If even after a game the losing coach called “one of the epic ones” it remains too early to proclaim Texas is back — a punch line to critics; a nonstarter even with true believers — it’s safe to say the Longhorns are in the neighborhood.
Texas still has much to do before it wakes up Darrell Royal, no matter how impressive its 48-45, last-minute win over Oklahoma before 92,300 at the Cotton Bowl.
But the 19th-ranked Longhorns have elevated themselves into the national conversation for the first time in too long.
And as far as entertainment goes, Saturday was as good as it gets.
“One of those you can talk about for years and years and years,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said.
Added Texas’ Breckyn Hager, “We just did something historical.”
Even for Hager, whose trail of hyperbole runs as long as his golden locks, it was no exaggeration. The 48 points were the most the Longhorns have scored against the Sooners.
And then there’s this: Texas’ 5-1 record is its best after the State Fair since 2009, a season that ended in the Rose Bowl.
Before getting to Texas’ prospects, though, let’s take another look at how a great game ended. The seventh-ranked Sooners, who lost only their second Big 12 game since 2015, seemed pretty much done with five minutes left and Texas up by 14. Kyler Murray subsequently reminded us how he was able to lead Allen to three straight state titles back in the day.
First he squirted out of the pocket on first down, took a left and whooshed 67 yards down the Sooners sideline for one touchdown, then guided Oklahoma 57 yards for another to tie it with 2:38 left.
Fourteen points in four plays. Murray’s incredible rate of production looked like it might make up for two turnovers — an interception and a fumble — that had led to 10 Texas points. Except Sam Ehlinger rose to the challenge, as had been his habit all afternoon.
On a day he ran for three touchdowns and threw for a pair, he finished it off by getting freshman Cameron Dicker close enough for a 40-yard field goal with nine seconds left.
As you might imagine, both winning and losing a game as big as this one, in a setting so historic and a rivalry so heated, ratchets up emotions. Murray flared at Ehlinger after the Texas quarterback’s good-natured greeting after the game. In his defense, Murray, 42-0 at Allen, isn’t used to losing. At the news conference afterward, he paused to collect himself while talking about his turnovers. He called them the difference in the game.
Riley, off to a brilliant start in his brief coaching career, isn’t accustomed to this sort of thing, either. He curtly declined to describe exactly what it was the Sooners were trying to do in the final nine frantic seconds.
Asked if he thought Texas’ win made the Longhorns relevant, Riley started to say one win doesn’t do as much for anybody, then thought better of it.
“That’s their program,” he said. “We’ve been nationally relevant for a long time, and we plan on keeping it that way.”
Mike Stoops might want to clean up a few things on defense to maintain that level of success, not to mention keep his job. Just the same, how much will this loss hurt? Maybe not much. As Riley noted, they’ve bounced back from big losses before. A College Football Playoff berth probably isn’t out of reach because of a last-minute loss to Texas.
Especially not the way this Texas team is playing. For the first time since the glory days of Vince Young and Colt McCoy, Texas not only looked like it could beat a legitimate top-10 team, it looked like it might be the better team.
Can the Longhorns sustain it this time?
“We’re not good enough to not play our best and win,” Tom Herman said. “We’ve gotta bring it each and every week.”
True enough. You could envision a pratfall against Baylor or Oklahoma State or Texas Tech or Iowa State. The Nov. 3 game against West Virginia in Austin may loom as the most important for Texas in years, but the Longhorns can’t get ahead of themselves. They remember the opening loss to Maryland.
“I’m glad we lost that game,” Hager declared.
A Breckyn Hager culture primer: Son of Britt, one of Texas’ all-time greats, Breckyn is different. Also spiritual. A senior defensive end, he’s refused to cut his hair until Texas wins the Big 12.
“God told me we were gonna win this game,” he said. “God told me I was gonna get a haircut.”
While I can’t vouch for Hager’s celestial gab, he might have something about the Maryland loss. At the team meeting the next day, Herman said, there was no finger-pointing, but a few things got settled. The gist of it was that one game wouldn’t define them, but their response would.
Five straight wins later, Texas looks different. Asked if the Longhorns are back, Herman demurred, saying he would “tread lightly on this one.”
Hager apparently got the message about the question, too.
“Woooooooo,” he said. “You guys … The only thing that’s back …
“We’re going back to prepare for Baylor.”
Texas just might have its mind right at that.
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