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The SMO: 48 > 45

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NCAA Football: Texas at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Obligatory reminder: The SMO does not deal in logic or reason. It does not care about facts or figures. It is an emotional overreaction to the preceding game.

Curry was in Mexico for a wedding this weekend, so you’re stuck with me for the SMO following the biggest Texas win since 2009. As for me, I was physically present at a Texas game for the first time in a very long time. All of which is to say, both Curry and I are accepting donations to send him to Tulum every weekend in the fall, and to send me to every Texas game for the foreseeable future. For the good of the team!

Look, I’ve lived through the last 10 years just like the rest of you. Hell, even before we fell off the cliff, 2008 happened. Don’t think I wasn’t sitting in the bleachers thinking how even if Texas could hold on, there’s still the extremely plausible scenario where the Longhorns lose to West Virginia, Oklahoma beats the ‘Eers, and tiebreakers screw Texas out of the conference title game.

But Tom Herman, God bless him, he channeled the SMO in describing the insane bubble screen where Lil’ Jordan Humphrey gained nine yards and then the Texas offensive line gained the other 10 to set up a big fourth-down conversion: a “culture play.” For three quarters, minus an exquisitely scripted opening drive from the Sooners, Texas was by far the better team in a rivalry that has often produced moments too big for Longhorn teams of bygone years.

Then came the fourth quarter, when the Texas offense couldn’t decide whether to start running clock with 11 minutes to go or to call low-percentage passes to stop said clock. And the defense overthought itself into giving up huge chunks of yards on three straight lightning-fast OU touchdown drives.

The part of me that’s been watching the last decade knew, without a doubt, how the game was ending: with a brutal Oklahoma victory, maybe even in regulation. After all, two minutes was plenty of time for three incompletions and another 20-yard punt to set up the winning drive.

But not the 2018 Horns. These guys calmly took the ball into field goal range to set up a game-winning kick they never should have needed. Texas teams since 2010 would have folded up for good at 45-45. Something intangible — perhaps, as Curry posited last week, Sam — seems to have changed and this program is really re-learning how to win.

So there’s no need to divide the team into categories this week. I’m Very Optimistic on every single front (except for protecting a big lead late). Let’s run through them quickly:

  • Texas has a quarterback. Ehlinger’s deep ball has been suspect for much of the season, but on Saturday he found the touch. Obviously that doesn’t mean he’ll be perfect on those throws for the rest of the year, but look at the difference from last year — and even this year’s first two games — and this weekend. Sam was accurate, made smart decisions, and ran like a battering ram. When he plays like that, Texas is an awfully tough out.
  • The other offensive skill-position weapons. My god. LJ Humphrey and Collin Johnson are an incredible 1-2 punch catching the ball, Tre Watson caught a huge deep ball out of the backfield, Keaontay Ingram required half the defense to bring him down every time he touched the ball, and it goes on and on. The best way to describe this offense’s collective effort is that Texas has accomplished something no one else has been able to: they got Mike Stoops fired.
  • And how was the offense able to march up and down the field and find the end zone so often? Because of the linemen. The aforementioned bubble screen was merely a microcosm of the entire game: Ehlinger had time to throw and holes to run through, and the running backs had paths to the second level, consistently throughout. The Texas hogs are the biggest reason Mike’s going to have to head over to Lexington if he wants to keep coaching.
  • Let’s forget the flurry of touchdowns in the fourth quarter when OU was desperate and Texas was playing far too conservative. The defense was just as responsible for building that 21-point lead in the first place as the offense. A huge interception early by Brandon Jones and a Kyler Murray fumble, forced by pressure in a possession where OU could have tied the game in the second half, were perhaps the biggest plays of the game. They led directly to 10 points and also, obviously, prevented Sooner scoring chances.

By nature, this column is subjective and is meant — as explained in the italicized reminder you have probably trained your eyes to ignore — to bring an emotional overreaction to the previous day’s game.

So here goes: talk of whether Texas is “back” is obviously meant to be silly. But having slain the beast, it’s now fair for Longhorn fans to try on something we haven’t worn in years: real, objectively justified optimism. A conference title is a legitimate possibility, and thinking in terms of the College Football Playoff in the next couple of years may go from delusional to valid. Remember: next year Ehlinger will be back in the Cotton Bowl to again satisfy his lifelong grudge against OU while Kyler Murray is somewhere in the Oakland A’s minor league system.

In terms of subjectivity, I’ll tell you the following: this was my six-year-old son’s first-ever Texas game. I couldn’t choke out The Eyes before the game, so overcome was I by the experience of having him on my shoulders belting out the words as the Longhorn Band stood on the field. From that moment until Dicker the Kicker’s heroics, it was just a constant stream of reminders that every Texas fan needs to get to this game as often as possible. Meet you at Big Tex next year.

The Golden Hat belongs to Texas. This t-shirt can belong to you. The victory will live forever.