That program-changing, double-overtime victory over Notre Dame was 35 days ago.
In a month Texas has squandered all of that momentum and goodwill. Since then, the only team the Longhorns have beaten is UTEP.
Texas lost its third consecutive game Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, as the Longhorns’ defense continued to get beat like a rented mule. Oklahoma, which continues to have the propensity to play like a champion and chump from quarter to quarter, put up 672 yards in total offense to claim the Golden Hat, 45-40. (For you numbers nerds, it was the highest-scoring Red River Rivalry in the 111th meeting.)
The outcome continues and extends what will be a season-long referendum on Texas coach Charlie Strong. He gained some cred last season when the Longhorns stunned the Sooners, but now his team is 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play. Running the table to finish 7-2 in conference play seems off the table, because this team is defenseless.
Asked how badly the team needed to beat Oklahoma, Strong was succinct: “Oh, I need ’em all.”
(And current, pertinent questions for Orangebloods: Is your love affair with Tom Herman still lava hot … do you want to trade a defensive-minded coach for an offensive genius … or would you rather Strong hire the defensive version of Sterlin Gilbert to coach up the talented but dysfunctional defense? We’ll keep writing and wait for your answers.)
Strong took over defensive play-calling duties from Vance Bedford this week. Trailing 14-13 at halftime and allowing 281 yards, the defense appeared to be improved, but UT is now 0-14 under Strong when trailing at halftime, and it was an avalanche of OU offense in the second half.
“Well, we lost the game so there wasn’t any improvement at all – we gave up 45 points,” said Strong, who typically is brutally honest.
The UT defensive numbers are ugly and incriminating.
- Texas is allowing an average of 477 yards per game and 6.3 yards per play. That doesn’t make the Longhorns the worst defense in FBS but they’re in the low-rent neighborhood.
- The 672 yards in total offense by Oklahoma was the fifth-most allowed in Texas history.
- Texas has given up 26 touchdowns; half of them have been 25 yards or longer.
- Of those 26 touchdowns, 15 have been by pass. Those have averaged 32.4 yards in length.
- In the last two losses to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, the Longhorns have allowed six touchdown passes of 54, 36, 52, 73, 42 and 47 yards. That’s an average of 52.6 yards.
And then there’s this: There’s little worse than being the supporting player when your rival sets school records.
Samaje Perine (214 yards on a career-high 35 carries), Baker Mayfield (390 yards on 22-of-31 passing) and Dede Westbrook (232 yards, two touchdowns on 10 receptions) marked the first time on OU history and just the fifth time in FBS history that a team had a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver.
Westbrook was astonishingly complimentary of the Texas secondary he left scorched beyond recognition.
“We’ve seen it on film that they are pretty good coverage guys,” said Westbrook, who in his last two games has 17 receptions for 390 yards and four TDs in his last two games. “The main thing was I was just going to have to go out there and compete with them. They didn’t really show much of anything on film except that they have good coverage.”
The Sooners pummeled the Texas defense with the blunt object of in concert with the surgical precision of Mayfield and Westbrook. Oklahoma scored with lightning (85 yards in four plays, 79 yards in three plays) and thunder 93 yards in 13 plays). Austin Siebert’s 39-yard, off-the-right-upright field goal for the Sooners’ last points capped a methodical 15-play, 60-yad drive. The Sooners were 8-of-14 on third down.
“I thought Baker’s ability to pick up some third downs was huge, and our ability to run the football was big,” said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, whose team gained 252 yards on the ground. “We had very few third and very long. It was third and manageable: 3, 4, 5, and those are a lot easier to pick up. Because we were able to run the football and were running effectively, we were in a lot of those situations and picking up first downs.”
Trying to figure out Texas is like staring into a fun-house mirror; nothing looks right. Since 2004, the team winning the turnover battle wins this rivalry game. UT had forced one turnover in four games. The Horns got four turnovers to OU’s two, OU but turned those four into just three points … and still put 40 on the scoreboard. Since 2004, the team winning the turnover battle wins this rivalry game.
A number of Texas players stood up in the locker room after the game to try and put a positive spin on the loss. Junior running back D’Onta Foreman, who finished with 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries but lost a fumble that set up a short OU scoring drive in the first quarter, was asked about Strong being criticized.
“At the end of the day, we’re the ones out there playing,” he said. “I feel like it’s unfair at times for Coach Strong to be criticized but we’re the ones out there playing. For four quarters, we didn’t make plays. If we make plays, it wouldn’t even matter. That’s the bottom line.”
For Saturday at least. The bottom line for Strong’s future at Texas will be calculated over the next two months.