DALLAS – Maybe it’s only trivia, but it felt like a stat that captured a trend: Until Saturday, a Texas quarterback had not started consecutive games against Oklahoma since 2009. Sam Ehlinger, who started in 2017 and nearly led the Longhorns to an upset, did much more the second time around.
The sophomore engineered an offensive outburst that no one saw coming, including a game-winning drive in the final two minutes after the Sooners had rallied to tie the game from 21 points down in the fourth quarter.
Here are three takeaways from No. 20 Texas’ 48-45 victory against No. 5 Oklahoma:
– Texas is back? Nah, no one should say it yet. But it might be the biggest win for the Longhorns since the 2009 Big 12 championship game against Nebraska (right now, Bo Pelini is pounding a wall about that 1 second that got put back on the clock).
Of course, Texas beat Oklahoma in 2015, too – and then stumbled to a 3-3 finish and a losing record. But this feels different, in part because of how the Horns did it and in part because they’ve now won five consecutive games.
That loss to Maryland in the season opener only grows more inexplicable – but this team doesn’t resemble that team, at all. Sam Ehlinger was not flashy. But his tough running was effective, and on critical plays he found ways to get the football to big receivers, exploiting mismatches on Oklahoma’s smaller cornerbacks. Most important – and this is a change from 2017 and from the opener against Maryland – he played almost mistake-free football.
No one’s ready to say Texas is back, not yet. But it felt like a huge step forward for a program that has spent most of the last decade wandering in mediocrity.
– Oklahoma’s defense is officially a big problem. While a loss to Texas does not have to be debilitating to the Sooners’ Big 12 or Playoff hopes – see 2015, when they lost to Texas and got there – it’s how it happened that makes it hard to believe the Sooners have what it takes to get through the Big 12 unscathed the rest of the way.
Through the first five games, there were warning lights blinking, but there was still a thought the Sooners’ defense might be at least a little improved from 2017, when it was the anchor that derailed a bid for a national title. But Texas kept the Sooners off-balance in the first half, then gradually took control in the second. And keep in mind that the ‘Horns managed one offensive touchdown last week in a 19-14 win at Kansas State.
When the Sooners forced a three-and-out midway through the third quarter, it was the first time – not counting one play at the end of the first half – that Texas hadn’t scored. But Kyler Murray fumbled on the next play; Texas needed five plays to travel 23 yards for another touchdown. The Sooners could not get consistent pressure on Ehlinger. Their smaller cornerbacks struggled to cover Texas’ big receivers – and to tackle them, too.
– Oklahoma’s star turn by Kyler Murray hit a speed bump. Murray was occasionally spectacular – like he’d been in the first five games – but finally, the Sooners were reminded of one hugely important trait that Baker Mayfield possessed: the football. Along with all the nice throws, Mayfield rarely committed turnovers, especially in 2017.
Murray, meanwhile, committed two critical turnovers that turned into 10 Texas points. On a first-half interception in the first half, he didn’t appear to see a Texas safety playing center field. In the third quarter, he put the ball on the ground trying to hold himself up while scrambling – think Arkansas’ Clint Stoerner back in 1998 for a similar play.
Both turnovers radically changed momentum toward Texas. The second was game-changing; it came just after the Sooners had pulled within seven points and forced a defensive stop.
Murray is tremendous fun to watch, and he’s a potent weapon running and passing – see his 77-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown in the third quarter and electric 67-yard run for a score in the fourth quarter – but Saturday, his unforced errors also cost Oklahoma dearly.