When the Texas Longhorns went on an efficient five-play, 80-yard drive capped by a 38-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Bijan Robinson, the Longhorns took a 24-13 lead early in the third quarter against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
The win probability for Texas stood at 89.6 percent, according to ESPN, increasing to 92 percent when the Longhorns defense forced a three and out. At that point, just over 33 minutes into the game, Texas had scored more points than the Oklahoma State defense had allowed in any contest this season — the Cowboys gave up 18.5 points per game through the first five games — and Mike Gundy’s offense had gained only 181 yards on 43 plays, 4.22 yards per play.
But after Texas got the ball back, the offense cratered, going three and out on four straight drives before a turnover on downs and an interception that ended the game. The Horns only gained 12 yards on its final 21 plays and failed to pick up a first down. Meanwhile, the Oklahoma State attack wore out Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense by holding the ball for more than 20 minutes of the second half and scoring the game’s final 19 points.
Here’s what went wrong for the Longhorns.
Second drive, Texas 7-yard line
Following a 60-yard punt by Tom Hutton, the Longhorns started the drive backed up to their own goal line and immediately went backwards when junior guard Junior Angilau was flagged for a false start.
Trying to create some space for the offense, head coach Steve Sarkisian called inside zone with shifts from the two tight ends and motion from the wide receiver to the boundary. But Texas couldn’t account for linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez, who dropped to about six yards off the ball with the motion, and Rodriguez stopped Robinson with two other defenders for a two-yard gain.
On second down, three players — two tight ends and freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy — ran four-yard curl routes, but junior quarterback Casey Thompson led Worthy too far towards the sidelines, so even though Thompson completed the pass, Worthy went out of bounds for a two-yard gain.
Texas wanted to run the ball again on third down, a conservative call meant to allow some more room for senior Cameron Dicker to get off his punt, but Thompson dropped the ball turning for the handoff and was lucky to recover it for a four-yard loss.
Oklahoma State drive: Oklahoma State was able to fair catch Dicker’s punt in Texas territory and after a questionable roughing the passer call on super senior Buck end Ray Thornton, the Cowboys got an extra set of downs and took advantage by moving into position for a 21-yard field goal.
Third drive, Oklahoma State 25-yard line
After a touchback on the kickoff, Sarkisian dialed up a run-pass option — outside zone with a bubble screen to the wide receiver in motion, but Robinson was only able to pick up two yards when the Oklahoma State defense forced a cutback and the backside edge defender came free when Texas junior left tackle Christian Jones tried to work to the second level and the guard didn’t pick up the defender.
With a five-yard completion to junior running back Roschon Johnson over the middle — Johnson was lined up as a wide receiver — Texas was able to get into a third and short situation with three yards to go for the first down. But the Horns had another issue getting the third-down play off when the poor snap from redshirt freshman center Jake Majors forced Thompson to throw the ball away.
Oklahoma State drive: The Cowboys picked up 34 yards on the ensuing drive to gain another advantage in field position with help from from a pass interference penalty on Longhorns senior cornerback Josh Thompson. The decision to punt was a conservative one from Gundy facing 4th and 2 from the Texas 45-yard line — the Horns were lucky Hutton didn’t pin them deep again.
Fourth drive, Texas 19-yard line
In an attempt to jumpstart the stalling offense, Sarkisian called a play-action shot play to open the fourth drive of the second half. Perhaps anticipating the play call, Rodriguez came on a delayed blitz and hit Thompson hard just as he tried to find junior wide receiver Joshua Moore near the first-down marker.
Thompson had to leave the field for a play after the hit, resulting in a predictable running play with redshirt freshman quarterback Hudson Card in the game. Robinson wasn’t able to find a hole on inside zone, bouncing it outside and gaining four yards.
On 3rd and 6, Thompson tried to find Worthy on a glance route, but the ball was thrown a little bit too high for Worthy and it went off his hands, falling incomplete.
Oklahoma State drive: The Texas defense started to show signs of wearing down, allowing a 27-yard run by Jaylen Warren and a 15-yard run by Spencer Sanders on the 10-play, 80-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion attempt failed, allowing Texas to hold on to a 24-22 lead.
Fifth drive, Texas 31-yard line
In 12 personnel, Sarkisian went back to inside zone, but neither combo block by the offensive linemen was able to get to the second level, forcing Robinson to cut outside. He was stopped for no gain.
With the more conventional running game not working, Sarkisian put Johnson in the game and opted for some misdirection with redshirt freshman wide receiver Kelvontay Dixon in motion and Johnson faking as the lead blocker with Thompson running speed option with Robinson. Both offensive linemen on the play side missed their blocks, forcing Thompson to make the pitch early and resulting in a two-yard loss for Robinson.
Since Texas was facing a 3rd and 12, Oklahoma State had the chance to dial up a blitz and freshman right guard Hayden Conner got beat quickly, resulting in a sack of Thompson before he could try to find Robinson on a check down.
Oklahoma State drive: The Texas run defense was gashed two more times as Oklahoma State drove into the red zone, but the Horns were able to force a short field goal as the Cowboys took their first lead of the game, 25-24.
Sixth drive, Texas 35-yard line
Not only did Texas receive a break when Oklahoma State kicked the ball out of bounds, Robinson finally found some running room for the first time since the first drive of the second half by calling pin and pull. A spin move by Robinson finished the run well for a nine-yard gain as the Longhorns offense looked like it might come alive just in time to retake the lead.
Then Sarkisian made the wrong call for his personnel and had some bad luck. On the run-pass option, Robinson had a hole open up, but Thompson received a pass read, flipping the ball out to Worthy. When Dixon took the wrong steps on his block, Thomas Harper was unblocked, arriving just as the ball did and Worthy never had a chance to pick up the first down.
On third down, Sarkisian called a zone read, but super senior tight end Cade Brewer couldn’t make his block coming across the formation as Thompson held the ball too long at the mesh point and didn’t have a chance to get outside as a result, leading to a two-yard loss and complicating the call on fourth down.
The lost yardage and struggles run blocking forced a pass call, but Thompson had to climb the pocket quickly when both tackles allowed pressure and then lost his composure a little bit — Oklahoma State was playing zone coverage and had he not decided so early to try to run for the first down, he might have been able to find Brewer for a first down as the Cowboys defended closed quickly on him. Instead, he was stopped for no gain, well short of the first-down marker.
Oklahoma State drive: Warren rushed for 29 yards on the second play and then Sanders scored from 10 yards out to take a 32-24 lead and put Texas in full-on desperation mode.
Seventh drive, Texas 24-yard line
With 2:12 remaining when the drive started, the Horns picked up five yards on an offsides call before Thompson threw what amounted to the game-ending interception. Forced to reset quickly in the pocket, the ball wobbled out of Thompson’s hand and didn’t make it over the defender dropping underneath the throw.
Oklahoma State drive: Three runs by Warren picked up a first down and the Cowboys were able to kneel twice to end the game.
The final six drives of the second half represented an almost perfect storm of mistakes by Texas like the false start penalty, the two fumbled snaps, the inability to execute base running plays, breakdowns in pass protection. The Oklahoma State defense deserves credit, too, as it looked like Jim Knowles knew what Sarkisian was going to call at times. On the other plays, the Cowboys played with strong technique and fundamentals.
Thompson’s injured thumb might have contributed to the fumbled snap near the goal line, the lack of pinpoint accuracy on the glance route to Worthy, and the interception. But the bottom line is that the offensive line needs to execute better in the running game and the passing game for Texas to start moving the ball again in the third and fourth quarters.
Because if Robinson doesn’t have any room the run and Thompson is consistently under pressure as soon as he drops back, there’s not a lot Sarkisian can do to make up for those massive deficiencies other than using more fly sweeps and wide receiver screens. As the 2nd and 1 play indicated, however, the wide receiver screens require the blocker to execute, too.
So there are plenty of areas for the Longhorns to clean up during the bye week, but it all starts up front.