I feel like the vibe this week is going to be very similar to how it was this time last week. After squandering a double lead against the Kansas State Wildcats last weekend the No. 7 Texas Longhorns found themselves in another knife fight late in Fort Worth against the TCU Horned Frogs despite holding a double-digit lead again for most of the contest.
Just like last week, the Longhorns managed to hang on late, but this time they kept the game to regulation and were able to salt the game away late when it looked like the Horned Frogs were going to get one more crack at it with time left on the clock. Never a dull moment when you are watching this year’s version of Texas.
The last two matchups between TCU and Texas have been tight despite one team being expected to roll entering the game. Last year it took a coverage bust and the worst offensive performance of the year by the Longhorns for the Horned Frogs to escape Austin with a win. This year it took a superb play from one of Texas’ best skill players to secure the victory in Fort Worth.
Let’s dive and see what went right and what went wrong against TCU.
Quinn Ewers was solid in his return
Texas got a big boost this week when Steve Sarkisian announced that Ewers would be back in the saddle as the starter at quarterback. It definitely looked like Ewers was trying to hone in early in the game as he tried to shake off the rust. He threw an interception on a ball that hung up in the air way too long that allowed a TCU safety to get over the top. But for the most part it was hard to be too disappointed with how he performed in his first game back in a couple weeks. Ewers finished the night 22-of-33 passing for 317 yards and one touchdown. He was also very close to having an additional touchdown on the ledger, but Xavier Worthy was unable to stay in bounds along the sideline that would have tacked on even more yards to his final stat line.
It seemed like Sarkisian was trying to stay away from having Ewers throw a bunch in the second half, which almost came back to bite Texas. But on 3rd and 13 late in the game, Ewers uncorked a ball to Adonai Mitchell that ended up being the game sealing play. That ball had plenty of juice on it at the right time. As long as 3 is able to go and sling it, Texas will have a chance to win the games left on their schedule.
Texas lost its composure late in the game again
Last week I was questioned on why I didn’t spend space in this column talking about the coaching decisions in the game. Well, allow me to check that box this week, because I am about to dish out some criticism to just about every phase in this section.
The elephant in the room right now is Texas’ propensity to squander double-digit leads against opponents. It happened against Houston. It happened against Kansas State. And it happened again on Saturday against TCU. Texas got their scoring margin out to 26-6 after one half of play where they dominated the matchup. They wouldn’t score again until the fourth quarter and that was a Bert Auburn field goal that came with 8:53 left in the game. Meanwhile, TCU ripped off 20 points in the final frame after being held scoreless for two straight quarters.
It was one thing to allow TCU to have some life late in the game. I wasn’t too concerned about that because even when TCU scored with just under six minutes left you were still up two scores. But the sequence that followed was a full-scale meltdown on every level and every person in burnt orange needs to wear some amount of blame.
Let’s start with the offense and offensive brain trust. Coming off that TCU scoring drive, you knew you had to chew some clock and sustain a drive to avoid throwing your defense right back out there and conceding even more momentum to TCU, who was playing as confident as they’ve been all night. The result? Run, run, pass. You net SIX yards on three plays and do nothing to stop the surging momentum of the home team. I understand Jonathon Brooks was out at this point, so that doesn’t help, but the call on third down was not very inspiring. That ball looked like it was going to Baxter all the way and it had zero chance of getting to the sticks. I feel like Sark got really tight with play calling as the game wore on. I don’t know if Ewers was showing signs of discomfort that led to that tightness, but I don’t feel like he acquitted himself well as things started to snowball late. If Ewers doesn’t connect on that ball to Mitchell late, we are probably having a different conversation right now.
Moving forward in the sequence. You go three and out. Okay, fine. Punt it away and make them have to work for it. Ryan Sanborn is someone I have been singing praises for almost every week. But on Saturday, he turned in probably his toughest performance of the year. His punt in this situation wasn’t great and it allowed a return that put TCU around midfield.
Here comes the next part of the sequence that is probably the most frustrating part of the entire thing for me. After JP Richardson is pushed out of bounds (Texas probably got away with late contact) Savion Red, a guy who wasn’t even in the game on the play, starts jawing with Richardson and pushes him right in front of the referee to earn himself a dead ball foul to shorten the field even more. You want to get into your head coach’s doghouse and lose playing time? Make dumb, irrational decisions like the one Red did on Saturday when the game was still in the balance. You just can’t have stuff like that.
That brings us to the defense. The defense played well for three quarters on Saturday before things went left in the final frame. In this situation, they were once again placed in a short-field situation just like they were last week against Kansas State. But they absolutely let Savion Williams run wild on them in this matchup and that included in allow him to have back-to-back receptions in this sequence that led to the touchdown that cut the lead to a field goal.
This was a team-wide meltdown down the home stretch. Every phase contributed to it and they are fortunate they found a way to gut it out late and salvage the day. If there is something that Texas needs to figure out and figure it out FAST, it is why they are not able to finish opponents when they have them on the ropes.
Everyone needs to say a prayer for Jonathon Brooks’ health
I am not going to spend a bunch of time here, because I sing this dude’s praises every single week. Jonathon Brooks is having an All-American level season after being tasked with replacing two Sunday players in Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johson. Brooks tallied 178 total yards and scored twice in Fort Worth and continued to show why he has a bright future in playing this sport. He went over the 100-yard mark rushing on Saturday, but unfortunately sustained a lower body injury on the carry that got him there.
Brooks was helped into the injury tent and then eventually helped into the locker room where he did not emerge the rest of the contest. I don’t know what religion or faith you subscribe to or if you subscribe to one at all. But if you are the praying type, I would put a few up for this kid, because Texas is going to need him on the field if they want to maximize their potential this season. He has been a difference maker and is the clear cut RB1 for this offense. While a think CJ Baxter is certainly a capable back early in his career, there is a clear dropoff in the run game when Brooks has to go to the sideline.
So make room for Brooks in your sports-related prayers. Or maybe go find a live rooster or something close to it.
Bert Auburn was consistent once again
You want to talk about a guy playing well at the right time, look no further than our guy Sideshow Bert. Bert was having a rough go early on in the season, but I think it is safe to say he has righted the ship and his confidence is solidified. Auburn was 3-for-3 on field goals on Saturday as well as being perfect on PATs. His field goal from 49 yards out in the fourth quarter with 8:53 left proved to be the difference on Saturday.
Auburn is 7-for-7 in the last two weeks on field goals and he hasn’t missed a kick of any kind since the Kansas game in late September. He may not have the biggest leg, but he is putting them through when called upon and that is all you can really ask as the Longhorns continue their run towards Arlington.
Adonai Mitchell has the clutch gene
Not much else can be said about Mr. Mitchell. This dude has been the most impactful portal addition for this Texas team and he has been one of the most impactful portal additions in the entire country in 2023. Mitchell arrived in Austin with a well-established reputation for making big plays in big moments and big games. He hasn’t done anything to hurt that reputation this year with the Longhorns.
It feels like when Texas needs a big play or needs to move the chains the ball always finds its way to Mitchell. He caught his NINTH touchdown of the season on Saturday and has two more regular-season matchups to crack double digits on the year.
83% of Adonai Mitchell’s catches this season have resulted in first downs or touchdowns. Just added another.— Jordan Reid (@Jordan_Reid) November 12, 2023
Now up to 9 TD catches this year. pic.twitter.com/LN4T0QNlxS
Despite catching a touchdown in the game on Saturday, that wasn’t Mitchell’s most impactful contribution to the victory. In the fourth quarter on 3RD AND 12 with Texas on its own 13-yard line, Mitchell made arguably his most clutch catch of the year when he reeled in a 35-yarder from Ewers.
ADONAI MITCHELL JUST CALLED GAME pic.twitter.com/rt4MZkZcpk— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 12, 2023
Look at that adjustment and the body control to make that play. It wasn’t the best ball from Ewers, but it didn’t matter because Mitchell made a hell of a play. He doesn’t always have gaudy yardage numbers, but this dude shows up when you need him most and he has a nose for the end zone. Massive addition to this skill group in the offseason. Future Sunday player.
BONUS: Jordan Whittington had one of the plays of the year
I had to get this in here. I wanted in my writeup after it happened just to spotlight it and his effort, but wanted it even more given how the game played out. This was an oh shit moment early on what was one of Ewers’ worst balls of the night. TCU was looking at promising field position after the return, but Jordan Whittington made one of the best hustle plays you’ll see from a guy in burnt orange this year.
Jordan Whittington rightly so receives credit for his effort.— Nash (@NashTalksTexas) November 12, 2023
BUT WATCH XAVIER WORTHY, WHO FELL ON THE BALL. pic.twitter.com/GlMyYgg6a6
Whittington misses a tackle attempt on the returner initially. You probably figure he is out of the play. NOPE. He comes from OUT OF THE FRAME and not only gets back in on the play, but he always hits him the Peanut Punch and gets the ball out like he was a safety in a pursuit drill.
That is a five-star effort and a five-star play by a guy who has been an unsung hero this year. He returns for one more year. He blocks his ass off every week. He doesn’t always get rewarded for his efforts, but he gives you plays like THAT. Whittington didn’t even make it into the box score as a receiver on Saturday. But he made a play that probably saved the game even though we didn’t realize it at the time.
Give 13 a game ball damn it. I will stand on the table 10 out of 10 times for guys who give you this kind of effort on Saturdays.
You know the dang drill — the 24-hour rule is officially in effect and then it is on to those dang Cyclones of the north. It is going to be a chilly night game in Ames, Iowa and it is likely going to be a sold out crowd that would love nothing more than to upset Texas and throw their season into chaos.
Don’t let them. Tee up Bo Davis before the game in honor of what his tirade the last time Texas made the trip up there. I think he will know exactly what to say.
Texas is two wins from going to Arlington. It is all right there in front of them.