This was a perfect example of why any and all “Texas is back” discussion was premature, even as Texas rose to No. 6 in the nation. The Longhorns are inconsistent. They come out sloppy in games they’re supposed to win, and look strong in games in which they are the underdog.
Those are the type of flaws that leave you off your game and looking for a fight in the final seconds of a kneel-down situation on the road at a conference rival, as team captain defensive end Breckyn Hager and head coach Tom Herman were in Stillwater. And on Saturday, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy preyed on those flaws as the Cowboys upset sixth-ranked Texas 38–35 with a fast start and a fiery finish.
Oklahoma State dictated the pace from the start, scoring points on five of seven first half possessions. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius threw three touchdown passes and ran for two more scores, the last coming with 5:44 remaining to give the Cowboys a 38–28 cushion while the Longhorns were in the midst of a second half comeback. Oklahoma State led 31–14 at halftime, but Texas cut the deficit to three points in the final minutes.
Despite the Longhorns’ second half effort, which briefly elicited memories of some of the program’s all-time greatest massive comebacks against Oklahoma State during the Vince Young era, they couldn’t finish this one. Texas has now lost to Oklahoma State four consecutive years, and the Cowboys have snapped a disconcerting two-game losing streak in style.
Texas simply couldn’t keep up with Oklahoma State. It couldn’t stop receiver Tylan Wallace, who had 10 catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Coordinator Todd Orlando’s defense allowed eight plays of 20 yards or more and two touchdowns on fourth down. Cornelius was surprisingly lethal as a runner in the fourth quarter, his third-and-goal touchdown ultimately being the dagger.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger, back from a shoulder injury that forced Shane Buechele into action against Baylor, was a bright spot for the visitors. He portrayed confidence—he could be seen saying “We’re going to win” on the broadcast before the fourth quarter—and finished 22-of-42 for 283 yards with two passing touchdowns and two rushing scores. After the late Cornelius touchdown, Ehlinger led the Longhorns on a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a touchdown on third-and-goal to whittle the margin down to three points with 1:46 to play. Oklahoma State recovered the onside kick though and ran out the clock to preserve the victory.
Texas has been a mysterious team. It has looked mediocre in games it was supposed to win big (Maryland, Kansas State and Baylor) and top-10-worthy in the marquee games on its schedule (TCU, USC and Oklahoma). Oklahoma State is one of those perennially tricky places to play—especially at night, especially for Texas—and the program is all too comfortable in that underdog role. After beating Oklahoma, the Longhorns shot straight into the top 10 and have been there ever since. They won’t be there anymore once the first College Football Playoff ranking of the season is released Tuesday.
This doesn’t mean Texas can’t still win the Big 12. Heading into this matchup, Texas was the only remaining undefeated team in conference play. If the Longhorns win the rest of their games against West Virginia (next Saturday), Texas Tech, Iowa State and Kansas, they could still play for a conference championship. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia still have to all play each other, so there could be more upsets to come. But with two losses (remember that season opener vs. Maryland?) Texas’s playoff hopes are essentially over. It didn’t have to be this way, but that’s what happens when you’re inconsistent.