clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

For Texas to truly be BACK, it’s gotta play like that against BAD teams too

New, comments

Texas frequently looked spectacular in beating Oklahoma for the first time in three years. Great. Now look the part as a favorite, too.

Oklahoma v Texas Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

On a steamy day in Dallas, Texas recorded the biggest win of the Tom Herman era, taking down three-time defending Big 12 champion and touchdown favorite Oklahoma, 48-45, and firmly inserting itself into the race for its first conference title since 2009.

The Longhorns did it with brawn. Oklahoma had the overall speed advantage, as personified by receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown (nine catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns) and quarterback Kyler Murray (307 passing yards, plus a gorgeous 67-yard touchdown scamper). But Texas was just bigger.

Receivers Collin Johnson (6’6, 220) and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (6’4, 225) combined for 15 catches, 214 yards, and two touchdown catches; Humphrey even completed two passes for good measure, one for a score.

The Horns were able to ride the running game with great effect, too. Freshman Keontay Ingram rushed 13 times for 86 yards (6.6 per carry), and quarterback Sam Ehlinger thrived in power situations and finished with touchdown runs of nine, five, and two yards.

It wasn’t easy, of course. Shaking a monkey off your back rarely is. Once up three touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the Longhorns proceeded to lose their damn minds.

Oklahoma made it a 45-31 game with a 15-yard pass from Murray to Lee Morris. After a shanked punt, Murray raced for the 67-yard score. Up just seven with five minutes left, the Longhorns proceeded to throw the ball three consecutive times and go three-and-out. That left OU with plenty of time to tie the game, but they did so too quickly. Trey Sermon scored to make it 45-45 with 2:38 left.

And then Texas relaxed again. Johnson drew a pass interference penalty on a bomb down the left sideline, then Devin Duvernay caught an 18-yarder into OU territory. Ehlinger converted a short-yardage third down, and freshman Cameron Dicker nailed a 40-yard field goal with four seconds left.

This is indeed a huge win for the Horns and a statement that they truly appear to be figuring out how to use their athleticism and potential to great effect. It’s about damn time.

It wasn’t all that surprising, though — Herman teams always play well as underdogs. The key to a Big 12 title run will be how well they play as favorites.

Herman’s record is quite mixed in that regard.

When Herman was head coach at Houston in 2015-16, the Cougars went 22-4, beating six ranked teams (including No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 3 Louisville in 2016) but losing to UConn as a 10-point favorite, Navy as a 17-point favorite, and SMU as a 22-point favorite.

UH won all five games in which it was an underdog, overachieving by 24.6 points per game versus the spread; all five of the Coogs’ losses came as favorites.

In his first season and a half at Texas, the trend has continued. The Longhorns were underdogs in six games, won two outright (versus West Virginia and Missouri), and losing by five or fewer points to Big 12 champion Oklahoma, Pac-12 champion USC, and 10-win Oklahoma State.

They also lost to Maryland as an 18-point favorite and to Texas Tech as a 10-point favorite. And then they began 2018 by again losing to Maryland (this time as a 13.5-point favorite) and by defeating Tulsa by merely seven as a 22.5-point favorite. Last week in Manhattan, as an 8.5-point favorite, they nearly blew a 19-point halftime lead, holding on to win by five.

Oh yeah, and they have now beaten USC, TCU, and the Sooners. They had lost four games in a row to TCU by an average score of 38-8, and they had long since ceded control of the conference to the rivals in Norman. For now, both of those monkeys are off of Texas’ back.

That’s all well and good. But now comes maybe an even bigger challenge: figuring out how to bottle this performance up and use it as favorites too.

Because when you win enough, your underdog opportunities begin to become a lot less frequent.

Based on last week’s S&P+ ratings — which will likely be a lot more favorable for the Horns once updated on Sunday — Texas was a projected favorite in upcoming games against Baylor (by 9.2 points) in Week 7, and Iowa State (6.7 points) and Kansas at the end of the season. Once numbers are updated, the Horns should be favorites against Texas Tech as well.

Games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia could still fall in the underdog category, but if the Horns are to actually prove they are Texas again, they will handle their business in the lesser games. Win as favorites and split against OSU and WVU, and you’re playing for the conference title.

They say that in college football, you coach a different team every week. For Herman, that’s not quite true — his two teams simply have two personas.

And now it’s time for his Horns to figure out how to play against the Baylors of the world the way they’ve played against the Oklahomas.