Looks like you’ve really gotten your act together. Excited to see what next quarter brings.
Q3 – Oklahoma State, Baylor, TCU
Oklahoma State 13, Texas 10
Texas had plenty of opportunities to win. Texas lost.
Texas defense played lights out, holding one of the most prolific offenses in college football to just one touchdown. After the game, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy declared Texas punter Michael Dickson the 2017 Ray Guy winner.
Moral victory record: 3-0.
Texas 38, Baylor 7
It was legitimately a game to worry about. A winless Baylor team that had played competitively in prior weeks against better teams could very easily knock off a shaky Texas team in Waco.
An 11 a.m. kickoff. ESPNU. Not a lot of buzz. Quarterback issues on both sides of the ball. This game rivals the San Jose State in terms of watchability. Elliott pick-six, reps for freshman running backs, a win towards bowl eligibility — Texas did what it was supposed to do against a bad team.
TCU 24, Texas 7
Texas had no shot. Holding TCU to 24 points is a defensive accomplishment, but Texas isn’t scoring 25+ against a quality defense? Not with this offense. At 3-3 in conference play, Texas is just fighting for a Texas Bowl invitation.
Q3 Grade: C-
Offense MVP: Michael Dickson
Defense MVP: DeShon Elliott
Teacher’s note: Ah, yes. There’s the Texas I know.
Todd Orlando: A-
Teacher’s note: Todd, keep up the good work — the Maryland game is the only thing pulling your average down. Please keep giving me a reason to buy gold star stickers.
Tim Beck: D
Teacher’s note: Tim, when life hands you lemons, find a way to teach those lemons how to score touchdowns against competent defenses. Please take this home and have your parents sign it.
Tom Herman: B-
Teacher’s note: I know you were an A-student last year, but it only gets harder as you get older. Finals are coming up — let’s make this last quarter count.