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  • Is Texas back? You don't have to answer that—but what is clear is that these Longhorns have taken a step forward since their season-opening loss.
By Laken Litman
September 22, 2018

You don’t have to say Texas is “back.” But it’s O.K. to admit Tom Herman’s team is better after beating TCU 31–16 in Austin on Saturday, ending four years of frustration. The Horned Frogs were on a four-game winning streak against the Longhorns, outscoring them a staggering 153–33 heading into this matchup.

Now, the Longhorns are on their own winning streak—their first three-game winning streak since 2014, which includes convincing double-digit wins over top-25 teams in USC and now TCU. This one against the Horned Frogs is arguably more significant given the landscape of the Big 12 and power in the state of Texas. TCU is a league rival and has been a tough opponent under Gary Patterson, and Texas's win now sets up a much more exciting and interesting Big 12 race with the Red River Rivalry versus Oklahoma on Oct. 6.

Texas’s defense was dominant, and despite its middling ranking in the Big 12 (fifth in yards allowed per game with 359), it forced four turnovers and was strong on third down, limiting TCU to six conversions on 16 tries.

Momentum ultimately swung for the Longhorns during a 2:55-minute span late in the third quarter when two takeaways quickly turned into 14 points. It started when TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson, who frustrated Ohio State’s stingy defense last week, fumbled following a 16-yard run to his own 45-yard line. Texas recovered and scored eight plays later when quarterback Sam Ehlinger found Collin Johnson for a big-time, diving 31-yard touchdown to pull UT ahead 17–16. On the Frogs’ next possession, Robinson was intercepted by safety Caden Sterns. His electrifying return for a touchdown was called back after he stepped out of bounds at the 2-yard line, but Ehlinger ran the ball in for a score on the first play of the next possession.

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The Longhorns sealed the victory with a 10-play, 76-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter after TCU missed a 41-yard field goal.

“We’re different, we’re learning how to finish each week,” coach Tom Herman said on the broadcast after the game. “We took a big step last week and took another one this week. But we’re far from a finished product.”

Same goes for TCU (albeit in a different trajectory), whose self-inflicted wounds carried over from its loss to Ohio State last week. The Horned Frogs turned the ball over three times against the Buckeyes, which helped swing the game against them.

Texas has many areas in which it needs to improve—ideally, it hopes, before facing Kyler Murray and Oklahoma in two weeks. The offense was inefficient on third down, going just 5 of 15, and the running game wasn’t as productive, amassing just 112 yards. There were some bright spots, like forcing four takeaways and capitalizing on them, and Ehlinger’s growing confidence. The sophomore quarterback went 22 of 32 for 255 yards with two touchdowns.

It might be too early to declare Texas “back” or even a Big 12 contender, but this doesn’t quite look like the same team that slogged through a 34–29 loss versus Maryland to start the season.

“Belief,” Herman said on what’s changed within the team. “We never waiver, we stayed positive. We understood that first week wasn’t us. We coached really hard and the players responded to that coaching.”

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