Fixing the Texas defense remains a work in progress. Now you can add “extra point protection” to the list of repairs. Heading into the Red River Rivalry with a 2-2 record, Charlie Strong’s name goes back on the hot seat because his team is helpless when the other team has the ball.
The 22nd-ranked Longhorns traveled to Stillwater Saturday for the Big 12 Conference opener and failed to pack defense and special teams. Oklahoma State avoided a 2-3 start with a 49-31 victory. The path to arrive at that final score will no doubt raise the anger of Orangebloods who aren’t convinced Strong is the answer.
ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported Saturday evening that a source told him that Strong will not be fired during the season. So UT fans who seek a quick axe apparently will have to wait at least until early December. So, the third-year coach might be facing a two-month referendum.
“You can’t play the way we played in the first half and expect to win a football game, especially in a tough environment like this,” Strong said. “We still have a lot of work to do, we still have a long way to go. We told our guys this isn’t enough.
“When you lose a game, it’s bad. When you have two weeks to prepare for it and you give up the throws they had … We had guys in position, but we didn’t finish.”
For the second time this season, Texas had an extra point blocked and returned for a 2-point conversion. Instead of rallying from a 14-0 deficit for a 14-all tie, UT trailed 16-13. The Cowboys followed that up by blocking the Longhorns’ next two extra points following TDs. Add a missed 46-yard field goal in the second quarter and Texas left eight points on the table and trailed 37-25 at halftime.
Granted, those eight points were meaningless considering Texas’s defense can’t tackle or cover statues. Two weeks ago, the Longhorns gave up 507 yards and 6.3 yards per play at Cal. Strong vowed to “fix it,” and the method was to play younger guys in the secondary.
Oklahoma State gained 555 yards and averaged 7.8 yards per play. The Longhorns did show improvement, though. They gave up 396 yards passing to the Golden Bears and limited the Cowboys to “just” 392 yards through the air.
Thus far this season, Texas has allowed 19 touchdowns. Those scores have averaged 24.6 yards in distance. Oklahoma State scored six TDs and those averaged 30.5 yards (and that included a 1-yard run).
“Gashed” is the best way to describe what Oklahoma State junior quarterback Mason Rudolph did to the Longhorns’ defense. That stat geeks define “explosive plays” as 12-yard runs and 20-yard completions. The Cowboys had four runs of 12 or more yards and eight pass plays of 20 or more yards. Oklahoma State had 17 plays that gained double-digit yardage.
The Longhorns also failed to force a turnover.
“You don’t get takeaways you have a difficult time of winning a ball game,” Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said.
“A couple times we sacked the quarterback. We should have been trying to get the ball back for the offense. We need to think about making plays. We missed five or six sacks in the first half.
“We need to cut down on giving up big plays.”
Mark that down as the understatement of the season thus far.
Even if the extra points had been successful, Texas still would have fallen 10 points short. The clown show named “PAT” created the kind of embarrassment fans of iconic programs despise. From a game standpoint, any momentum and confidence the Longhorns could have gained from their first-half effort disappeared thanks to what should be the easiest of placekicks.
Oklahoma State’s Vincent Taylor blasted through the middle of the Texas line to block the first extra point. He scooped up the loose ball and — before he was tackled — executed a lovely lateral to Tre Flowers, who completed the trip for a two-point try. In the season opener against Notre Dame, UT also had a PAT blocked and returned for two points.
“It’s funny, he flipped it just like those guys that played at OU in the ’70s and ’80s,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of Taylor’s toss. “He just tossed it right out there, thumb down, just like they taught us at Midwest City High School. He looked really good at it.”
Freshman Shane Buechele’s 39-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Andrew Beck made the score 25-23, Texas … because Taylor again broke through the middle to make it three consecutive PAT blocks for OSU. Lenzy Pipkins returned it 73 yards but was forced out of bounds to prevent a double play on defensive 2-point conversions.
“They were overloading the guards and they were pressing over,” Strong said. “What we needed to do is get all the way to the second guy instead of blocking the first. The first guy would pin the guard and the second guy would run through and he would step over the center.”
Just a question worth asking: Should Texas alter its 2-point chart for the following scenario/situation: “What to do when you’ve had three consecutive extra points blocked?”
The Longhorns rolled to a season-high 568 total yards with 329 coming on the ground. Buechele finished 21-of-33 for 239 yards, and his only interception led to Oklahoma State’s lone second-half TD. Poona Ford blocked the extra point, adding to the ironic comedy of extra point attempts at Boone Pickens Stadium.
For Texas, however, no one’s laughing. Especially the players; sophomore defensive end Breckyn Hager, who ran up the tunnel and skipped the traditional post-game singing of “The Eyes of Texas.”
“I feel like as a team we’re underachieving. That’s not right,” he said. “I’m not a loser. I don’t want to be a loser.”