Early in the fourth quarter, when the visiting Tulsa Golden Hurricane used a 48-yard pass to set up a short touchdown run, the juice went out of Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium with the Texas Longhorns clinging to a 21-14 lead in the home opener.
The debut of Bevo Bvld. and new student ticketing policies produced a palpable buzz in the stadium at the start of the game that belied the opponent and the season-opening loss last weekend on the road against Maryland.
But then the offense went cold in the third quarter, thanks to several holding penalties and a fumble by sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger that gave Tulsa momentum, even though the Longhorns defense held on a short field.
Ultimately, Texas needed a four-minute drill to ice the game following a grinding offensive drive in response to Tulsa narrowing a 21-0 halftime deficit to one score.
In between, the Golden Hurricane took advantage of further poor run defense on jet sweeps and a 35-yard touchdown pass that continued the struggles of redshirt freshman cornerback Kobe Boyce, who gave up multiple big plays against the Terrapins.
The big plays for Tulsa finally came when the visiting team stopped making mistakes — quarterback Luke Skipper threw two interceptions in the first half, including one on the first play, and two Golden Hurricane kickers missed three first-half field goals. A running into the kicker penalty on Texas senior cornerback Kris Boyd afforded another opportunity for a fourth miss.
Tulsa wide receivers also dropped two touchdown passes spanning the first and second half.
So there were plenty of opportunities to produce a road upset.
Considering that head coach Phillip Montgomery’s team went 1-10 last season and struggled to beat FCS school Central Arkansas last week at home, the result was a significant disappointment for a program that hasn’t done much but disappoint fans in recent seasons.
The start was certainly positive, as freshman safety Caden Sterns intercepted a pass to start the game, which led to a quick Longhorns touchdown when Ehlinger hit junior wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a 36-yard pass down the seam. On the following play, he kept a zone read for a one-yard touchdown run to score less than a minute into the game.
After getting nearly crossing the goal line with a run by graduate transfer Tre Watson, Ehlinger kept another zone read and lost yardage before Texas failed to convert on fourth down.
A 29-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Keaontay Ingram stretched the lead to 14-0 late in the fourth quarter as the Carthage product once again showed his electric ability.
The half finished with an impressive 40-yard touchdown pass from Ehlinger to Humphrey that featured multiple missed tackles and seemingly put the Longhorns in control of the game after all the missed field goals by the Golden Hurricane.
Humphrey finished with seven catches for 109 yards and that touchdown in addition to 19 yards on two carries on direct snaps.
In the third quarter, after head coach Tom Herman said he was hard on his team at halftime, the Texas offense stalled. Holding penalties on graduate transfer left tackle Calvin Anderson and sophomore tight end Cade Brewer killed drives, sandwiched around a fumble by Ehlinger on a scramble when he tried to throw a pass when running the football was probably a better option.
Backed up near the goal line, another shanked punt by freshman Ryan Bujcevski gave Tulsa a short field and a fourth-down scramble by Skipper for 21 yards featured a stiff arm of linebacker Gary Johnson behind the line of scrimmage to set up a touchdown. The first touchdown of the game for the Golden Hurricane.
When the following possession produced the touchdown resulting from that long pass, Texas had itself a ballgame.
Ehlinger responded, completing all seven passes on the subsequent drive in addition to taking control of the game on the ground. Despite running the ball less this season, Ehlinger converted a 3rd and 3 before overcoming another holding penalty with a 14-yard run on 3rd and 7. Two plays later, he found Watson on a swing pass for an 11-yard touchdown that produced an audible sigh of relief in the stadium.
The game wasn’t over, however, as Tulsa scored again, and Texas had to respond to hold onto the 28-21 lead.
After chewing up more than six minutes of offense on the previous drive, the Horns were able to ice the game with nearly five minutes remaining. Ehlinger picked up another first down with his legs on third down before sophomore running back Daniel Young trucked a Tulsa defender on his second attempt before gaining 30 yards.
Against an opponent like Tulsa, the way the game went certainly wasn’t ideal — disappointing even — but the offense did respond late in the game and the defense did have to overcome multiple injuries in the secondary.
Can the Longhorns beat the Trojans next week? Well, that’s a question for next Saturday.