Coming off a phenomenal road upset last week against the then-No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide, the No. 4 Texas Longhorns came out slow at home against an unranked Wyoming Cowboys team on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Where many expected this talented Texas team to follow their upset in Tuscaloosa with an equally impressive performance at home, the Longhorns certainly underperformed through the first three quarters.
However, despite an abysmal first three quarters for Texas, they were able to flip the switch when it mattered most. Sophomore quarterback Quinn Ewers and this Texas team showed impressive maturity and poise in the mental aspect of the game, scoring 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to close out this potential upset.
1. Slow starts and inconsistency
The biggest question going into this Week Three matchup was whether or not Texas would be able to follow up their big win in Tuscaloosa with a decisive performance against Wyoming to prove they can block out the noise and avoid eating the rat poison. The small details were the characteristics of the offense that defined their success in Week Two, but in this game Texas did the opposite. Penalties, dropped passes, miscommunications, an inability to convert on third down all amounted to mistakes that stalled the offense and hindered ability to move the ball effectively and establish any rhythm.
Ewers and this Texas offense just couldn’t stay on the field with the Longhorns going 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the first half, the Cowboys were able to dominate the time of possession through their impressive rushing attack led by Harrison Waylee, who scored a 62-yard touchdown run on the first possession for Wyoming.
Inconsistency week to week was the issue that Ewers faced in his first year at Texas. Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian and this Texas coaching staff had hoped that in his second year this issue would be resolved for the talented quarterback. After looking like a potential Heisman candidate against Alabama last week, Ewers couldn’t get anything going through the air against the Cowboys defense. Overthrown passes, throws behind receivers, bad reads — Ewers looked like a different quarterback than he did just a week ago.
After starting the game extremely pass heavy, Sarkisian and the Longhorns relied on their running game to move the ball in the second half. This game was reminiscent of last year’s matchup against Baylor, where Sarkisian practically took Ewers out of the game and leaned on the running game to make up for his quarterback’s inconsistencies.
With 10 completions on 20 attempts for only 87 yards through the first three quarters, Ewers just couldn’t get anything going. The only successful touchdown drive over the first 45 minutes was thanks to great field position after a 20-yard punt return by Xavier Worthy that resulted in a big man touchdown from defensive tackle Byron Murphy.
2. The defense still looks good
Despite the lack of turnovers and sacks in the first three quarters, the Texas defense stepped up to make up for the inconsistencies on offense. Despite the worrisome 62-yard rushing touchdown on the first drive of the game by the transfer running back Waylee, the defense was able to contain this Wyoming offense throughout the rest of the game. In total the Texas defense was able to hold the Cowboys with some key stops in the red zone, 291 total yards and only 10 points.
The issue from the defense tonight was their inability to get to the quarterback and create takeaways through the first three quarters. The defense did contain the Wyoming offense, however, but started slow in their ability to create big takeaways thanks to struggles in pressuring backup quarterback Evan Svoboda and Wyoming’s offensive line. Coming off a Week Two performance where this Longhorns pass rush was able to dominate one of the largest offensive lines in football and sack Alabama quarterback Jalan Milroe five times, they certainly started slow.
3. Finishing strong
Despite an objectively terrible first three quarters, these Longhorns showed their resilience and maturity when it mattered most. It’s easy to let an underwhelming start kill a team’s confidence and dig a hole that they can’t climb out of, but this team showed they have a short-term memory, put the past in the past, and brought the wood when it mattered most.
Back-to-back big plays on the first two drives of the fourth quarter by Xavier Worthy and Jonathan Brooks put all upset alerts to bed after Ewers lit a fire under his offense on the sideline before the fourth quarter. I don’t know what the usually soft-spoken sophomore said to his team, but it worked. Worthy broke off a 44-yard touchdown to get the ball rolling and following a Wyoming three and out, Brooks added to the fourth-quarter surge with a 61-yard run that led to a rushing touchdown by Ewers. Two plays later, senior safety Jerrin Thompson took one to the crib for the Longhorns first takeaway of the day — a 27-interception return for a touchdown.
On all three sides of the ball, Texas lived up to their potential, it just took three quarters to get the ball rolling. As concerning as the first three quarters were for this Texas team moving forward, their ability to flip the switch when it matters most highlight the teams maturity and control of the mental side of the game.
Obviously, this is not how the Horns want to win games moving forward, but it could serve as a learning opportunity that helped further strengthen the team’s mental toughness, maturity, and for Ewers and his leadership and command of this team.