The old saying is a win is a win, but man did this one come with a cost. The No. 8 Texas Longhorns survived their one and only interconference matchup with the Houston Cougars Saturday in Third Ward, but it was a touch-and-go situation for a good part of the contest. This was the kind of game that had you experience the full gambit of emotions from start to finish. Those are typically the kinds of games that shave years off your life expectancy.
They never said winning out was going to be easy and Texas certainly found that out today. But at the end of the day, they walked away victorious and they left a very bitter taste in the mouths of a lot Houston fans who undoubtedly wanted nothing more than to find a way to win against Texas in their only Big 12 matchup.
Lets get to get the good, bad, and the ugly of Saturday’s matchup in H-Town.
Texas piled up injuries coming off the bye week
Aside from the Texas pass defense, this was easily the biggest storyline of the game. Texas had several players go off the with injuries today, including quarterback Quinn Ewers, defensive tackle Alfred Collins, cornerback Gavin Holmes, and linebacker Jett Bush. The Longhorns entered the matchup off the bye week nursing some guys with bumps and bruises and this game certainly added more things to be concerned about heading into the bye week.
Here's the play Quinn Ewers got hurt on and what Sark after the game about his injury. pic.twitter.com/N4x5cTnKFk— Travis Recek (@TravisRecek) October 22, 2023
Ewers took a big hit as he tried to scramble for a first down in the second half and was removed from the game. Maalik Murphy was inserted into the lineup and only had two opportunities to throw it, but did lead Texas to the touchdown drive that proved to be the game-winner. Ewers was seen on the sideline later in a sling and this is something that certainly warrants watching over the next day or so, as it could have big ramifications for the rest of the season.
Texas had been pretty fortunate with injuries up until the last couple of games. They are now in a position where their depth is going to be tested at some very important positions.
After a fast start, Texas faded quick
Texas started this game by ripping off 21 unanswered points and made it look pretty easy. Ewers and the offense were moving the ball at will and the Texas defense was flying around and had Donovan Smith and the Houston offense on its heels.
Then the script completely flipped. After the Cougars conceded three straight scores, the Longhorns took their turn on the rollercoaster and conceded three straight scores, with one of the scores coming on the heels of a very questionable special teams decision by Steve Sarkisian. Texas went from playing with a ton of confidence and energy to suddenly looking like the team that was looking shell-shocked at times in their last game against Oklahoma.
I was much more concerned about the execution on the defensive side of the ball today when things began to unravel. The biggest issue that jumped out at me was the fact that Texas didn’t get Smith off his spot enough in the pocket and he was consistently able to find open receivers over the middle field on crossing routes. When Smith had to have it, he was often able to find Stephen Manjack, Matthew Golden, or Dalton Carnes to keep drives moving. It felt like Houston was able to get some of the faster receivers isolated on Texas safeties on important down and distances frequently, and that has been something we have seen plague the Texas secondary this year. Smith finished the contest 32-of-46 passing for 378 yards and three touchdowns despite the rough start early. The Texas defensive staff is probably glad they won’t have to see him again after this year.
Offensively, it was clear that after Texas ripped the Houston defense for three touchdowns early on they made some adjustments to stop the bleeding. They began showing a lot more high and soft looks with several defensive backs back deep and they decided to make Ewers and the offense nickel and dime them instead of risking more explosive plays. This approach threw a wrench in the offensive flow for Texas, though they were still able to achieve some success. But it ended up being effective enough for Houston to get back into the game and seize the momentum for spells of the ball game.
Jonathon Brooks was Texas’ Offensive MVP
I said in the Roundtable this week that Brooks was my first-half MVP and all he did today was validate my decision even more. While the run game seemed to stall out a bit for a period of time on Saturday, down the home stretch Brooks started finding room to work when Texas needed him most. Brooks finished with 99 yards on the ground on 20 carries, so he came just one yard shy of going for 100 yards rushing once again, but he also led the team in receptions with eight and had 51 yards receiving. So while he didn’t crack 100 yards on the ground this week, he did tally 150 total yards and showed once again how valuable he is to this Texas offense. He is a legitimate contender for the Doak Walker right now, and I hope Sarkisian continues to feed him because as he goes so does the Texas offense.
While we are discussing running backs, CJ Baxter looked mighty healthy on Saturday and was moving with a lot more pep in his step when he got his touches. The bye week appears to have done him a lot of good and its a great sign that he is showing flashes of the five-star back Texas signed last December.
One more running back note — I am a fan of the Savion Red Wildcat experience. Even when you know what is coming it is still effective. They need to keep that in and continue to build wrinkles off of it.
The fake field goal call was a disaster
Now let’s discuss something that should be tossed OUT of the playbook. I have had a long time to think over that fake field goal call from the plus 26-yard line and I still don’t understand how or why that is the call there from the coaching staff. If you want to go for it there then leave your offense, who was having success moving the ball on Houston’s defense on field, and put it in your quarterback’s hands. Don’t put it in the hands of the punter and the kicker to have to outrun defenders after having him run horizontally.
There were a lot of frustrating sequences in this game for Texas, but that one was particularly frustrating for me and Houston went right down the field to score after that decision. That felt like a panic button decision from Sarkisian and it was far too early in the matchup to be digging that deep into the bag for stuff like that. Hopefully they shelve that concept moving forward.
Texas won the turnover battle and inflicted more negative plays this week
Even though it may not feel like a positive because of how the game played out, Texas did a much better job in this game in putting the opposing offense behind the sticks and off schedule as well as forcing turnovers. It may not have felt like Houston was off schedule as much because of how they were able to convert first downs at times, but Texas was able to tally three sacks of Smith and also had eight tackles for loss in the contest. The turnovers came courtesy of Jaylan Ford on one of the sacks of Smith, as he was able to jar the ball loose and then Michael Taaffe was able to pick off Smith in the end zone on a drive where the Cougars were marching down the field. Texas was unable to make Smith turn over the ball last year in Lubbock, but they got him for two big ones on Saturday.
On top of that, they had the huge hold in the red zone at the end of the game where Jahdae Barron was able to ensure that an errant Smith pass was not caught to move the chains.
Another positive note for the Texas defense — Houston was held to 14 yards rushing on 19 carries. That was good for a whopping 0.7 yards per carry. Their longest carry of the day was 12 yards courtesy of Parker Jenkins.
Go take a shower and light some prayer candles. Pray for some good news regarding all injuries that were suffered on Saturday in Houston. After that you have 24 hours before it is time to move on to BYU.
Texas is 6-1. There are still lofty goals that can still be accomplished.