Texas-Oklahoma Delivers An Instant Classic and Shakes Up Big 12 Landscape

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Rarely does three hours and 36 minutes of a classic rivalry game played next to a state fair in a historical venue conflict with the space-time continuum.

Texas 48, Oklahoma 45 was far from the outcome expected. Certainly, the Longhorns have improved and are the best they’ve been this decade. The Red River Rivalry always provides plenty of juice to lift underdogs. What transpired as No. 19 UT stunned No. 7 OU created a classic that will forever be considered one of the classics in the series.

Games create their own narrative. This one, as we reach the mid-point of the season, offered several options to chronicle what happened and why it matters.

  • The knee-jerk reaction, no doubt one of the most popular, is that Oklahoma’s lack of a serviceable defense has put the Big 12’s College Football Playoff chances in an ICU. West Virginia is the conference’s only undefeated team. Plus, for the second consecutive season, OU will need to win out to finish 12-1 and rate any consideration from the playoff committee.

  • The micro view is that Texas now has a five-game winning streak and is in position to make a run at the Big 12 title. The Longhorns needed a clutch 40-yard field from freshman Cameron Dicker after blowing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead but there was nothing fluky about the victory. Texas outplayed Oklahoma. If Texas isn’t back, it’s closer than it’s been in a decade.

  • The macro view is that even though the Longhorns might have peed in the Big 12’s CFP punch bowl, this is what the conference needs is these two heavyweight programs being significant in the national picture. Second-year coaches Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman are now 1-1 against each other. Barring either of them leaving for another job, the prospects are bright they’ll match strategy and tactics for at least a decade.

Red River resolve

Texas has blown more fourth-quarter leads over the last two seasons than any FBS team. Technically, it happened again but the Longhorns’ final offensive possession resulted in a nine-play, 52-yard drive. Dicker has resolved the kicking issues that has plagued UT. And, as Herman noted after the game, the operation was all-rookie – snapper Justin Mader to holder Ryan Bujcevski to Dicker the kicker.

A week ago, in Manhattan, the Longhorns held on after building a 19-0 lead to beat Kansas State, 19-14. It was the type of game Texas lost each of the last four seasons. However, the Longhorns displayed mental toughness against Oklahoma.

With the game tied at 10 in the second quarter, UT had a solid drive going into Sooners’ territory that was thrown into reverse by a holding penalty on first down. On third-and-20, Sam Ehlinger found tight end Andrew Beck for an 18-yard gain. The Longhorns converted on fourth-and-two and then scored on an Ehlinger-Trey Watson circle route TD pass.

On the Longhorns’ first drive of the second half, a sack by the Sooners set up third-and-21. UT’s Lil’Jordan Humphrey – who played big with seven receptions for 119 yards and also threw a 2-yard TD pass – took a short reception and moved the pile at least 10 yards to set up fourth-and-two at the OU 27. Ehlinger converted with a 7-yard run before scoring to push the lead to 31-17.

What’s different?

Texas had a 75-58 edge in plays, rolled up 501 yards in total offense, averaged 4.7 yards per rush and allowed just one sack. New offensive line coach Herb Hand has helped make a difference with a unit that last year couldn’t move a tray table. Coming into the game, the Longhorns were 101st nationally with 3.7 yards per running attempt.

The ability to get a push in the trenches has helped balance the offense and against OU provided Ehlinger with a clean pocket that helped him complete 24 of 35 for 314 yards.

Another factor that was missing last season was production from the tight end spot. Beck, a 6-4, 260-pound senior who missed last season with an injury, has helped with blocking and receiving. He had three catches for 29 yards against OU. On Ehlinger’s first TD run that gave Texas a 24-10 lead, Beck went in motion and set the edge with a block to give his quarterback a running lane.

Losing in his home state

Kyler Murray, who thanks to his contract with the Oakland A’s, is likely playing his only season as Oklahoma’s starter, as the starting quarterback at Allen High school (located just under an hour north of the Cotton Bowl), never lost a game and won three state championships in the state’s biggest classification.

In the first five games, he had established himself as a candidate to do what his predecessor did – win the Heisman Trophy. Murray had 420 yards in total offense and passed for 304 yards in four TDs. But an interception and a fumble led to 10 Texas points.

After Murray connected with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown for a 77-yard touchdown pass to counter UT’s touchdown on its first second-half possession, OU’s defense came up with a rare three-and-out. With a chance to drive and forge a tie, Murray was pressured in the pocket. He fumbled, Texas recovered, leading to a TD to restore a 14-point lead.

Murray’s fumble recalled a similar play 20 years ago that helped Tennessee post a miracle victory at Arkansas that helped the Volunteers march to the national championship.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWl3cg-gdD8

O Brother where art thou?

Ever since Georgia gashed and slashed Oklahoma in last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops has found himself on the most hated list for OU fans. In his second season without older brother Bob as his boss, the heat of a thousand suns are now focused on the man who “coordinates” the Sooners’ “defense.”

According to reporters at the Cotton Bowl, Stoops didn’t shirk his responsibilities. He answered questions for 15 minutes and didn’t lose his temper.

“I’m extremely disappointed in my inability to get this team to play at a higher level,” he said. “It takes everybody pulling the same way, and certainly I take a lot of that responsibility … I thought they played more physical than we did today… That’s an area we obviously need to get better in – just our physicality across the board.”

Oklahoma is allowing 421 yards and 27 points per game. Opponents are 21-for-21 in red zone trips. Despite having the nation’s most-explosive offensive attacks, the Sooners’ inability to even slightly impede opponents. With OU not playing until Oct. 20 at TCU, there will be lots of speculation if Riley will make a coaching change.

That’s entertainment

While Oklahoma fans are angry because of losing to the hated Longhorns plus seeing the Sooners’ CFP chances in dire straits, watching OU as a generic fan is as entertaining as a lifetime password for Netflix.

With Riley’s offensive game planning and play calling combined with Murray and the Sooners’ speedy skill guys makes the offense a big play waiting to happen. And don’t blink.

To forge a 45-all tie in a game that appeared over heading into the fourth quarter, Oklahoma scored three touchdowns in 5:57. The Sooners’ last four scoring drives took 1:11, 2:00, 0:11 and 1:05 with two of the touchdowns covering 77 and 67 yards.

As Curly Bill Brocius would say …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0BTdo6qGwo

Quick slants

  • Texas is 10-1 when leading at halftime under Herman. For you guys who bet the monthly house payments, he’s also 12-1 against the spread with nine outright wins as an underdog.
  • Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford was the last quarterback to account for five touchdowns in the series. Ehlinger and Murray each accounted for five TDs. Ehlinger had three rushing and two passing; Murray had four passing and one rushing.
  • In two games against Oklahoma, Austin-native Ehlinger has 592 passing yards, 765 total yards and has accounted for seven TDs vs. Oklahoma. He hasn’t thrown an interception during the team’s five-game winning streak and his first-half quarterback efficiency rating of 223.53. Ehlinger’s 163 consecutive passes without an interception breaks the school record of 156 set by Major Applewhite.
  • Murray was making his first start in this rivalry. Since 1990, only two quarterbacks – Justin Fuente in 1996 and Sam Bradford in 2007 (both from OU) – won as starters against experienced UT QBs.
  • In the 113th game of the series, Texas’ winning total was the most the Longhorns has scored.