SAN ANTONIO, Texas — No, this wasn’t the Sugar Bowl. No, Texas isn’t back.
But following a 7-5 regular season finish — nothing short of a disappointment following Texas’ 10-win display in 2019 — this one matters.
In a sense, the Texas Longhorns salvaged their entire season, even if only perhaps the perception surrounding it, with an imposing 38-10 Alamo Bowl win over the No. 11 Utah Utes to cap the season and the year.
Texas didn’t simply end the season on a high note, either.
Yet again pitted against a program that owned legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations up until their conference championship game, the Longhorns completely overwhelmed and outclassed a Utes squad that was ranked as high as No. 5 nationally just weeks ago and sat at No. 11 nationally entering the Alamo Bowl. Even with Utah missing a few impact contributors — namely in the defensive backfield — the Longhorns were projected as fairly significant underdogs, pegged to lose by a touchdown in what essentially served as a home game in San Antonio.
Nevertheless, it was Texas that took control from the opening kickoff and never relented. The fruits of those labors? The game was all but decided in Texas’ favor even before the final seconds of the third quarter ticked away, with the Horns owning a 24-3 cushion as fours were raised into the air, and that edge only expanded as the final minutes of the game wore away.
“We knew that we were going to have to play with a greater passion and a greater physicality than they did, and I’m really proud of our guys for accomplishing that,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said.
Any win would have sufficed, but a smothering showing over a playoff-caliber team? With the bitter taste of a regression and a 7-5 regular season finish still fairly fresh in their mouths, this kind of win in front of a predominantly burnt orange crowd has to taste sweet for a program that expected to end its season on a high note.
Of course, the note Texas expected to finish on was a higher one than any the Alamo Bowl can offer, but beating a ranked foe — Texas’ first of the season after going 0-4 — and finishing with their first winning streak since early October will matter inside the Texas locker room.
It will matter in the coming weeks as an 8-5 mark — remarkably still the program’s second-best effort since the Mack Brown era — behind back-to-back dominant wins translates to some much-needed momentum entering an ever-crucial year four of the Tom Herman era.
“I think it taught a lot of the young guys that when you play together, you play mistake-free and have fun, that our talent can take us pretty far,” junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger said of how big this win can be for the program. “And then once you add in mistake-free football, watch out.”