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Sunday Armchair QB: Oklahoma State edition

If art imitates life, then this game must’ve been a Jackson Pollock painting.

Sara Diggins / Austin American-Statesman

“Ugh, we were so close... Is it okay if I feel like I don’t want to live anymore?”

“Yes, Bobby. That’s normal.”

Words of infamy from the show King of the Hill still ring true today after yesterday’s latest chapter in the 2022 season saw the Texas Longhorns fall to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater by a score of 41-34. The loss drops Texas to 5-3 on the season and 3-2 in conference play.

For us Texas fans, it’s yet another frustrating loss that has become all too familiar in recent seasons. Entering the game as a six point favorite, and leading for much of the game, Texas was poised to finally shake the 2nd half monkey off their back and get a critical conference win and game-up on Okie State. Instead, penalties, poor and sloppy play, and a historically bad performance from Ewers sunk the Longhorns late in the game.

Here’s a few key things I noticed in yesterday’s game:

What was up with Quinn Ewers?

In what was undoubtedly the worst game of Ewers’ brief collegiate career, Ewers completed just 19 of his 49 pass attempts and threw three interceptions. More like Quinn Eww-ers am I right?

Terrible puns aside, there are a few things I’d like to point out that aren’t clear in the stat line. The completion percentage is abysmal (39 percent), yet that somehow fails to capture how lost Ewers looked at the helm of the Longhorn offense. Ewers was erratic in his accuracy all game, sailing passes over receiver’s heads and overthrowing targets throughout the game. He never got in a rhythm passing the ball on Saturday — after completing four consecutive passes in the first quarter, Ewers didn’t complete back-to-back passes for the rest of the game. The result was one of the worst passing performances completion-percentage wise in recent history.

You can try to chalk that up to several factors at play. The game yesterday was played under unfavorable weather conditions for a passing attack that loves going deep, with 20-plus mile per hour winds altering long throws. On what could have been a game-winning touchdown from Ewers to Xavier Worthy, it does look like Worthy had trouble tracking a seemingly well-placed ball.

“It was the right read, and it seemed like the right placement of the throw,” Sarkisian said on the throw in the gif above. “But I can’t tell from my vantage point whether it was misjudged or not.”

Ewers added, “It was pretty windy out there, so it’s harder for those receivers to track the ball, but he’s a great player and I’m sure he’ll bounce back.”

There was also a report that Ewers was dealing with a finger injury from earlier in the week. Both Ewers and Coach Sarkisian downplayed the severity of the injury, though, and said it didn’t play into the performance of the game.

Compounding with the accuracy issues, Ewers was incredibly hesitant to adjust his reads or tuck and run the ball all game — especially in the second half. Instead of going through progressions or buying time or yards with his legs, Ewers elected numerous times to heave the ball out of bounds for an incompletion, taking a new play and loss of a down rather than take a chance and try and salvage yards out of a play he decided was over and broken. This act in itself isn’t terrible, but it’s painful when a quarterrback doesn’t mix up the throwaways with actually trying to extend the play.

It’s a shame, as his creativity and arm strength was one of the best gelling parts of his game with a Sark offense and having multiple receivers to throw to. But, just two weeks removed from one of the greatest games we’ve seen a Texas quarterback have against Oklahoma, yesterday’s game (and to many extents, last week against Iowa State as well) Ewers looked timid, lost, and unwilling to take chances with the ball.

But it’s important to remember that Ewers is still just finding his groove at the collegiate level. We (and that’s a Royal “We”, as in “All of us”) were too quick to anoint Ewers as this year’s savior and the infallible savior of Texas football. He’s not that, definitely not yet, at least.

But he still makes throws and has talent that we (also a Royal “We”) haven’t seen in a Longhorns jersey in some time. Ewers was not good yesterday, but even the best quarterbacks have bad games. With good coaching, he’ll be better from the mistakes made yesterday. Longhorn fans can’t lose hope on his or the team’s future so fast, not when Ewers is still capable of plays such as this.

The defense wore down on the road yet again

For the second time this season, Texas hit the road, and got themselves a double-digit lead over an opponent they were projected to beat. And for the second time this season, that same Texas team blew that double-digit lead against a “lesser” opponent, with this flavor of opponent being the Oklahoma State Cowboys as opposed to the Texas Tech Red Raiders loss from about a month ago.

The similarities don’t stop at just the result. In fact, the key factor in both losses was how taxed the defense was for Texas in both of those games. Against Texas Tech, the Red Raiders ran 100 plays on offense. Yesterday, Oklahoma State ran 98 plays.

Against Tech, the Longhorns couldn’t stop drives, allowing Texas Tech to go 7-for-20 on third-down conversions. On Saturday, Oklahoma State converted 8-of-19 third-down attempts. And, in case you were wondering, just like in the Texas Tech game, Texas couldn’t convert a third-down attempt to save their lives, going just 3-of-17 in comparison on Saturday.

Most egregious and noticeable of all yesterday, though, was the tackling and effort from the Texas defense. In fact, tackling was an issue that directly led to points for the Cowboys, with Oklahoma State breaking big plays on the Texas defense after a broken or missed tackle committed by the Longhorn defense.

Sarkisian noticed that as well, stating post-game, “Their big plays they got came from us having them in our grasp and not getting them on the ground.”

It’s tough for the defense to play at a high level for all four quarters of a game that sees the opposing offense run nearly 100 plays. The Longhorn offense didn’t help that cause either, going non-existent in the second half. But now with the margin of error for this season drastically reduced to zero, the defense will have to force more stops on third down in hopes of staying off the field. And please, just try to tackle a little better, too. This was and still is painful to watch.

That was the sloppiest game of the season

And it wasn’t really close, either. Even with all of the errors and deficiencies listed above, the Longhorns still lead the majority of this game and played with a chance to tie up to the waning moments of the game. If the above mistakes in the passing game or worn down defense weren’t the death blows to Texas’ hopes to win, it was definitely the penalties the Horns racked up.

I won’t delve too much into penalty discrepancy (that is an entire other conversation), but it’s simply unacceptable for a team to commit 14 penalties for 119 yards. Several of these were false starts and offsides—- those just cannot happen for a team looking to prove that they’ve grown up and matured from last year.

“We just didn’t operate very good,” Sarkisian said. “Take nothing away from Oklahoma State, they deserved to win, but a lot of what happened today was self-inflicted wounds.”

Texas is better than 2021 but there’s still growing to do

Both by the eye test and when looking at the numbers, the 2022 Texas Longhorns are a much better team than the 2021 Longhorns. But clearly, Texas isn’t “back” just yet. Yesterday’s game is a sobering reminder of the growth that still needs to happen in order for Texas to really compete on a noticeable level — good teams don’t shoot themselves in the foot as often or collapse in the second half nearly as much or fail to close out games or series as many times as the Longhorns have under Sarkisian. Instead, the Sark-led Longhorns fall to 1-7 in true road games in the past two years.

That being said, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. The Big 12 Title game might seem far of reach, but it shouldn’t be — in four of the last five years, the Big 12 Title game has featured at least one team with two conference losses. Of course to get there, Texas will have to win on the road. The Longhorns’ first game back is, of course, on the road, at Kansas State on November 5th.