AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 4 Texas Longhorns try to get through non-conference play with three wins for the first time since 2012 when they face off against the Wyoming Cowboys on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Kickoff is at 7 p.m. Central on Longhorn Network — the final football game on the program-specific channel before it folds into the SEC Network last year — as the Longhorns seek to avoid a letdown after last week’s upset of the then-No. 3 Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, a win losing some of its luster as Alabama struggles through a rain-delayed game against South Florida on the road.
Texas will be without freshman running back CJ Baxter (foot) and junior linebacker Mo Blackwell, who were both ruled out two hours before kickoff.
Baxter’s absence will test the depth in a running back room that has struggled to find room to run this season, especially early in games — other than the bruising finish to the Alabama game, Texas hasn’t consistently moved the line of scrimmage, a point of emphasis for Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian with non-conference play winding down.
Another point of emphasis for the offense? Scoring touchdowns in the red zone. On nine trips into the red area this season, the Horns have only scored four touchdowns, a 44.4-percent touchdown rate that ranks No. 112 nationally.
Texas will also look to maintain its excellence along the defensive line, continue producing turnovers and sacks, and protect a turnover margin that currently stands at plus-five on the season thanks to the offense avoiding any giveaways through the first two games.
The biggest surprise in warmups was the status of Wyoming starting quarterback Andrew Peasley, who was dressed, but not taking reps. So it was sophomore Evan Svoboda with the first-team offense — in the final passing drills, Peasley was not among the three quarterbacks to throw to Cowboys receivers.
- Junior tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders
- Junior center Jake Majors
- Senior defensive tackle Alfred Collins
- Senior safety Jerrin Thompson
Texas won the toss and deferred to the second half, giving Wyoming the football to start the game at the 25-yard line following a touchback with Svoboda at quarterback. Svoboda hit his first two throws, including an eight-yard out route to tight end John Michael Gyllenborg, to move the chains before a 2nd and 10 run by the Cowboys running back Harrison Waylee found a seam and outran the angle by Thompson for a 62-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead for the road team.
The kickoff by Wyoming went out of bounds to give Texas some favorable field position, half of which was quickly negated by a false start on sophomore left tackle Kelvin Banks. Three incompletions by sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers forced a quick punt by the Longhorns.
Wyoming broke three tackles on a 17-yard punt return, but gave 15 yards back on an illegal blindside block. A four-yard run and two incomplete passes, the second against good coverage from Thompson, resulted in the first three and out for the Pokes and a strong return by junior wide receiver Xavier Worthy on a well-blocked 20-yard return.
The Longhorns opened their second drive with a swing pass to senior running back Keilan Robinson for 16 yards before facing 3rd and 7 after an incompletion on a shot play and a short run. Ewers had Sanders open down the seam for a potential touchdown, but floated the ball off his back foot under some pressure and nearly had it intercepted. Sophomore place kicker Bert Auburn put Texas on the board with a 37-yard field goal.
Strong coverage by the Longhorns on the kickoff returns held the Cowboys to 11 yards. Waylee nearly broke another run on second down to set up 3rd and 1 the quarterback converted with a sneak that ended up as an illegal substitution by the Longhorns defense. Sophomore safety Michael Taaffe helped force an incompletion intended for Gyllenborg on a play-action pass that turned into a 3rd and 7 that resulted in a 20-yard gain when senior safety Kitan Crawford couldn’t play the football. In a self-inflicted wound, Wyoming turned a 3rd and 3 into a 3rd and 8 just across midfield and Texas senior cornerback Jahdae Barron broke up to pass to keep the Cowboys from considering a fourth-down attempt.
But the eight-play, 40-yard drive by Wyoming chewed up nearly five minutes and flipped the field. After starting the game 1-of-6 passing, Ewers connected on a run-pass option to Worthy and a quick throw to junior wide receiver AD Mitchell. Then the running game got an opportunity to find some rhythm with junior Jonathon Brooks ripping off runs of 12 yards and nine yards. Brooks moved the chain with his third straight effort, but another false start slowed the momentum and resulted in a 3rd and 7 when sophomore running back Jaydon Blue gained eight yards on two plays. Brooks set up a 4th and 1 with a six-yard run, a direct snap to sophomore running back Savion Red, who ran for seven yards.
Another quick throw to Mitchell and a three-yard run by Brooks ended the first quarter with Texas facing a 3rd and 1 at the Wyoming 22-yard line.
For a second straight game, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian dialed up a trick play for a Worthy pass, this time on a reverse, but the play wasn’t open and Worthy was stopped short of the line to gain. But Red ran for another first down on a direct snap and junior tight end Gunnar Helm nearly scored his first career touchdown on his first reception of the season, a spot just shy of the goal line upheld on review. On a play-action pass, Texas junior defensive tackle Byron Murphy caught a one-yard touchdown in the jumbo package for the Longhorns.
Wyoming was able to pick up two first downs on the ensuing drive, but stalled at midfield and had to punt when Svoboda quickly came under heavy pressure and lost eight yards on his scramble. On the punt by the Cowboys, Robinson nearly came up with a block screaming off the edge, but Texas had to settle for a nine-yard return by Worthy and starting field position at its own 20-yard line.
The drive by the Longhorns fizzled quickly with a dropped screen pass by freshman wide receiver Johntay Cook, a drop by senior wide receiver Jordan Whittington on a short pass into the boundary, and an incomplete pass intended for Sanders up the seam against good coverage.
A 50-yard punt by Ryan Sanbord forced Wyoming to start its drive at the 30-yard line with Barron coming up with another strong third-down play to force a completion short of the chains on 3rd and 5.
The Cowboys picked up some extra field position when a short punt fell in traffic and bounced. Brooks gained positive yardage on first down and Worthy got open on a whip route, but Ewers sailed the pass for an incompletion and then settled for hitting Worthy on a shallow cross against zone that produced a quick tackle for just a two-yard gain.
Content to take a deliberate pace with the clock ticking down on the first half, Wyoming converted a 3rd and 5 before coming up short on a 3rd and 4. The Cowboys allowed the clock to tick down to seven seconds before taking their final timeout of the half and punting the ball away to head into halftime.
Clearly intent on establish the running game, Texas opened the second half with two runs good enough to set up 3rd and 2 and a six-yard completion to Whittington. In the area of the field for a shot play, the Longhorns instead backed up five yards when Banks was whistled for his second false start. Two more runs by Brooks produced 3rd and 9. On perhaps the best throw of the night from Ewers, the Texas quarterback delivered a strike to Mitchell over the middle for a 16-yard gain. The drive stalled after a one-yard run and an incompletion led to a missed assignment in pass protection by sophomore right guard DJ Campbell that produced a 10-yard loss on a sack. So instead of attempting a field goal within Auburn’s range, the Longhorns punted. A strong special teams play downed the ball at the Wyoming 4-yard line.
The Cowboys created some space with a six-yard run on first down and moved the chains with another run on second down before Thompson was beat on a quick out and gave up a 19-yard completion. With a chance to get Wyoming off the field, Texas wasn’t able to produce a pass rush on 3rd and 4, allowing Svoboda to go through his reads and find a wide receiver open in a hole of the Longhorns zone coverage between junior cornerback Ryan Watts and senior safety Jalen Catalon for an 18-yard gain.
Another opportunity to stop the Cowboys fell short when sophomore cornerback Terrance Brooks was called for pass interference on an out and up that had little chance of being completed. On the ensuing 3rd and 8, Wyoming completed an out route just short of the first-down marker, a ruling that stood on review on a play whistled dead just as the Cowboys appeared to have a false start attempting to go for it on fourth down. A quarterback sneak moved the chains before Svoboda was forced to scramble for no gain as Wyoming looked for the end zone. Texas was able to force a rare tackle for loss on the second-down run, setting up 3rd and goal from the 10-yard line and a sack by Longhorns junior Jack end Barryn Sorrell for a nine-yard loss. The Cowboys settled for a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 10-10 and end the 17-play, 77-yard drive that 10:02.
The third quarter ended with a 20-yard run by Brooks, the longest of the game for the Longhorns.
Brooks kept the ball for two more runs, moving the chains, then Texas finally struck for a big play — Ewers flipped the ball out to Worthy on a run-pass option and the standout wide receiver did the rest, breaking a tackle and then juking the Wyoming safety to create enough room down the sidelines to score from 44 yards out and regain the lead.
Xavier worthy. Future dolphins. pic.twitter.com/GeCxesimzp— Keith mcclendon (@KeithMcclendo55) September 17, 2023
Despite facing the grinding Wyoming drive in the third quarter, the Texas defense came out energized following Worthy’s touchdown as senior defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat plowed into the backfield for a tackle for loss and Barron came up with a big third-down stop powering through a Cowboys wide receiver to make a big-time tackle and force a three and out.
Sarkisian stuck with the run as Brooks gained eight yards on first down, but was stopped short of the marker on second down, setting up a key 3rd and 1. Brooks found a huge seam on the play and broke outside for a 61-yard gain.
Jonathon Brooks has 19 carries for 161 yards tonight pic.twitter.com/r306m6hX1o— Ian Valentino (@NFLDraftStudy) September 17, 2023
Trying to play at tempo to punch the ball in, Texas was stopped on first down and then stuffed for a tackle for loss on second down. it didn’t matter, though, as Ewers pulled a zone read to score from five yards out and extend the lead to two touchdowns.
Reliant on out-breaking routes all night, Wyoming went back to those throws one too many times facing a two-touchdown deficit and Thompson jumped it for a 27-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Wyoming settled for two runs before Svoboda took a big hit on a third-down incompletion. On the punt return, Worthy broke a tackle, broke right, and found a convoy of blockers on a 32-yard gain that nearly broke the distance.
Affording Brooks a break in favor of Blue backfired for Texas when the sophomore put the ball on the turf while converting a 3rd and 3, the first turnover for the Longhorns this season.
Playing like a team up by 21 points instead of down by three touchdowns, the Cowboys ran the ball five times before a completion by Svoboda on a check down moved Wyoming into the red zone. An offside penalty and a seven-yard run put the Cowboys on the verge of cutting into the lead, but a tackle for loss by the Longhorns stymied those hopes and Svoboda threw the ball out of bounds on 2nd and goal. Wyoming looked to have a touchdown called back for offensive pass interference. When the Cowboy were stopped on a third-down run, the game clock ticked away to zero.