The ultimate storyline for Texas football in 2020 — a slight difference between the joy of victory and the frustration of defeat.
Despite getting outplayed on both sides of the ball, forcing four turnovers, and having a chance to win with the ball in their hands, the Texas Longhorns found themselves in a familiar position at the end of regulation once again on Saturday. Overtime.
Yet, the calm, cool and collectedness of Sam Ehlinger and Jake Smith on fourth down, along with Joseph Ossai’s never-ending pursuit led Texas to a somewhat improbable (and much-needed) victory in Stillwater.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Big 12 teams out-gained by 240 yards or more were a combined 3-120 (.024) since 2004 entering this weekend.
Throw all stats out the window — this win was for the players. Big-time players made big-time plays to win a big game. Ehlinger, Smith, Jamison, Ossai. This team overcame significant doubt with their backs and season goals against the wall. The sideline was filled with pure joy and emotion after Ossai’s game-ending sack and that kind of effort deserves a celebration.
Ehlinger didn’t quite look 100-percent moving around in the pocket and running the football. He made some clutch throws when it was needed the most, though. That touchdown pass to Smith rolling right against a zero blitz on fourth-down was another defining moment for his Longhorn legacy. A finally-healthy Jake Smith served as the security blanket for Ehlinger from the slot, especially late in the game, delivering as Texas’ go-to receiver when the game was on the line and finishing with seven catches for 70 yards and the late touchdown.
Due to a leg injury and a defense intent on keeping him from scrambling, Ehlinger wasn’t much of a threat on the ground, but that just opened up more opportunities for the running backs. And they played just fine. With Keaontay Ingram sidelined due to an injury, Bijan Robinson and (a finally) healthy Roschon Johnson headlined the backfield and combined for a solid game. Johnson’s big-play burst sure was missed. He picked up right where he left off last season on a 30-yard run. Robinson added a 24-yard run of his own on the first possession.
Texas continues to depend upon lining up in two tight end sets and throwing flat routes to the team’s slowest tight end. That play needs to be permanently removed from the binder unless it’s called near the goal line — Cade Brewer shouldn’t be a focal point playmaker in any offense. Maybe in a red-zone role, but not as an every down tight end. The offense must figure out a way to incorporate and get the team’s fastest receivers (Smith and Joshua Moore) open more often. Moore didn’t record his first catch until he scored in the overtime period.
Joseph Ossai is playing like a potential All-American, Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and future first-round draft pick
In what was arguably the most dominant single-game performance from a Longhorn defender in over a decade, Ossai certified himself as one of college football’s best pass rushers. He’s now forced three fumbles, has 12.5 tackles for a loss, and leads the Big 12 in quarterback pressures (20 entering Saturday). The maximum effort he gives on every single play is a pleasure to watch. He never gives up on chasing the ball or quarterback down.
This kind of showing will catch the eyes of several NFL GMs that are looking to draft an edge defender with their first-round pick because pass rushers are the No. 1 priority for defenses in today’s NFL. Two years after Charles Omenihu was the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year, Ossai has followed in his footsteps and went beyond his capabilities since transitioning to the edge position.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash made the money call with the game on the line by dialing up all-out pressure like Oklahoma State tried to do on fourth down against Ehlinger. With Ossai containing the right edge and all the receivers moving right, the pressure forced Sanders to scramble into nothing to his left.
The Texas cornerback and safety play was rather shaky against Oklahoma State’s aerial attack. Similar to the Red Raiders game, the Cowboys had success connecting on timely routes through the holes of zone coverage. Tylan Wallace had a Tylan Wallace type of game. Texas didn’t have much of an answer for him. But to Ash’s credit, although they committed pass interference penalties, the defense didn’t get burned deep once. Something Sanders did a few times in Austin last year.
D’Shawn Jamison changed the outcome of this game
Special teams play really does determine the result of football games sometimes. It’s about time Jamison’s game-changing speed was rewarded because he’s been breaking long returns all season in spite of other’s costly special teams mistakes. He’s a special talent back there returning kicks and punts.
Trailing 31-20 in the third quarter, Jamison’s 100-yard return touchdown swung the momentum in Texas’ favor and put them in position to win this game.
Jamison is one return touchdown away from cementing his name into the school record books. Jordan Shipley holds the all-time school record for return touchdowns (4).
This win provided one big sigh of relief for the program. Texas now controls their own destiny in the Big 12. If they win out, they’ll play for a conference championship.
Plenty of unfinished business remains ahead for the Longhorns. It would be the most Texas football thing ever imaginable to win a game like this and then put up a dud at home next week.