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Texas survives at Texas Tech: Charlie Strong’s team might be learning

Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire

For a team that has been as desperate for victories as Texas, the Longhorns treated a certain victory as a wine connoisseur treats a bottle from the local convenience store.

Fox Sports 1 play-by-play man Tim Brando declared “game over” with 4:01 remaining when Texas Tech came up short on a fourth-and-one and trailing by eight points. He broke a cardinal rule — the game wasn’t over until Kris Boyd intercepted Patrick Mahomes’ pass in the end zone with nine seconds remaining.

Texas dodged the flying tortillas and overcame too many self-inflicted mistakes to hold off the Red Raiders, 45-37, Saturday. The Longhorns (5-4 overall, 3-3 in the Big 12) have won three of their last four and are home against West Virginia next Saturday.

“This is a big road win for us and we talked about it all week, just finishing,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “And you look at this team and you just look at just how resilient they are and how they continue to just battle. And even though things may go against them, they continue to just – someone steps up and makes a play.”

November 5, 2016: University of Texas running back D'Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball downfield for a touchdown during the Texas Tech University Red Raider's 45-37 loss to the University of Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX. (Photo by Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire)

November 5, 2016: University of Texas running back D’Onta Foreman (33) carries the ball downfield for a touchdown during the Texas Tech University Red Raider’s 45-37 loss to the University of Texas Longhorns at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, TX. (Photo by Sam Grenadier/Icon Sportswire)

Texas junior running back D’Onta Foreman had 341 yards on 33 carries – both career highs. His rushing total was the third-highest in a game in school history and he had scoring runs of 4, 38 and 74 yards. But his deployment in the fourth quarter led to the kind of head scratching that causes baldness.

After stopping Texas Tech twice in the fourth quarter leading by the final margin, Texas had one possession that lasted 37 seconds and a second that was a four-and-out. Tyrone Swoopes’ 18 Wheeler package was stuffed on third and two and fourth and one.

“I told them we have two downs to get the first down,” Strong said. “I said, hey, defense, it’s good — I kind of wanted the game to fall on the defense’s hands there at the end, because it’s just a confidence builder for them, to go out and make a stop. And I said, hey, you know what, guys? This is exactly the way we want it. Now, we have been playing well all game, now let’s go finish the game.”

Foreman’s absence with the potential to close out the game with the ball instead of on defense was curious at best. He was the first player since Hodges Mitchell in 2000 with back-to-back 200-yard rushing games.

“I didn’t know until after the game, before I did the field interview, and Coach Strong said 341,” said Foreman, who threw a shoe at the line of scrimmage on his 74-yard scoring run. “And I was like shocked. I was like, wow, I had that many yards? He was like, yeah.

“With the O line that we had, I don’t think (anybody could stop me today). They opened up a lot of holes for me.”

Since Strong took over as the team’s defensive coordinator, Texas has held its last four opponents 10 points below their season scoring averages. In addition to the victory-clinching turnover, the defense showed remarkable in-game improvement.

The Red Raiders’ Patrick Mahomes completed 15 of 18 passes for 178 yards. That’s an Oklahoma pace – 712 yards. Mahomes, though, finished with “only” 367 passing yards. He was averaging 440 yards passing per game.

“We just hit a lull and never came out of it,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said.

“I thought Pat probably tried to do too much, At times we didn’t protect well, and at times Pat may have gotten out of the pocket a little bit early. We’ve got to execute better at wide receiver, gotta run better routes, gotta be more accurate as a thrower. To me it looked like it was a combination of all those things today.”

Prior to getting into position to be able to have its play calling questioned, Texas kept tripping like its shoelaces were tied in knots.

  • Sophomore receiver Jerrod Heard dropped a deep pass on second and nine late in the first quarter that would have probably been a touchdown.
  • A chop block called on senior lineman Kent Perkins wiped out a Tyrone Swoopes touchdown pass to a wide open tight end Caleb Bluiett.
  • Pushed back on that possession and facing a third and goal from the 24, Foreman bull-rushed his way to the goal line, but in the scrum he had the ball stripped away. Texas Tech freshman defensive back Douglas Coleman went 100 yards with the fumble return (even though the officials missed him stepping out at the Texas 2). The Longhorns had driven 99 yards but the possession resulted in a 14-point swing.
  • Leading 45-30 early in the third quarter and seemingly in control after sacking Mahomes on a fourth-down play, freshman running back Kyle Porter, subbing for Foreman, was fighting for extra yardage when he, too, was stripped. That led to the Red Raiders going 37 yards in three plays to make it 45-37.

Making those kinds of mistakes on the road is typically a recipe for a loss.

“We have been practicing a lot harder and getting on each other,” Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “I think that it’s, we always say we have those (mistakes) but I think a lot of guys are understanding that, when one messes up, we all got to fix it. And that’s been a huge part of getting this team back on track.”

For Texas under Strong, road games have been nightmares. The ability to rebound from those errors and preventing Mahomes and his mates from taking advantage might indicate Strong’s young players are starting to grasp one of football’s hardest lessons:

How to win.

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