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No. 8 Texas 31, Houston 24: Three things we learned

The Longhorns outlasted their old Southwest Conference rivals to move to 6-1 on the year.

NCAA Football: Texas at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

It was an ugly game for the No. 8 Texas Longhorns, but they managed to come away with a victory over the Houston Cougars on Saturday at TDECU Stadium.

Texas jumped out to a big lead but had to hold on late, with a late touchdown from CJ Baxter giving them the go-ahead touchdown in the closing minutes of the game. Texas still needs to win out to make its way to Arlington, but a win is a win regardless.

The two-headed RB attack looks to be back

For the last several weeks, Jonathan Brooks has been the featured back in the offense following an early-season injury that slowed Baxter down and took away some of that depth. Coming out of the bye, Baxter looked healthy and Texas benefitted from it. While Brooks still took the lion’s share of the carries, a 20-6 ratio, Baxter chipped in six key carries, averaging seven yards per touch and the go-ahead score, his only carry of the second half.

The offense benefitted from his fresh legs, but Brooks was also his usual consistent self in the game.

Brooks finished the game with 28 total touches for 150 yards, averaging 5.36 yards per play, with 37 of his 99 rushing yards coming in the final frame. With Quinn Ewers’ injury casting some uncertainty on the offense, having those two at the top of their games for the late-season push will be crucial for Texas.

Savion Red may be the short-yardage solution

One of the biggest issues in the loss to the Oklahoma Sooners was the Longhorns’ inability to score touchdowns inside the 20-yard line, which ended up being the difference in the game. Against Houston, Texas went 4-of-4 in the red zone, three of which were the seven-point variety, with some fresh wrinkles to the offense.

The Longhorns lined up in the wildcat formation with the do-everything player Savion Red as the quarterback more than they had all year and Red rewarded Sarkisian’s faith in him and made the most of the opportunities. Red took a direct snap on three occasions in the game, all three short-yardage situations, and Texas converted on all three of them.

Three carries — two fourth-down conversions and a red-zone touchdown.

If the Longhorns can get that kind of consistent production out of the former three-star recruit every week, fans with concerns about the short-yardage situations may breathe a bit easier.

The defense needs to both tighten up and heal up

The Longhorns came out of the bye week banged up defensively and got more so throughout the matchup against the Cougars.

Houston quarterback Donovan Smith once again had a career day against Texas, setting a career-high passing total and tossing three touchdowns in the contest. The Texas secondary struggled to contain wide receivers Matthew Golden and Joseph Manjack, something few teams have managed to do this year. Until safety Michael Taaffe came up with a big pass breakup on a play taht seemingly injured Manjack, five of the sophomore’s previous six catches had gone for either first downs or touchdowns, exposing the back end of the Texas defense on several occasions.

After looking like a championship unit for five consecutive games, the Texas defense was eight yards away from its second-consecutive 400-yard outing and was a drop away from giving up another back-breaking fourth-quarter touchdown. If Texas is going to make its way to Arlington, it needs to figure out what ails it, both physically and performance-wise, before hosting BYU next week.