As is almost always the case following a narrow loss, the Texas Longhorns will be able to look back on their 45-38 loss to the LSU Tigers and realize how close they were to topping the nation’s No. 6 team.
Texas enjoyed plenty of opportunities throughout the game that would have altered the outcome and likely shifted things in the Longhorns favors, but for that to come to fruition, the Horns had to take advantage of those opportunities.
On too many occasions, Texas failed to do exactly that.
On LSU’s opening drive, Texas forced the Tigers into a 3rd and 2 and Rover linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch had a chance to get the Horns off the field with what likely would have been a tackle for loss. Instead, LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire made McCulloch miss with a beautiful spin move to move the chains. But more notably, on the very next play, what could have been a punt instead became a 38-yard strike from Joe Burrow to Terrace Marshall Jr., who beat Kobe Boyce down the right sideline to put the Tigers into scoring position.
Four plays later, LSU put three points on the board; the first score of the evening.
On Texas’ ensuing drive, the Longhorns put themselves in position to capture the lead after marching more than 70 yards down the field. Faced with a 4th and Goal from the 2-yard line, the Texas offense remained on the field in a move that nearly paid off. But Ehlinger’s pass to a wide-open Keaontay Ingram was a bit high, and even then, Ingram got his hands on it but failed to come up with the catch. Thus, the Longhorns left seven points on the field.
Three plays later, though, the Texas offense came back out onto the field in scoring position courtesy of a Joseph Ossai interception, which set the Horns up with a 1st and Goal from the LSU 4-yard line. Texas had four chances to get four yards and failed to do so. Furthermore, after an Ehlinger rush that was initially ruled a touchdown was reversed, Texas was faced with a 3rd and Goal from the half-yard line. Two chances to gain half a yard. The first, an Ingram rush right up the middle, was stuffed for no gain, and the second, an Ehlinger rush to the right, was stopped for a two-yard loss.
For the second consecutive series, Texas left at least three and as many as seven points on the field. On each instance, Texas enjoyed two opportunities from inside the LSU 2-yard line and failed to find those two yards needed for touchdowns.
After Texas did finally find the end zone to capture a 7-3 lead, LSU marched down the field and set itself up inside the Longhorns’ 10-yard line. Faced with a 2nd and Goal from the 6-yard line, Burrow took a shot towards the end zone intended for Justin Jefferson, but it was thrown behind his target and safety Brandon Jones nearly came away with the diving interception. Jones was, of course, unable to secure the pick, and Burrow went right back to Jefferson on the following play for a touchdown to give LSU a 10-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
This marked the second instance of the evening in which the Texas defense was unable to capitalize and get off the field, and each instance ended with LSU putting points on the board moments later.
Following another LSU field goal later in the half, which gave the Tigers a 13-7 lead, Texas’ offense came back onto the field with 1:41 remaining before intermission and an opportunity to potentially steal the lead before the break. Three plays and a mere 18 seconds later, the Longhorns offense was back on the sidelines, which, following Ryan Bujcevski’s 55-yard punt, afforded LSU another scoring opportunity before the break.
LSU capitalized on the likely unexpected late opportunity, requiring only 26 seconds to chew up 55 yards and ultimately, add another seven points to their total to take a 20-7 lead into the locker room. The Texas defense, of course, didn’t do its part, but had the offense found even some semblance of a late rhythm with its opportunity to find some points before the half, or at least chewed up some clock instead of the 18 seconds its three-and-out ate away, LSU’s halftime lead almost certainly remains at six, 13-7.
Coming out of the break, the game became a back-and-forth offensive slugfest, with Texas scoring touchdowns on its first three offensive series before Cameron Dicker connected on a 47-yard field goal to cut LSU’s lead to 37-31 with 3:59 to play. Along the way, the defense, of course, continued to allow points, but it wasn’t really a case of missed opportunities, as opposed to poor execution and LSU simply doing the opposite and executing on offense.
But that changed on drive after Dicker’s kick.
After allowing a couple first downs, a Jones sack forced LSU into a 3rd and 17 situation — seemingly an ideal one for Texas to get the ball back — with 2:34 remaining on the clock. Burrow’s passing pocket collapsed, yet he made an acrobatic throw that found Jefferson, who shed a would-be tackle from Caden Sterns around the 34-yard line and scampered the rest of the way for a 61-yard touchdown, setting LSU up for a 45-31 lead with 2:27 remaining.
“Thank God. Thank God,” LSU coach Ed Orgeron said post-game of LSU’s 61-yard score on 3rd and 17 to essentially seal the Tigers’ win. “I knew when they get the ball back, we couldn’t stop them. Just to be honest, we couldn’t stop them. I think they’d have got the ball back I think it would have been a different story. It was a phenomenal call, a phenomenal catch, a phenomenal play.”
Orgeron was right, too — LSU couldn’t stop Texas.
Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ offense responded with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to cut LSU’s lead back to single digits, 45-38, which set up one final opportunity in the form of an onside kick. The kick, itself, was executed perfectly, and a diving effort allowed Collin Johnson to get his hands on the ball, but it was jarred loose when he hit the ground, giving the ball back to LSU.
Had Johnson recovered the ball, Texas would have taken control at LSU’s 47-yard line with 22 seconds and one timeout remaining.
All told, missed opportunities by the offense saw the Longhorns leave as many as 14 points on the field, and the defense’s inability to capitalize on opportunities to get off the field paved the way for 17 LSU points, with the final seven serving as a knockout blow, or sorts. And, as noted, the offense failing to make the most of a late second-half opportunity and quickly giving the ball back to LSU led to the Tigers adding another seven points.
In what ultimately ended as a mere seven-point loss, the Longhorns capitalizing on even a single one of the aforementioned missed opportunities could have easily meant that the night ended with Texas celebrating a 2-0 record with a statement win over the nation’s No. 6 team.
But Texas didn’t. That said, while that’s quite obviously less than ideal for the Longhorns, the fact that Texas nearly topped an elite team despite so many missed opportunities should serve as some encouragement and a building block going forward.
Texas safety Brandon Jones said, "Being so close hurts. We had a lot of chances to win that game."— Kirk Bohls (@kbohls) September 8, 2019