Off the heels of last week’s heartbreaker against the Alabama Crimson Tide, the No. 21 Texas Longhorns welcomed their last non-conference opponent of the regular season —the UTSA Roadrunners. In the first-ever meeting between the schools, the I-35 Bowl presented by the Jeff Davis Law Firm (just call the FOURS) didn’t disappoint.
After a slow start to the game, Texas found themselves in a 17-7 hole midway through the second quarter. But after turning to the running game, a huge night from running back Bijan Robinson and a fantastic second-half performance from the defense allowed Texas to break away from UTSA and secure the large win, with the Longhorns defeating the Roadrunners 41-20.
Though the game wasn’t as linear and pretty as many Longhorn fans would’ve hoped, the resiliency Texas showed by bouncing back from a 17-7 deficit has to be commended. We’ve seen in years past that an early hole or bad breaks would devastate the Longhorns, and many of the recent Texas teams would’ve been shocked or folded into submission by going down early in a game they were favored in by two scores, even with a backup quarterback at the helm.
But as I mentioned last week, this year’s version of Texas football isn’t what we’ve (sadly) grown accustomed to.
Head coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters post game, “I don’t think our team blinked for a second... We battled through the early-start woes.’’
And battle they did. From the moment Texas went down 17-7, the Longhorns outscored the Roadrunners 34-3 the rest of the way, dominating the flow and pace of the game by establishing a great running game and holding the UTSA offense in check after allowing two touchdowns early. It wasn’t the prettiest win, but over a quality opponent like the UTSA Roadrunners, the battle through adversity and overcoming an early deficit was a much welcomed path to victory.
Here’s what else I noticed from last night’s win over the Roadrunners:
Bijan Robinson carried the load, and put himself back in the Heisman conversation Robinson entered the season with arguably more fanfare and high expectations for a single player in a skill position since Colt McCoy played quarterback for the Horns over a decade ago. Yet the preseason Heisman candidate and first team All-American had gotten off to a bit of a slow start this season stats-wise, with just 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns on an average yards per carry of just 4.13 yards. On Saturday night, Bijan exploded for three touchdowns and 183 rushing yards, including this 78-yard, career-long touchdown carry.
The rush above wasn’t just a jolt to Bijan’s stat line and Heisman campaign highlight reel — it was the much-needed kick start to the second half the Longhorns needed to pull away from UTSA.
After a first half stalemate knotted up at 17 points a piece, Sarkisian turned to his workhorse running back on offense.
‘’We needed to run the ball, clearly we had a bit of a quarterback situation going on. Sometimes when you run the ball, it doesn’t happen right away. Over time it starts to break,’’ Sarkisian said after the game. ‘’Right before the first play of the second half I just told him to run through these guys, enough with the dancing.’’
Robinson gladly helped Texas run away (quite literally) from the Roadrunners. In the second half, Robinson amassed 130 yards on the ground on just six carries — two of which went for touchdowns. Though he only touched the ball six times in the second half, he made the most of those opportunities and helped propel the Longhorns to their second win of the season.
Roschon Johnson wasn’t too shabby either
After the opening weekend win over ULM, I wrote that Texas looked to be in terrific shape at the running back position. With three excellent options to tote the ball, Texas’ running back room looks like they’re head and shoulders above your average team’s crop of running backs. While Bijan led the way in the second half, it was his backup Roschon Johnson who helped spark the Texas offense in the first half. After a scoreless first quarter, Texas was buoyed in a touchdown drive headlined by two flashy, big chunk plays from Johnson.
First: following a Texas holding penalty, Johnson dug out the Longhorns from their 1st and 20 situation by turning a not-great pass from quarterback Hudson Card into a one-handed, 19-yard catch and scamper to get Texas back into the red zone.
The very next play, Johnson took a catch in the flats to the house to get Texas on the scoreboard.
Roschon Johnson gets in the endzone for the first Texas TD of the game! pic.twitter.com/4FDgv0rPoI— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) September 18, 2022
When you see the final score, hidden amidst the 21-point win is the footnote of how crucial this drive was for the Longhorns. After punting away on their first possession, Texas had just surrendered a 20-play, 8:27-long drive to the UTSA offense that ended in a field goal. And while we didn’t know then what lied ahead for the Horns, following Johnson’s touchdown to make it 7-3 Texas, UTSA jumped out to a quick 17-7 lead with two touchdowns of their own. Johnson’s efforts in the first half (68 total yards of offense and one touchdown) may be buried in the highlights and final result of this game, but the importance of having another running back Texas can use to spell Bijan (and one that’s as GOOD as Johnson is) will go a tremendous way this season.
The defense continues to look much improved over last year
Yes, we can look back at last night’s game and have the sense that Texas’ defense could’ve played better. That stems from a first half that saw the Longhorns give up 17 points and 206 yards to the Roadrunners. But after surviving everything Jeff Traylor and his UTSA team could throw at the Horns in the first thirty minutes, which included trick plays for touchdowns and a surprise onside kick, the defense held firm and squished out any hope of a UTSA upset in the second half, holding the Roadrunners to just three points for the rest of the game. In fact, the Texas defense outscored all of UTSA in the second half, courtesy Jahdae Barron’s pick six in the third quarter.
There’s still plenty of areas the defense needs to work on. Tackling in space has long been a thorn to the Texas defense, and much of UTSA’s early success came from having receivers or runners in space making one or more Longhorns miss an open tackle. Texas also struggled to get pressure on UTSA’s quarterback Frank Harris, which was disappointing to see coming off the Alabama game where the defensive line was able to force Bryce Young into some poor or rushed throws due to pressure up front.
But the Longhorns were able to weather these mistakes and keep the UTSA offense in front of them for most of the game. Save for only a few big plays, the Longhorns again did their job of containing the opposing team’s offense, with UTSA averaging just 4.8 yards per play.
The Longhorn Network continues to be abysmal
For the second time already this season, Longhorn Network broadcast this game, meaning Texas fans had the honor of partaking in the biannual Longhorn Network Scavenger Hunt. This is a lot like a normal scavenger hunt, except instead of finding physical objects or following clues, you’re scrambling an hour before kickoff trying to find a way to actually watch the game. (I’m pretty sure less than fifty people actually have year-round access to LHN, and of those fifty does anyone actually watch when there isn’t a game on?)
Nevertheless, however you may have arrived at watching the Texas vs. UTSA game last night, whether it was via an illegal stream or asking for your friend’s uncle’s neighbor’s cable log in password, you were rewarded to witnessing possibly the most anti-Texas commentating booth to ever present itself in an LHN broadcast. The duo of Lowell Galindo and former Texas standout Sam Acho called the game, but, despite being on a channel called “The Longhorn Network”, the tone of the play-callers was incredibly skewed towards UTSA. Feel free to call me a homer and a biased fan (I’ll be the first to admit that I’m both), but you’d think a game being presented by, again, the Longhorn Network wouldn’t have their lead play-by-play commentator audibly more impressed with an everyday, routine 12-yard, first down carry from UTSA (6:15 mark of the video below) than a 41-yard Bijan Robinson touchdown run that came one minute later (7:15 mark).
The only reprieve to this announcing were the commercial breaks, which featured the same five commercials on a loop for over three hours. I’m a University of Texas grad, I love my school and this team. I suffered through all three of the Charlie Strong years while on campus, and nothing as a sports fan makes me happier than seeing my beloved Longhorns win and excel at football.
But seeing the same exact commercials over and over again is truly a test of my patience and sanity watching Texas sports. After watching the University of Texas take credit for NIL for the twentieth time in a single game, without fail, the next commercial would be of a smiling traffic guard and an awkward Jay Hartzell reminding students how great they are and to be happy that day. The message is innocent, the gesture is sweet, and the man seems genuine. But after losing track of how many times I got those ads on a loop, that two minute stretch of commercials almost makes me want to never step foot on that crosswalk or campus ever again. Almost.
Only those who have suffered the plight of trying to watch games on the Longhorn Network remotely have a clue with what I’m writing about here. And for those people, I just hope that this shared experience is not in vein at the hands of another 5-7 season following a 2-1 start.