AUSTIN, Texas — For the first time in a month, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns are back at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium hosting the BYU Cougars and trying to keep the program’s Big 12 championship aspirations alive despite a handful of significant injuries, including the right shoulder of redshirt sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers, who is currently week to week.
Starting in place of Ewers will be redshirt freshman Maalik Murphy in his first collegiate start. The California native has only thrown eight passes in college as he takes the field on the Forty Acres Saturday, but hardly lacks for arm talent.
Texas is also without two other starters and a contributor who did not dress — sophomore Buck end Ethan Burke (knee), senior safety Jalen Catalon (leg) while several other starters and key contributors may be limited or held out, a group that includes sophomore right guard Cole Hutson, defensive tackle Alfred Collins, senior linebacker Jett Bush, senior nickel back Jahdae Barron, sophomore cornerback Terrance Brooks, junior cornerback Gavin Holmes, and senior cornerback Ryan Watts.
BYU won the toss and deferred to the second half with Texas starting at its own 25-yard line following the touchback. Murphy completed his first pass as a starter, a short throw to junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders that resulted in a two-yard loss. Sticking with the passing game, Murphy found junior wide receiver AD Mitchell on a glance route run-pas option before trying to hit junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy down the field, but Worthy was tripped up without drawing a flag on the Cougars. In a new look for the Longhorns, Murphy completed a short pass to sophomore running back Savion Red, though he wasn’t able to keep the drive alive on a third-down pass intended for Worthy once again.
After the punt from senior Ryan Sanborn bounced into the end zone just inside the pylon, BYU started at its own 20-yard line with a swing pass that Barron turned into a tackle for loss. Trying to beat Texas with mesh, freshman linebacker Anthony Hill broke on the pass and nearly came up with his first career interception. So did senior safety Kitan Crawford on a long throw from Cougars quarterback Kedon Slovis to the sideline from the opposite hash that went through his hands.
On the punt return, Worthy scored for the first time on special teams, making the first BYU player in coverage miss and then hitting it up the middle for a 73-yard score and a 7-0 lead for Texas.
Xavier Worthy PR TD! 74 yards! pic.twitter.com/HkhdpX2N6z— Ian Valentino (@NFLDraftStudy) October 28, 2023
In a rare decision for Texas opponents this season, BYU brought the kick return out of the end zone and found a seam, but sophomore kickoff specialist Will Stone was in position to make the tackle as the Cougars return man slipped at the 26-yard line.
Taking pressure off Slovis with a run didn’t work as the Horns came up with their second tackle for loss, then their third on an ugly speed option that got blown up by senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat in the backfield. Slovis was able to complete his second pass of the game on third down, a crossing route, but Texas rallied for the tackle to force the second straight three and out to start the game for BYU.
The Cougars opted to kick it to Worthy again and the Longhorns return man had another strong effort in picking up 15 yards. The first run by redshirt sophomore Jonathon Brooks opened the drive for Texas with a four-yard gain before Sanders came up with a catch down the seam on a floated ball by Murphy while taking a huge hit. On the subsequent second-down play, Murphy made his first big mistake, throwing a bad interception off his back foot under pressure. A long return on the play was negated by an illegal blindside block, moving the ball back to the BYU 45-yard line.
Slovis followed with his own mistake after two running plays gained a first down when Barron deflected the pass on a blitz and Brooks came up with his first career interception, returning it 40 yards to the BYU 26-yard line.
A short throw to Worthy and a run by Brooks moved the chains as the Longhorns entered the red zone. In a two-back set with senior running back Keilan Robinson, freshman CJ Baxter ran for three yards on second down before Texas called its first timeout facing a 3rd and 4. Murphy completed his third-down pass to Brooks out of the backfield for a first down and Brooks ended the six-play, 26-yard line drive with a physical run up the middle for a four-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Stone’s kickoff pinned the BYU returner near the sideline and the coverage unit made the tackle at the 14-yard line. The Cougars appeared to pick up their first chunk play of the game with a long completion, but the catch was overturned on review. Another tackle for loss for Texas on a running play forced BYU into a 3rd and 12, an incompletion against strong coverage from Barron for another three and out.
Following a short punt by the Cougars that traveled only 27 yards, Worthy fumbled on an end around and was lucky that the ball bounced right back to him. A screen pass to Robinson nearly picked up the first down, a task made more difficult by a false start by senior right tackle Christian Jones. Nevertheless, a strong run by Baxter gained the necessary yardage for a fresh set of downs. Back on the field for second down, Brooks ended the first quarter with a patience 15-yard run to the BYU 11-yard line.
The second quarter started with another turnover by the Horns when Murphy fumbled under pressure on a screen play intended for Worthy.
A seven-yard pass on second down for BYU set up 3rd and 2, a run up the middle that was spotted short of the yard to gain and led to a timeout by the Cougars after lining up to go for it on fourth down. After the timeout, BYU picked up the first down on a run up the middle. Behind the chains after a tackle for loss by the Longhorns on first down, the Cougars completed two passes for the third first down of the game.
With BYU facing a 3rd and 5 across midfield, Texas called its second timeout of the half. Stopped short on third down, BYU went for it again, a too-easy completion for Slovis on a slant route. The Cougars moved into the red zone for the first time with an 18-yard gain on a speed option, but Slovis was sacked on the following play and was lucky to complete a floated pass into traffic on second down. Facing 3rd and goal, Slovis scrambled and somersaulted to the 2-yard line, enough to keep the offense on the field following its second timeout of the half, though the Cougars eventually took a delay of game and settled for a 24-yard field goal to end the 16-play, 64-yard drive that took 9:57 off the clock.
Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian called a rather conservative drive following the two turnovers in the first half with running plays and short passes that consistently kept the Longhorns ahead of the chains until Worthy dropped a second-down pass thrown behind him to set up 3rd and 8 from the Cougars 30-yard line. With time in the pocket, Murphy threw his first collegiate touchdown, a lofted pass to a wide-open Mitchell, who had the high point the ball in traffic for a 21-3 lead the Longhorns took into halftime.
Maalik Murphy’s first career TD pass goes to AD Mitchell. pic.twitter.com/0HUapvCE7P— TFB Texas (@TFB_Texas) October 28, 2023
For the sixth time in the game, BYU was unable to mount a drive of more than three plays as the Texas defense continued to play at a high level to start the second half. Offensively, the Longhorns were unable to pick up a first down of their own despite an eight-yard completion to Brooks on first down.
A booming 64-yard punt by Sanborn helped flip the field, although the Cougars were able to return it 12 yards to their 17-yard line. After an 18-yard completion to open the drive, the third play saw Slovis connect with Darius Lassiter on a 47-yard completion even though Lassiter had to fight through early contact from Texas freshman safety Derek Williams. After missing a tackle on a 2nd and 13 play from the Longhorns 16-yard line, Barron was down on the field for some time before Texas forced a 32-yard field goal.
The running game finally produced a big play for the Longhorns when Brooks found a crease up the middle and broke off 38 yards. Through the air, Brooks picked up chunk yardage again on a swing pass for 17 yards. On third and short, Red picked up the first down in the Wildcat formation, then stayed on the field for two more plays down to the 2-yard line, but Murphy wasn’t able to finish the drive when Murphy threw an incomplete pass on third down and Sanders was tackled short of the goal line on fourth down.
Backed up against their own goal line, BYU couldn’t complete a pass on first down, but generated some space with a four-yard run on second down prior to another incomplete pass on third down to force a punt from near the back of the end zone. Texas took over near midfield and ended the quarter with an 18-yard completion from Murphy to Sanders on second down.
Murphy nearly threw his second touchdown pass of the game to open the fourth quarter, a nice ball intended for Worthy that was broken up in the end zone. Robinson nearly found the end zone himself on the next play, but settled for a 24-yard gain when he couldn’t break the final tackle. An incompletion and a two-yard loss by Baxter seemed likely to kill the drive, but Brooks caught a swing pass initially ruled a touchdown, then spotted at the 2-yard line after review. Short of the first-down marker, Texas called a timeout, then came out in a jumbo formation that was unable to create any space for Brooks and marked the third failed red-zone possession of the game for the Longhorns.
The defense came up with a big play after the turnover on downs when a third-down pass off the hands of a BYU receiver fell to opportunistic Texas sophomore safety Michael Taaffe, who returned it to the Cougars 3-yard line. After a false start penalty on junior tight end Gunnar Helm, Murphy on a slant route for an eight-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead.
BYU engineered one of its more sustained drives after the Texas touchdown, moving into the red zone thanks to a pass interference penalty on redshirt freshman Buck end J’Mond Tapp, but stalling thanks to a dropped pass and a completion for negative yardage set up 3rd and 11, leading to a pass thrown out of bounds. On fourth down, sophomore cornerback Jaylon Guilbeau broke on a floated pass from Slovis, but dropped an interception he had a chance to return for a touchdown.
The Longhorns put an exclamation point on the win when sophomore Jack end Justice Finkley sacked Slovis and forced a fumble recovered by redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jaray Bledsoe. Three plays later, sophomore running back Jaydon Blue raced 34 yards for the final margin.