AUSTIN, Texas — After falling behind 14-0, the Texas Longhorns scored 49 of the next 59 points to route the Texas Tech Raiders on Friday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium by a 49-24 margin, aided by two forced turnovers and three fourth-down stops.
With the win, Texas ensured a third consecutive winning season for the first time since 2011-13.
Against the nation’s No. 79 defense in SP+, which was playing without its best player, Jordyn Brooks, the Texas offense finally found its rhythm again after struggling in three of the last four games.
Junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger led the way with a turnover-free performance that featured 19-of-27 passing for 348 yards and two touchdowns through the air and 10 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The 431 yards of total offense put Ehlinger over 4,000 total yards this season, becoming only the third player in school history to reach that plateau, joining Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Ehlinger also passed Major Applewhite to move into second place in career passing yards at Texas.
“I was really proud of the way Sam played,” head coach Tom Herman said. “Really there towards I think it was the first drive of the fourth quarter when the rain started coming down pretty good, we had a three and out that wasn’t real good.
“Beyond that, I thought he played excellent. Quarterback draw was a big part of this game plan. Block well, ran it well, broke tackles. He was trusting his receivers. He was on time, decisive. Was really proud of that.”
With senior wide receiver Collin Johnson out, Ehlinger’s favorite target was fellow senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who had six catches for 199 yards and a 75-yard touchdown catch, the longest touchdown pass of Ehlinger’s career and the longest offensive touchdown by a Longhorns player since 2016. With that reception, Duvernay became the third player in school history to catch 100 passes in a single season.
Eight Texas players caught passes for the Longhorns, including freshman tight end Jared Wiley, who made his first career reception after taking over the starting tight end role from sophomore Reese Leitao. Two other freshmen contributed at wide receiver — Jake Smith had three catches for 51 yards and a touchdown and Marcus Washington had a 16-yard catch that featured numerous broken tackles.
On the ground, freshman running back Roschon Johnson led the way, recording the first multi-touchdown game of his career by finding the end zone three times. He had 23 carries, his career high, and went over 100 rushing yards for the second time. Sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram only carried the ball twice in the first quarter and then did not return after aggravating the ankle injury he suffered last week against Baylor.
The contributions from the young players sets Texas up well once the offseason arrives, Johnson believes.
“Especially just rallying everybody together,” Johnson said. “For the freshmen who did play, the young guys, to get this experience as a whole is going to give us a lot of momentum and good leadership heading into the offseason.
From the late first quarter to early in the fourth quarter, Texas scored touchdowns on six of its seven possessions on the way to 610 yards of total offense on eight yards per play. The Longhorns scored five touchdowns on five trips to the red zone and possessed the ball for more than nine minutes longer than the visiting team.
“Really goes to show what we can do when we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot,” Johnson said. “Just take it play by play and take advantage of opportunities that we get.”
Texas opened the game in 12 personnel and then hit a run-pass option to Duvernay that Herman credited for getting Texas Tech out of the dime look dropping players into coverage that frustrated the Longhorns in the two previous games. Once that happened, Texas was able to open up the offense to take more risks and create big plays.
Sticking with the running game helped, too, as Texas 262 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on 5.5 yards per carry.
One of the biggest differences in the game was the ability of the Longhorns defense to come up with stops, especially in and around the red zone — the Red Raiders only scored touchdowns on two of the five trips inside the Texas 20-yard line, turning the ball over on downs twice and settling for a field goal.
Junior defensive end Marqez Bimage turned in his best performance in a Longhorns uniform, recovering a fumble in the first half when Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey fumbled a wet football, forced a fumble in the second half, and recorded his first sack of the season. In his final game on the Forty Acres, senior defensive end Malcolm Roach had a sack and another tackle for loss.
Four sacks tied the season high set against LSU as the defensive line turned in arguably its best performance of the season.
“I thought they were really disruptive. They didn’t attempt very many run plays, but we held them to 71 yards rushing, which is indicative of the disruption that the D-line was having,” Herman said of the defensive line.
“To leave a game with four sacks when that had not happened around here in a while, I felt like just from watching on the sideline that those guys made a big, big impact on the game.”
So even though the Longhorns gave up 399 passing yards, Todd Orlando’s defense made the Red Raiders one dimensional — Texas Tech averaged three yards per carry and attempted only 24 rushes compared to 58 passes — and made key plays when necessary, aided by a simple game plan that allowed the defense to play fast.
The most impressive defensive stand came in the first half when Texas Tech got to the Texas 2-yard line and failed to score despite four opportunities. Freshman cornerback Kenyatta Watson II, who received the most extensive playing time of his young career, helped break up the pass on fourth down after the run defense made three consecutive stops.
In a game where Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells felt that he needed to be aggressive and score touchdowns, the Texas defense was able to take away short passes like slants and speed outs to force Jett Duffey to throw the ball farther down the field after going deep into his progressions.
In a recurring trend for Texas over recent weeks, head coach Tom Herman’s team found itself facing an early deficit.
For the eighth time in 12 games, the Longhorns gave up a score on the first drive, as the Red Raiders marched 80 yards on 11 plays to score a 13-yard touchdown from Jett Duffey to KeSean Carter. By the time Texas Tech scored on its second drive, the visiting team was averaging 8.6 yards per play.
Over the game’s final 59 minutes, however, the Red Raiders only scored 10 more points as the Longhorns recovered on both sides of the ball.
“I think the biggest thing is we, as a whole, the defense trusted the offense and the offense trusted the defense,” senior safety Brandon Jones said. “It was early, but we got all of our mistakes out early and had fun. I think we play our best ball when we’re just trusting each other and having fun.”
After a holding penalty to open the third drive, the Longhorns finally got moving offensively, as Ehlinger hit Malcolm Epps on a 36-yard jump ball down the sideline.
“That was huge,” Ehlinger said. “In the beginning they were doing a little bit of the same stuff [as previous opponents], dropping a lot of guys into coverage and that’s where you have to throw the ball in that cloud stuff. He did a great job of sitting in that whole and going up and getting the ball. He took a big hit, but he did a great job of keeping possession and coming down with it.”
A 13-yard scramble by Ehlinger and a 10-yard run by set up a 10-yard Ehlinger called run on third and short for a touchdown. Texas Tech blocked the point-after attempt, however.
The defense finally responded, forcing a three and out thanks to the second sack of the season by senior defensive end Malcolm Roach.
The Texas offense continued to find its rhythm, scoring on a three-yard touchdown run by junior Daniel Young after a 33-yard catch by Duvernay and tied the game when he caught the two-point conversion
Defensively, sophomore safety Caden Sterns had to leave the game for a second time after taking a helmet to his side by redshirt freshman linebacker Ayodele Adeoye that resulted in a rib injury. On the play, Sterns allowed a 52-yard completion down to the Texas 2-yard line that set up the goal-line stand.
When Texas couldn’t pick a first down, Texas Tech got the ball at the 24-yard line following a kick-catch interference penalty and capitalized two plays later when Duffey delivered a perfect strike to Carter for a 24-yard touchdown against excellent coverage from sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, who did everything but break up the pass. With more than 38 minutes remaining in the game, it was the final touchdown for the Red Raiders.
Once again, the Longhorns responded, as Ehlinger found Duvernay for a 75-yard touchdown catch on a perfectly-delivered pass.
When the defense forced another three and out, the Longhorns offense made the Red Raiders pay with a grinding 13-play, 74-yard drive highlighted by an 18-yard run by Ehlinger that set up a one-yard touchdown run by Johnson.
To start the second half, the Longhorns defense bent, allowing two third-down conversions and a fourth-down conversion before the Red Raiders made the odd decision of throwing to throw for the end zone on 4th and 4 from the 18-yard line. The ball fell incomplete against good coverage from junior safety Chris Brown.
Another long pass to Duvernay, this one for 35 yards on 3rd and 7, helped set up a trick play from the Wildcat formation that featured Ehlinger getting the ball on the reverse. He eventually threw it away after failing to hit Johnson running open down the field. The mistake didn’t ultimately matter, though, as Ehlinger put a perfectly-placed ball on the hands of Smith in the end zone from 26 yards out.
After Texas Tech was forced to settle for a field goal in the red zone, Texas went on an efficient nine-play, 74-yard drive heavy on contributions from freshmen. Tight end Jared Wiley made his first career catch, Smith had another catch, and Johnson gained 26 yards, including the final yard for his second touchdown of the game.
The defense then got another fourth-down stop, the third of the game, but the stretch of high-level offensive play ended with a three and out — Texas had scored on six of its previous seven possessions. In response, the Longhorns got off the field quickly thanks to a sack by junior defensive end Ta’Quon Graham.
With the win, Texas has some momentum heading into the bowl game with a chance to generate more positive feelings.
“I feel great,” Johnson said when asked about the program’s overall direction. “I know the culture that Coach Herman has instilled within this program and I know that with the young guys getting the experience that they have, we’re heading in the right direction because we have a lot of guys maturing on this team.”
Herman echoed a similar sentiment when he was asked what message this game sends to Longhorn Nation following four losses in the previous five games.
“That we’re going to be okay,” Herman said. “Things are still headed in the right direction. Obviously, we’re not happy with the totality fo the season. The kids are fighting. We’ve got a lot of young, talented players that will be able to have another year, some of them their first year, under their belt to develop and fill some of these really big shoes that these seniors will leave.
“The future is very, very bright. But we’re not oblivious to the fact that we’ve got to evaluate what needs to be fixed and fix it. Again, now is not the time to dwell on that. Now is the time to celebrate these seniors going out on top on their Senior Day here at DKR.”