Stay with me here:
There’s a bizarre timeline floating somewhere out there where Colt never gets hurt, Mack rides off into the sunset, and Will Muschamp is just “punchier Nick Saban” when he takes over as coach-in-waiting around 2011 and guides the Texas Longhorns to 12 years of college football bliss and multiple playoff appearances. In this VERY farfetched and hypothetical world, we would be well into a new normal where Texas plays the Oklahoma Sooners TWICE a season the past six years — once in the Cotton Bowl and once in Jerry World for the Big 12 title. I don’t think it diminishes the Red River Rivalry at all, but it definitely presents an odd dynamic where you want to win both, but maybe you prefer to win the conference championship if you only get one per year?
Much like the collective Texas internet presence in the ensuing days after the game, playing out hypotheticals is dangerous. Realistically, you now have a six game season where perfection is required. Win each game and the goals you set before you are still obtainable, including a likely rematch against those Sooners.
Texas’ offense outside the red zone. Jonathon Brooks is leading all P5 running backs in yards this season and he averaged 6.8 yards per carry outside of the red zone this weekend (good on him also finishing a long run for a touchdown since there is no guarantee that a long run equals points this season. We’ll get to the red zone in a bit). The drop off from Bijan and Roschon has been smaller than even the most sunshine pumping, Burnt-Orange-lenses-wearing optimist could’ve imagined. Even my podcast co-host Gerald—founding conductor of the JB2k bandwagon—was tentative in his prediction that Brooks would continue the 1,000-yard rusher streak under Sark.
Jordan Whittington and Gunnar Helm had their best game in The Biggest Game, and did a good job replacing what Ja’Tavion Sanders couldn’t physically produce (blocking and catching). Xavier Worthy went over 100 yards and has quietly been the best wide receiver in the conference (leads Big 12 in receptions, second in YAC, third in total yards, sixth in TD catches).
Texas special teams returned to being a playmaking unit. The punt block for the touchdown and the fake punt in the first quarter plus Big Balls Burt giving Texas a late lead to protect against a team in the (supposedly) unenviable position of just over a minute + no timeouts to drive the length of the field for a score. This could almost slide into the “mixed bag” category if you factor in the befuddling second punt block call that led to a running into the kicker penalty and an opening kick return of eight yards to the 19-yard line (though there was an uncalled blatant facemask and the look that Texas was about to try a throwback or some other chicanery but ultimately aborted).
If you’re looking for Texas’ red-zone offense… you’ll need to go another section down.
Going back a decade, Texas hasn’t lost the turnover battle in this game and won.
Though OU’s defense had created more turnovers than a job posting in Norman requiring literacy, Texas fans were optimistic as they came in averaging less than one turnover every other game. Even with Quinn Ewers’ impressive passing streak ending against KU, the fact that it got to 245 consecutive without an interception indicated to many casual observers that he had figured it all out. In reality, the odds said he had gotten a bit lucky with a few interception drops throughout the year and it remains a part of his game to monitor. The silver lining here is that he started a new streak and Texas was in a position to win BECAUSE of his play — if you tell me Quinn is 28-for-31 for 339 yards and a touchdown (which he was after that second early interception), I likely suggest he wrote himself into the lore of this game with an all-timer.
QB run defense. After containing track stars Jalen Milroe and Jason Bean, Dillon Gabriel’s legs ended up being the difference, accounting for 113 of their 201 rushing yards (73 of those in the second half). In addition to giving Gabriel the green light to scramble, Sooners offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby leaned on quarterback draws and designed runs that took advantage of the Longhorns aggression on the defensive line. Oklahoma converted only 5-of-14 third downs on the day. In order: 1 yard, 10 yards, 4 yards, 2 yards, and 11 yards. The first doubl-edigit play was after the long Catalon injury timeout in the first quarter, with ample time to scheme up the perfect look. The second double-digit conversion? After a huge OU goal-line stand and then immediately following Texas’ first sack of the game… and of course it came on a Gabriel scramble. Two plays later he would add a 44-yard scramble.
Per this week’s Inside the Numbers column: “That performance marks the first time a Kwiatkowski defense has allowed a quarterback to rush for more than 100 yards since Brandon Dawkins did it in 2016 at Arizona, playing in Rich Rodriguez’s quarterback run-heavy offense.”
Red-zone defense might be the one that hurt the most. Texas had allowed just one red-zone touchdown all year, which was tied with Michigan for the best mark in college football. They’d only allowed four field goals and only 10 total trips in five games. This was a strength and calling card of the Texas defense in 2023. On Saturday, they allowed OU six trips, of which they scored in all, four of them touchdowns.
We all know the ugliest part of this game was Sooner fans. I think that one is obvious, you’ve seen them. Hideous people.
Otherwise, it’s the story of the game (and the story of the remainder of the season): Texas’ red-zone offense. Yuck. I buried it WAAAY down here in case any kids were reading this. Trigger warning. Texas is currently 122nd (out of 133!) in the country in red-zone touchdown percentage at a putrid 45.83 percent. If the season ended today, that would be the worst number since the 5-7 season in 2010. Through six games thus far, the Horns have only cracked 50 percent twice, but have been able to mask this glaring deficiency with big plays and elite efficiency in other facets of the game. On Saturday, the entire world saw this ugly limiting factor play out after a tremendous play by Whittington to get Texas to the 1-yard line. “Three jumbo stops and a quick screen with a twist” (on Worthy’s neck and facemask, not the play call) will now be things that Sooners tell their sisterwives. If not that, then “the bodacious hit Billy Bowman bequeathed” on a dude with 50 pounds on him that would’ve leveled the game on Texas’ second drive.
Is the season now a lost cause? Only if we let it be.
Bizarro world Muschamp “aint walkin’ through that door” — but we don’t need him to and we don’t need a crazy hypothetical alternate universe. Right here, in this very universe, Texas has six winnable games and everything to play for. Multiple things didn’t go according to script on Saturday and Texas showed enough fight to be in position to win it twice in the final minute-and-a-half. Get healthy, fix the few things that are clearly broken, and come back with a vendetta and unleash hell in the rematch.