All the talk of improvement from No. 22 Texas prior to its matchup with Oklahoma State proved to be just that on Saturday.
The Longhorns (2–2, 0–1 Big 12) fell 49-31 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as calls for improved communication and tackling failed to inspire a quality performance from the burnt orange.
“We’re underachieving,” sophomore defensive end Breckyn Hager said. “That’s what it is, we’re just underachieving. It’s Texas, we know that, we’ve got to prove it. ”
It was a sloppy performance for Texas, full of defensive lapses and special-teams miscues. Texas’ kicking game endured a stretch of deja vu with four missed field goals, including three blocked extra points. The Longhorns hadn’t experienced three blocked extra points in an entire season since 2006.
Texas failed to take the ball away from the Cowboys on the afternoon while allowing Oklahoma State to gain 555 yards. The Cowboys gashed the Longhorns with one big play after another, gaining 13 plays of over 15 yards.
“[If] You don’t get takeaways you have a difficult time of winning a ball game,” defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. “We need to think about making plays.”
Texas’ defensive struggles began on the game’s first drive, allowing freshman running back Justice Hill to sprint into the endzone from 30 yards out.
The Longhorns whiffed on numerous tackles during the opening possession, something stressed by Bedford before the contest. The secondary struggled to contain Oklahoma State’s receivers, while the defensive line failed to plug holes up front.
“You can’t play the way we played in the first half and expect to win a football game,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “It was just total [lack of] execution.”
Texas’ rushing attack kept the team close in the first half; the Longhorns rushed for 205 yards on 28 carries. Both junior D’Onta Foreman and sophomore Chris Warren pierced the Oklahoma State defense, each finishing with over 100 yards. Four of Texas’ five touchdowns on the day came on the ground.
But Texas’ defense failed to keep up with the Cowboys’ attack. Oklahoma State torched the Longhorns for 390 yards and 37 points in the first half as Texas’ defense offered little resistance. Junior quarterback Mason Rudolph, who registered three sacks on the evening, faced some pressure from the Texas front, but it was to little avail.
“[Rudolph] had to hold onto the ball today and make some plays,” Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “He’s got a lot of strength and he’s able to do well when he does scramble.”
The first half’s offensive fireworks faded in the third quarter. The Longhorns struggled to gain momentum against the Cowboys defense as freshman quarterback Shane Buechele threw an interception on the team’s second drive of the half.
Pinned deep in his own territory, Buechele threw an out-route into double coverage. Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns jumped the route, giving the Cowboys possession at the Longhorns’ one-yard line. Senior running back Barry Sanders Jr. punched it in two plays later to give Oklahoma State a 43-25 lead.
“It’s about growth with [Buechele],” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. “Some of those passes were tight for him with what they were doing on the back end.”
Texas responded with a 64-yard touchdown run from Foreman on the ensuing possession, but it was not without consequence. Foreman injured his ribs on his the play and later had to exit the game. With Warren leaving with a knee injury at halftime, freshman Kyle Porter was forced to shoulder the load.
“It affects you,” Gilbert said. “You lose those two guys and you lose their execution. You just have to change and adapt and adjust.”
Texas gave up a pair of field goals to extend Oklahoma State’s lead to 18 in the fourth quarter, where it would rest until the final buzzer. For the second straight week, the Longhorns lost on the road.
The momentum from Texas’ opening-week win over Notre Dame has now faded, ceding itself to the same questions surrounding Strong’s program that persisted for much of 2015. Now, the Longhorns must find answers before the season slips away.
“We have to put this aside and go take out [Oklahoma],” Hager said. “That’s what’s got to happen. We’ve got to turn around our season right now.”