The stage was set Saturday night for the No. 18 Texas Longhorns to grab a season-defining win against the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs and for head coach Steve Sarkisian to stamp a signature win as head coach of the Longhorns to his coaching resume. And with the second largest crowd in DKR history, College GameDay in tow, and a primetime slot on ABC broadcasting this game, it was more than just the Eyes of Texas that were watching this game.
Yet for this program, the opportunity to take the next step will wait for another game, as the Longhorns lost to the visiting Horned Frogs by a score of 17-10.
It was a frustrating game for Texas, as the team never found a rhythm on offense. As well as the Longhorn defense played (and the only real reason the score was that close is because the defense played arguably their best game of the year), Texas mustered up only 199 yards of total offense for the game. The last time a Texas team failed to gain at least 200 yards in a game was way back in 2015 at Notre Dame in a 38-3 drubbing, one of the worst losses in the Charlie Strong era.
There’s plenty to unpack here going over last night’s game. Here’s what I noticed in the game yesterday:
There’s still plenty of work to do on the offensive side of the ball
The Texas offense had, without a doubt, its worst performance of the season yesterday. Along with the failure to gain 200 yards, The Longhorns offense was outscored by their defense in the game 7-3. Some of that is play calling. Some of it is performance. All of it was bad.
In year two in the Sark Tank, the offense has been a rollercoaster of results. We’ve seen high flying drives and creative play calling, and for the most part, scoring has not been the issue this season (at least, if you ignore the second half). Yesterday was a swift kick to the gut, with TCU-Texas engaged in a rock fight that resembled a Big 10 game on a brisk November morning.
First, there’s a few things out of Sark’s control that he can’t do anything about. Texas receivers weren’t getting open or being thrown good passes all night, but when they were open, there were several drops that killed drives and forced Texas either to punt or commit to pass again on a later down. The offensive line was manhandled by the TCU defensive front, resulting in Texas’ best offensive weapon, Bijan Robinson, ending the game with just 12 carries for 29 yards.
Sarkisian said of the lack of rushing opportunities, “We just couldn’t move the line of scrimmage, and there weren’t a lot of running lanes... [We] just didn’t generate anything in the run game that felt comfortable for me as the play caller or for the players on the field to execute.”
But of course, some of the offensive woes reside with the coaches, as the team was woefully unprepared to make in-game adjustments or get Texas’ best players the ball with room to work. Because Sark felt running the ball wasn’t a good course of action, Texas turned to the passing game. The only offensive player who the Longhorns were able to script into action was Jordan Whittington, who created yards out of thin air off a handful of screen passes.
But this wasn’t nearly enough, as the second half woes continued for the Longhorns. For the third straight game, the Texas offense didn’t score a touchdown in the second half. In that time frame, Texas is being outscored 48-16 in the second half.
“Zero rhythm in the game,” Sarkisian said. “We could not get out of our own way, which is extremely frustrating.”
At some point, the question needs to be asked to Sarkisian and co. why there is such a struggle in making second half adjustments. Give credit to a great TCU defense in playing their part in the game, but this Texas team just flat out stunk on offense yesterday.
For the fourth game in a row, Quinn Ewers has regressed
Can you believe it was over a month ago that Ewers torched Oklahoma to the tune of 289 yards and four touchdowns? Since that game, Ewers has gotten progressively worse in each game. For the past three weeks, Ewers is a combined 54-of-119 passing, completing just 45.3 percent of his passes.
From a mechanics standpoint, he’s gotten sloppier and relies too much on his arm to get the ball downfield. Ewers is gifted enough athletically to side arm the ball down the field, which is impressive. But now that he isn’t setting his feet, anything thrown beyond 10 yards past the line of scrimmage is wobbling out of his hand or sailing 10 yards past his intended target.
Aside from the footwork, Ewers is really struggling to progress through his reads. Perhaps there is some fear of repeating his 19-of-49 passing and three-interception performance against Oklahoma State that cost the Longhorns a critical win in Stillwater. Or he may just not be seeing the field well. Whatever the cause may be, if Ewers’ first read is covered, the Texas offense is in a bad spot to pick up yardage.
That was a huge key to TCU’s game plan yesterday, and for the Frogs, it worked to perfection. TCU practically sold out on the run and short passing routes, forcing Ewers to beat them deep. Ewers started yesterday’s game 0-for-6 passing. His seventh attempt was an interception.
But without a doubt, his biggest mistake of the day wasn’t an interception or an incompletion. On a pivotal drive early in the fourth quarter, Texas had the ball in TCU territory. On a 2nd and 3, Ewers missed a wide open Robinson running a wheel route to the end zone. Had he hit Robinson, it would’ve been the easiest six points of Bijan’s career.
Instead, Ewers checked down across the middle to Ja’Tavion Sanders. Texas got the first down on the throw, but missed out on a critical six points.
In the post game media conference, Ewers told reporters that Bijan was his first read on the play, but when he looked his way he was covered.
“I assumed (Robinson) was gonna be covered up,” Ewers said.
“I’m not gonna just sit here and blame him for that,” Robinson said, regarding the same play. “He saw a read. Yeah, I became open, but it’s an opportunity that we just have to capitalize on for the next time.”
No game is ever defined by one play, but this play comes awfully close. It shows the growing and learning Ewers needs to do in order to take that leap to be the QB we all thought he could be after those first six games of the Texas season. Instead, he takes too long to get through reads, and when he does throw, it isn’t mechanically sound. These are fixable things, and if Sark still views Ewers as the guy, then it explains why he wasn’t pulled in favor of backup Hudson Card in this game. A notable Big 12 Alumnus seems to see it that way, too.
If I’m a die hard long horn fan I would truly appreciate coach Steve Sarkisian simply because he’s Grooming his QB.. i believe..I just hope Ewers is humbled enough to understand how good he really can be..I think Ewers & Worthy should be roommates throughout their college career— Dez Bryant (@DezBryant) November 13, 2022
Hats off to the defense
Mentioned above in the intro, the only reason Texas had a fighting chance in this game was courtesy of a fantastic game from the Longhorn defensive unit and coaches. Going into the game, one of the prevailing storylines was the swapping of colors and teams of Gary Patterson. The assistant to head coach for Texas, Patterson made his mark as a defensive coach at TCU, becoming the winningest and greatest head coach in that school’s history before his firing mid-season last year.
It was expected that having Patterson in the burnt orange fold would yield some kind of advantage for defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and the Horns’ defense, given his familiarity with the TCU program and players. But Texas far surpassed even the loftiest of expectations thrown at them yesterday.
Against a TCU team averaging 40.5 points per game, the Texas defense held the No. 4 ranked team in the country to just 17 points, with much of their work being done in favorable field position for TCU due to the stalling Texas offense and poor special teams play. The Texas defensive line dominated the TCU offensive line, racking up 14 tackles for loss and five sacks. That pressure kept quarterback Max Duggan contained in the pocket and stymied the Frogs’ offense for most of the game, save for two drives resulting in touchdowns. While the offense has been a roller coaster this season, this performance by the defense on another big stage highlights the more-than-modest improvement and development, at least on that side of the ball.
What is left for this team going forward?
Entering Saturday’s game, the road to a Big 12 Title game and New Year’s Six bowl was firmly in the hands of the Horns. Now, following the loss, Texas will need to win out and get some help along the way in order to make the trip to Arlington in three weeks time. With the Big 12 Championship game hope fleeting, the ceiling for this team is drastically lower than it was 24 hours ago.
We’ve read and heard countless times how Sark is building a culture at Texas, one that doesn’t give up or give in. With less on the line to play for, however, that culture might be put to the test in the coming weeks.
What ever happened to staying from “Eyes to Eyes”
This is perhaps the most nitpicky, and might rub some fans the wrong way. I understand TCU was an expensive ticket, it was late, the weather was getting worse, the play-calling and performance from Texas on offense was incredibly frustrating — I get it. I was there, and experienced all of that as well.
What I can’t understand, though, is leaving early. There’s leaving early, and then there’s last night, where, with Texas down just two scores with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter, fans stated to make their ways to the exits. By the time Texas recovered a fumble for a touchdown to cut the lead in half, more than half of the lower bowl seats were empty.
I’m not trying to gatekeep what it means to be a fan, and it’s not fair to assume everyone who left early did so out of frustration or discontent for the game. But given just how many fans did leave early, it was shocking to see in person. Staying from the first “Eyes of Texas” to the final is not a requirement, but I guess I was hoping more fans would stick it out to end, even if it was a bitter one at best.