Despite the sluggish start, the then-No. 4 Texas Longhorns managed to take care of business and avoid the full letdown against the Wyoming Cowboys with their 31-10 win to close non-conference play on Saturday at Darell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
The offense struggled in the first half, with quarterback Quinn Ewers struggling to connect with his playmakers and the running game failing to create any sort of rhythm for the offense, leading to short drives and frustration. However, the Longhorns kept plugging and leaned on the services of running back Jonathon Brooks, who served as the featured back in the game after an injury sustained against Alabama left CJ Baxter sidelined for at least one game.
The faith in the Brooks was rewarded and was one of the keys to breaking the game open.
Jonathan Brooks: 21 car, 164 yards (7.8 ypc)
The former Hallettsville Brahma struggled to get things going early, thanks in part to the Wyoming defensive front facing the offense with looks they had not yet seen on tape from the team, and was given eight carries in the first half of the game, just two in the second quarter.
However, Steve Sarkisian came out of the locker room with a look to run the ball and lean on Brooks, who rewarded his coach’s trust with performance. The highlight moment for Brooks was a 61-yard run that set up a five-yard touchdown run by Quinn Ewers, the second on three fourth-quarter touchdowns for Texas, but it was the consistency of the production by Brooks that made the difference. If you remove the long run from his game total, Brooks still would have averaged 5.2 yards per touch on his 13 second-half carries.
Perhaps more impressively, 14 of his carries on the day went for more than four yards and all but two of them went for positive yards — a no-gain in the second quarter and a three-yard loss in the fourth against an overloaded box on 2nd and goal from the 2-yard line.
Jerrin Thompson: 3 tackles, PBU, INT, TD
After years of struggles at safety, the Longhorns may have once again found another playmaker at the position with the recent emergence of Jerrin Thompson.
His stats for the game may not be gaudy, but the impact of his pick six cannot be overlooked.
With the Longhorns up 24-10 and trying to put away a scrappy Wyoming team attempting to mount a comeback, the Cowboys found success on intermediate out routes when they needed a quick five yards. However, quarterback Evan Svoboda went back to the well one too many times and Thompson made him pay, jumping the route and returning it 27 yards for a touchdown, his first career pick six and his second interception in two weeks.
Thompson still has a long way to go before seeing his name in the school record books, but it's clear Pete Kwiatkowski’s group prioritizes being disruptive and taking the ball away, especially Thompson, who had two career interceptions entering this season despite breaking up seven passes in 2022 — turning those PBUs into INTs was a point of emphasis for the Nacogdoches product during the offseason.
In the 28 games since the new coaching staff took over, the Texas defense has taken the ball away via interception 22 times, which is actually a slower pace than the previous regime, but have found more ways to make an impact. Texas has returned five of their 22 interceptions for scores, which Tom Herman’s staff did in its first year, but then did not return to the end zone for the final three sessions of his time with Texas.
Third downs: 4-12 (33%)
It’s not an Inside the Numbers under Steve Sarkisian without checking in on third downs and despite game No. 14 of the Sark era with a sub-40 percent conversion rate, it was a tale of two halves for the offense.
The opening 30 minutes were not kind to the Longhorns and, in fact, the Longhorns went the entire first half without converting on a single third-down attempt. That run included a drop by Jordan Whittington, a PBU on a likely touchdown to Ja’Tavion Sanders, a six-yard rush, a Xavier Worthy reverse for no gain, and two three and outs featuring misses to Sanders and Worthy. In that mix, Texas did manage to convert on two fourth downs thanks to the newly-revealed wildcat formation featuring triggerman Savion Red, who converted on consecutive attempts to set up a touchdown in the first half.
Texas finished the first half 0-6 on the money down.
Those fourth-down conversions got Texas into the red zone, where Ewers connected with defensive tackle Byron Murphy for the lone touchdown of the first half.
The second half was a different story for Texas, which went 2-of-3 on its opening drive, with the miss coming on a 3rd and 9 sack to end a promising drive. Wyoming took over and put together a 10-minute drive that both tied the game and effectively ended the quarter, giving Texas the ball back with 20 seconds left in the third.
The Longhorns then converted on their first two third-down attempts to go ahead by two scores and finished the second half 4-of-6 on third downs.
With non-conference out of the way, Texas now turns its focus to its final run in the Big 12 conference, hoping to take home the trophy for the first time since Colt McCoy roamed the Forty Acres. Their conquest starts on the road as they travel to Waco to take on the Baylor Bears, who are 1-2 on the year and would love nothing more than to upset the Longhorns and even their record on the year.