In a week, the Texas Longhorns are playing for a Big 12 championship in a rematch against hated rival Oklahoma thanks to a 24-17 win at Kansas Friday that seemed to symbolize the highs and lows of the Longhorns’ entire season.
A key player was suspended (leading tackler Gary Johnson for a rule violation) — just as Texas experienced in losses to Maryland (Anthony Wheeler and Johnson for targeting) and Oklahoma State (starting corners Kris Boyd and Davante Davis out for the first quarter for rules violations).
Second-leading tackler Brandon Jones was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a head injury (after Jones missed time this season with an ankle injury, including UT’s loss to West Virginia).
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who started the season with two interceptions in a loss at Maryland, finished the regular season with two interceptions, ending his Big-12-record string of passes without an interception at 308.
A Texas defense that dominated for much of the game, gave up two huge plays for touchdowns in the fourth quarter — a 57-yard run and a 31-yard pass — that made things a little too interesting late in the game. (Reminiscent of the OU game and in losses to Oklahoma State and West Virginia.)
But the Longhorns’ motto to start the season was “develop and finish.”
“Really, really excited for this team and for our coaches,” Tom Herman said.
“We know we’re an unfinished product and have a lot of work to do, but we’re overachieving right now. And we’re not going there (to the Big 12 title game) just to play it. Our goal will be to be 1-and-0).
“Our guys know if we play our best, we can play with anyone in the country.”
For the first time since 1903, there will be a same-season rematch with hated rival Oklahoma, whom the Longhorns beat 48-45 in the Cotton Bowl in October on a last-minute drive to a Cameron Dicker field goal.
Jones will be evaluated for a concussion within 24 hours and put into protocol if, in fact, he has one.
Herman said Gary Johnson’s suspension for Kansas was “a one-game thing.”
Ehlinger finished 16 of 28 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions while running for a touchdown as well.
“We did enough to win,” Ehlinger said of Friday’s outcome in Lawrence, adding the offense left several opportunities on the field.
Ehlinger said the AC joint in his throwing shoulder was hit during the Kansas game and was “aggravated … but it wasn’t anything too limiting.”
The bottom line is Ehlinger has accounted for 34 touchdowns this season, just four shy of Vince Young’s 38 in 2005 and 11 shy of Colt McCoy’s 45 in 2009.
“We set out this goal at the beginning of the year, and to be able to accomplish that despite some ups and downs is incredible,” Ehlinger said.
Oklahoma’s only loss this season was to Texas.
When Bolton was told one of Texas’ captains (Breckyn Hager, who is one win away from the most meaningful haircut of his life) suggested last week that OU doesn’t play any defense, Bolton said:
“Blows my mind. We hung 50 (45) on them, too. If anyone on their defense has anything to say, they can have fun facing Kyler (Murray).”
Murray and Ehlinger had a moment after the game on Oct. 6.
Ehlinger went to Murray to tell him good game. And Murray seemed to take offense to it, especially when Ehlinger clapped his hand on top of Murray’s helmet.
Ehlinger told Murray, “I was saying good game. Have some respect.”
Murray told him to get out of his face.
Ehlinger responded, “Well, then take that ‘L’ (expletive).”
Nothing will replace the atmosphere of the Red River Shootout in the Cotton Bowl in October. Nothing. Ever.
Both teams will probably endure a little culture shock when they run out of the tunnel at Jerryworld next Saturday at 11 am CT and won’t find half the stadium burnt orange and the other half crimson.
But a Big 12 title will be on the line. The Sooners (11-1, 8-1) are going for a four-peat as Big 12 champs with outside hopes of getting into the College Football Playoff.
Texas (9-3, 7-2) is simply trying to go 1-0 this week.
If the Longhorns do, it might be time to talk about if this team has truly overachieved.
You knew when the Big 12 brought back its title game featuring the league’s top two finishers it was just a matter of time before we had a rematch of Texas and OU. So, here’s to a Red River Shootout II this season.
This time, it’s for a winner-take-all, Big 12 championship.