Tom Herman was worried about this.
For weeks, the Texas Longhorns head coach has talked about how his team can’t afford to play less than its best football and expect to win.
“We didn’t play our best, and coach Herman always tells us our best can beat anyone in the nation, but when we don’t play our best, things like this can happen,” junior wide receiver Collin Johnson said after the game.
On homecoming in Stillwater against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, Herman’s team made too many mistakes, many of them mental, and were unable to come back from a 17-point deficit, ultimately falling 38-35 at T. Boone Pickens Stadium.
The mistakes started during the bye week, as senior cornerbacks Kris Boyd and Davante Davis were suspended for the first quarter for arriving late to a team function. Junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey was suspended for the first drive.
The suspensions made a huge difference, as Oklahoma State scored 17 points in the first quarter, partly a result of redshirt freshman cornerback Kobe Boyce consistently getting beat in coverage by standout Cowboys wide receiver Tylan Wallace. Herman doesn’t want to compromise on discipline, and it arguably cost the Longhorns a win on Saturday.
Boyd wasn’t much better when he returned, though — he consistently got beat by Wallace, too, including on a fourth down when he mistimed his jump and Wallace scored a 36-yard touchdown on that play. The senior defensive back also dropped a potential interception.
Wallace finished the game with 10 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
There were poor decisions on special teams, as D’Shawn Jamison brought a kickoff return out of the end zone and was tackled on the 13-yard line. He also fumbled a punt and was pulled in favor of junior Brandon Jones, who caught a punt over his shoulder while retreating and was tackled at the Texas 2-yard line.
The Longhorns were lucky to avoid a safety on that possession when graduate transfer left tackle Calvin Anderson committed a holding penalty in the end zone, though it was senior left guard Patrick Vahe who was officially called for the penalty. Such was the quality of the officiating on the night. In other words, it was a Big 12 game.
The defense consistently took poor angles to the football and consistently missed tackles. Early in the game, the defensive line was blown off the ball by an opposing offensive line that hadn’t played particularly well this season, which allowed Oklahoma State to score on four of its first five possessions. The other possession ended in a missed field goal.
Chuba Hubbard averaged 8.9 yards per carry on nine carries, Justice Hill had 92 yards rushing, and quarterback Taylor Cornelius had two big touchdown runs and a third-down conversion with a designed run with the game on the line.
In a questionable coaching decision, Texas was unable to recover an onside kick with less than two minutes remaining after a touchdown drive that took nearly four minutes off the clock. The Longhorns went an average of 18 seconds between plays on that drive.
Texas committed 11 penalties for 80 yards, with several of them coming in crucial situations. An offsides penalty on a punt by Oklahoma State that appeared to include the Cowboys simulating a snap led to a touchdown. A hold on senior tight end Andrew Beck negated a long completion to junior wide receiver Collin Johnson in the second half. An offsides penalty on senior defensive end Charles Omenihu negated a third-down stop.
The third-down defense, which defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said he was worried about this week, allowed conversions on 10-of-20 attempts. Both of the fourth-down attempts by the Cowboys resulted in touchdowns. Not just conversions. Touchdowns.
The other element of winning games in the Big 12, according to Orlando? Creating turnovers. Texas wasn’t able to do that, either, failing to recover a fumble by Oklahoma State in the red zone and failing to convert on the opportunity for an interception by Boyd.
After the game, Herman credited Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy for a better gameplan and better execution than Texas.
To be sure, this was not the same Cowboys team that showed up in Manhattan two weeks ago and took a beatdown from the Wildcats.
And perhaps there was something to the advanced metrics that believed that Texas only had a 35-percent chance of winning this game.
In the end, the No. 6 ranking wasn’t justified and a chance at the College Football Playoffs is probably gone now, but the goal of making the Big 12 Championship game is still alive.
The bottom line is that the team simply didn’t respond well during the bye week or during the game on Saturday and could lose multiple games before the end of the regular season by playing the same way it did in Stillwater.
So it’s time to refocus and play better football down the stretch, because the consequences of not doing so will be similar.