For 33 minutes the Texas Longhorns’ offense was as efficient and as electrifying as coach Steve Sarkisian could have dreamed of.
For 27 minutes, the offense was about as impotent as he could have feared.
Such was the duality of the Longhorns’ offense in their Red River Showdown loss to Oklahoma on Saturday.
The Longhorns’ utter offensive explosion in the first half SHOULD have been the story. When, at one point you’re up 28-7, and you’re up 38-20 at halftime, that’s a lead that should hold up, right?
But, this is Oklahoma and this is one of college football’s true rivalries. Anything can happen. And it did.
On Saturday, as our Longhorns Country boss Matt Galatzan texted me near the end of the game, “everything is chaos.”
While Texas’ offensive numbers in full look impressive, including their 515 yards of total offense, the fact is the Longhorns lost the game in part because the offense was unable to approach, must less sustain, that incredible first half.
Sure, Xavier Worthy set a Texas freshman record for receiving yards in a game with 261 yards on nine catches. Yes, his touchdown receptions bookended the game for Texas — the 75-yarder that set off Texas’ impressive first half, and the 31-yarder that tied the game at 48-all. And, absolutely, it validated Sarkisian’s faith in Worthy after the true freshman caught just one pass — and dropped a few others — against TCU.
Casey Thompson looked every bit the quarterback Texas needs, throwing five touchdown passes on 388 yards passing. Aside from taking a couple of coverage sacks and overthrowing a few passes, he had another quality game.
Joshua Moore had his best receiving game since the last Red River Showdown, as he caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns, most of which came as Texas built that big halftime lead.
And, Heisman candidate running back Bijan Robinson? He rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown, and his 50-yard run to the Sooners one-yard line late in the first half was one of the marquee plays of the game (and this game had plenty of them).
By halftime, the Longhorns had 354 total yards on just 33 plays in 12 minutes and 32 seconds of time of possession. Given the opponent, this was probably Texas’ most impressive half of offense of the season.
And that last scoring drive? Thompson can work a two-minute drill, can’t he? Six plays, 60 yards, and a perfect touchdown pass to Worthy, who worked a crossing route into the open field and caught a perfectly-thrown pass on his back shoulder.
For those 33 minutes, Texas roped in 414 total yards and 45 points. There was little the Sooners could do to stop them.
But about those other 27 minutes, you know the ones from the start of the second half to about three minutes left in the game?
Yeah, we gotta talk about that, too.
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Sure, Oklahoma made adjustments on defense. The Sooners were more aggressive rushing Thompson. They cut off the cut-back lanes Robinson exploited in the first half. Worthy was, well, ‘worthy’ of more attention and the Sooners obliged. And, Texas’ defense sucked more wind as the half wore on, the result of the change-of-pace from Sooners starting quarterback Spencer Rattler to backup Caleb Williams, and the Sooners’ 81 total offense plays.
But, Texas’ offense bears some of the blame for this loss, too. While it would have been far too much to expect the Longhorns to be as efficient as they were in the first half, the Longhorns clearly could have been better.
The first drive of the second half resulted in minus-5 yards of offense and a punt. In fact, the Texas offense went three-and-out on three of its first four drives of the half and ended up with minus-16 total yards. The Sooners turned all of those changes of possession into points.
What if Texas extends one of those drives just one set of downs, maybe two? Would that have been enough to win?
Texas also failed to score touchdowns until that final drive of the game. Another second-half drive ended up with a field goal, and another drive ended on downs when the Longhorns, mysteriously, went for the end zone for the second straight play from the Sooners’ 25-yard line when they needed just 11 yards to move the chains and retain possession, down seven points.
Texas’ play-calling got less aggressive, too, a natural occurrence. But that doesn’t mean the Longhorns couldn’t execute the plays they were given, especially with Robinson’s presence in the backfield. Texas’ offensive line also bears some of the blame, too. Derek Kerstetter’s false start made that third down on the first drive of the second half that much harder. Junior Angilau’s hold on the next drive put Texas in a 1st-and-20 hole. Texas escaped, but the next set of downs ended with a field goal. Jake Majors had two false starts in the second half.
Was there plenty to build on off of Saturday? Absolutely. Thompson, Robinson and Worthy look like a set of ‘triplets’ can sustain Texas for the next couple of seasons. Sarkisian’s system, on balance, is a great fit for the athletes he has and the athletes he’s recruiting. The offensive line, despite those penalties, looks like a unit that can continue to grow.
Three of the highest-scoring Red River Showdowns have happened in the last four seasons. The Longhorns don’t have a problem scoring points in this game. They certainly didn’t have a problem scoring points on Saturday — at least in the first half.
And that’s the takeaway from Saturday’s game. You can have a valley like the one the Texas offense had on Saturday against teams like Rice and Texas Tech.
But you can’t have a valley like that against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl in early October.
Everyone in Austin hoped a win on Saturday would propel the Longhorns quickly to ‘the next step.’ Well, not just yet.
Texas has to smooth out the valleys first.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.
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