For a second straight season, the Texas Longhorns went into the Cotton Bowl against a heavily-favored Oklahoma Sooners team, but failed to come out with a second straight victory as a late comeback fell short, leaving the Sooners 31-26 victors at the final whistle.
Texas had one final shot at the end of the game, but got the ball back with only 18 seconds left, no timeouts, and 80 yards to drive. It was the culmination of a furious comeback over the game's final half quarter.
Oklahoma took a 31-13 lead early in the final frame after a 13-yard touchdown run by freshman running back Samaje Perine looked like it might knock out a game Texas team.
But sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes finished the ensuing two touchdown drives, throwing a six-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver John Harris and adding a 12-yard touchdown run to close the gap.
The young Texas passer finished 26 of 43 for 308 yards and two touchdowns through the air along with his rushing score. Overall, Swoopes finished with 11 carries for 50 yards and stood tall in the pocket all game after self-sacking against Baylor.
On a huge stage, the nerves that plagued Swoopes last week against the Bears were gone.
And so in an unusual display, the win for Oklahoma didn't send Texas fans streaming to the tunnels of the Cotton Bowl, as the immediate post-game moments featured a full stadium as both sides paid tribute to their teams. It was probably the most hearty Eyes of Texas after a loss in Dallas in years.
But in a continuing a trend over recent games, Texas somehow managed to look like a competitive team and a completely inept team almost simultaneously.
The final comeback fell short as a result of the latter -- after not allowing a the first third-down conversion to the Sooners all game, the Longhorns defense couldn't stop the clock to allow time for the offense to mount a winning drive because of wasted timeouts earlier in the half.
Five times on the day, Texas failed to get plays called and off at the line of scrimmage, resulting in one delay of game and four lost timeouts, including one on the failed two-point conversion following the final touchdown.
There were also six false start penalties, including one that negated a touchdown late, and a holding penalty on wide receiver John Harris that negated a long Swoopes run early. The worst thing about the penalty on Harris? It was both obvious and mostly unnecessary, as Harris grabbed the jersey of Oklahoma cornerback Zach Sanchez and pulled as Sanchez attempted to disengage and chase Swoopes downfield.
There was another fumbled snap near the goal line, a fumbled snap that ended up in the hands of running back Johnathan Gray for an improbably positive play, and a fumbled snap on a punt late that fortunately didn't end up resulting in a blocked kick and a Sooners touchdown, as punter Will Russ was able to get the kick off under some modest pressure.
On the quarterback-center exchanges, there was at least an excuse, as junior Taylor Doyle played for the first time at the position after moving there in practice this week. Doyle mostly held his own, but also had a number of snaps that were nearly low enough to make Swoopes kneel upon receiving them.
On special teams, though? No more excuses for a team that has been making too many mistakes in that phase.
The truly back-breaking play on special teams was the 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Oklahoma's Alex Ross when Texas sophomore safety Adrian Colbert fell down in the hole and couldn't get up and junior kicker Nick Rose couldn't tackle the 6'1, 221-pound Sooner to save the touchdown.
Colbert also committed a personal foul hitting Oklahoma punt returner Sterling Shepard when the ball was nowhere in the vicinity. And got a tongue-lashing from Texas head coach Charlie Strong as a result.
Then, after Texas managed to run only 11 plays over the next two drives and gave up a field goal as a result of a short field for Oklahoma, Swoopes made his big mistake of the game, forcing the ball into a tight spot and having it intercepted by the playmaking Sanchez, who returned it 43 yards to consolidate momentum for the Sooners.
Texas responded at the end of the half with a big 38-yard touchdown pass from Swoopes to Harris and a field goal by Rose to cut the margin to 17-13 at the break.
For the defense, however, the story was about nearly complete dominance, as the unit forced eight three and outs and gave up only the one third-down conversion in 11 attempts for Oklahoma. In the first half, the Sooners have the ball for less than seven minutes and gained only 29 yards on 15 plays as the Horns dominated possession.
Yet, the Sooners still had the lead.
And the second-half struggles continued for the defense, giving up a wheel route touchdown pass to Shepard and then allowing Perine to finally find some room in the running game.
Strong has said repeatedly what Texas does matters more than what the opponents do and that was true on Saturday, as the Horns were both the better team for long stretches of the game and clearly not a good team for stretches of the game because of mistakes.
In the end, though, it was the first time since 1956 that the Horns have suffered four losses in the first six games. The end results say that this is a historically bad Texas team and although more context is obviously necessary to understand the state of the program, sometimes hard facts need no more context to tell a significant tale.
As the mistakes continue to define this team, the question is how much hope is reasonable? Was this loss incredibly heartening or incredibly disheartening? Or does the incredibly schizophrenic nature of the team mean that the answer is both?