In the hit Beatles song “The Long and Winding Road”, Paul McCartney wistfully sings these words;
“The long and winding road that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before. It always leads me here...
Many times I’ve been alone, many times I’ve cried. Anyway, you’ll never know the many ways I’ve tried.
And still they lead me back to the long and winding road.”
Though Saturday’s 37-34 overtime loss by the Texas Longhorns at the Texas Tech Red Raiders isn’t quite as dramatic as the Beatles musically announcing their breakup, the loss was an all too similar tune for Longhorns fans. Just as McCartney sang above, just when we, as Longhorn fans, think we’ve arrived to a state of being “Back,” there’s always something that returns us back to this long and winding road we’ve been on since 2009.
Yesterday’s latest chapter in this saga had the Longhorns take a two-score lead into halftime and look like the better team at the half. However, despite leading 31-17 midway through the third quarter, the Texas Longhorns yet again suffered a late-game collapse and suffered their second loss of the young season.
And unlike the loss to Alabama just too weeks ago, the resounding sentiment of this loss is much more bitter. There were no moral victories to be had in Lubbock. Simply put, this was a game Texas was expected to win, should have won, and thoroughly lost to a team inferior in talent and (supposedly) coaching. The season is by no means lost, and I’ll painfully remind everyone reading that the best and most rational preseason predictions saw the Longhorns finishing somewhere around 7-5, which is still a very real and likely finish for this team. But make no mistake, given the hype and hope the team provided two weeks ago by nearly toppling Alabama, yesterday’s result is a painful reminder of the road the Longhorns still have to travel.
Here’s what else I noticed in yesterday’s game.
This is the exact kind of game Texas should be winning — and that’s concerning
As mentioned above, the Longhorns led at the half 24-14, and led deep into the third quarter 31-17. They ended up losing the game 37-34. This is just one of a handful of games the past two years where the Longhorns built a substantial lead only to blow said lead and lose a very winnable game.
What’s concerning (other than the giant blaring sirens that Texas is blowing a late, multiple-score lead about once a month) is that all offseason and throughout this season, we’ve been fed the quotes and stories about how this year’s team is different. Head coach Steve Sarkisian even said earlier this week that this 2022 team is mentally tougher than last year, and the games appearing in three of the four panels above wouldn’t happen this year because this year’s Longhorn team is too sound to let that happen.
But, as the great and recently made available head coach Herm Edwards once said, “you play to win the game.” Sark’s words fell as flat as the land in Lubbock that the Longhorns blew yet another late game lead on. There’s no one player to blame (Texas wouldn’t even be in overtime if they didn’t have Bijan Robinson). This is a cultural and coaching issue. And that’s what’s scary.
This year was supposed to be different, that’s all anyone has been telling us for about four months now. Well if that’s the case, how come it doesn’t look different?
The defense has to be better and stay off the field if Texas wants to compete in the Big 12
Going into the season, the Longhorn defense was a huge X-Factor for this team. As a unit, the defense really struggled last year at playing a full 60 minutes, and allowed on average 31 points per game to the opposing team. A huge part of this was due to not being able to get off the field in the second half — partly due to an offense that would stall out late in games, but mostly due to inexperience, inability, and fatigue from the game.
For much of this season, the Longhorns defense looked improved over last year, and they had the stats to back it up. But yesterday was a calling card back to 2021, where the Longhorns allowed Texas Tech to score 23 points in the second half, ran just 60 plays to Tech’s 100, and couldn’t figure out a way to consistently stop the Red Raider offense on third and fourth downs.
“Our inability to get off the field was a real factor,” Sarkisian said after game. “And we couldn’t get their quarterback on the ground.”
Texas Tech had conversions on the following down and distances:
- 3rd and 1
- 4th and 7
- 3rd and 6
- 4th and Goal
- 3rd and 26
- 3rd and 1
- 4th and 5
- 4th and 1
- 3rd and 1
- 3rd and 7
- 3rd and 12
- 4th and 5
- 4th and 3
On the day, Texas Tech was just 7-of-20 on their third-down conversions, but 6-of-8 on their fourth-down conversions. Each of those conversions, especially the fourth-down conversions, is back breaking to group that is playing nearly double the amount of plays as the offense is playing. Texas needs to find more ways to force the ball out of the opposing offense’s hands — giving up 31 first downs and allowing forty more plays to be ran by the opposing team is never a good strategy in the Big 12 or even in any other league, for that matter.
Texas is banged up at key positions, but that’s no excuse. It’s time for the coaches and players to step up
The Longhorns entered yesterday’s game with the faintest of possibilities that quarterback Quinn Ewers may play. After all, he traveled, dressed, and practiced all week with the team. Ultimately though, the Longhorns started backup quarterback Hudson Card, who was still noticeably sore from an ankle injury suffered against Alabama.
Star wide receiver Xavier Worthy also left Saturday’s game with a lower leg injury, and his status for next week is up in the air. This compounds with the preseason loss of wide receiver Isaiah Neyor, who is out for the season.
The Longhorns were without starting defensive lineman Moro Ojomo, who has played well this year and whose presence was sorely missed on Saturday.
It’s safe to say the Longhorns are dealing with their fair share of adversity with injuries at critical positions. But still, it’s disappointing to see injuries derail a team to the point of near inadequacy in a game. Before Worthy’s injury Saturday, Texas had scored on four of its first five possessions. After Worthy left the game, Texas scored on just two of its final six possessions.
This is the University of Texas. The roster should be chock full of players who can fill in, perform, and compete with much of what exists in the Big 12 talent-wise. On top of that, the coaches need to identify ways to get players who don’t typically start involved in ways that benefit the team.
Should Worthy miss next week, or Texas be without Ewers for a third straight game, the expectation should be to see Texas do a better job game-planning with what is there. Designed plays to get the ball into wide receiver Jordan Whittington’s hands, or runs that that get running back Roschon Johnson more room to work with. Next week’s game versus West Virginia isn’t a layup, but the talent Texas has on their depth chart should be enough with good coaching to get past WVU.
This loss may feel disastrous, but it shouldn’t
Losing always stings the most the moment it happens, and lingers for a while until we as fans can accept it. Longhorn fans have had trouble these past almost 24 hours digesting this loss and what is left of the season. Heck, I even got a bit too dramatic using Beatles lyrics to describe the loss. But in reality, this season and the realistic goals Texas had before the year are not dead.
Sarkisian laid out before the season started that the goal for this year’s team was to play in the Big 12 Championship Game in Arlington. That means at least a second place regular season finish in the Big 12. And though yesterday’s result puts Texas in a hole in that regard, the Big 12 is as open as it has been in recent memory.
Texas still has eight games remaining on the schedule. The College Football Playoff dream, as much fantasy as that was, may be dead as of yesterday’s loss. But the real goal on the season, to compete in the Big 12 — that is still alive.
Even knocking it down a notch from that high-ceiling goal, the expectation of finishing 7-5 or better is still very much in play. Each game from here on out will have more pressure on Sark and the team to deliver wins, as it should. But the season isn’t lost. At least not yet.