Longhorns lose third straight game as defense falters against OU

Tyler Horka

DALLAS — Wide receiver Dede Westbrook sprinted toward the south end of the Cotton Bowl with the ball in his hands and Longhorn defenders behind him. Oklahoma fans clad in crimson rose to their feet as the senior crossed the end zone in the first quarter.

They did it again and again as Westbrook cruised by burnt-orange defenders on all three of his touchdowns en route to a record 232-yard day. His performance proved critical in the Sooners’ 45–40 win over Texas on Saturday afternoon.

“We’re just not finding a way to get our assignments and execute those,” senior safety Dylan Haines said. “Late in the game, [we] just [had] defensive breakdowns. We just let [Westbrook] run free. We knew who we had to stop. We just didn’t get that done.”

Despite the plethora of points, it didn’t come easy for Westbrook and the Oklahoma offense early on in this year’s Red River Showdown. Two of their first three drives ended in interceptions — the Longhorns’ first two interceptions of the season.

Haines picked off both of those passes, including a gift on the Sooners’ second drive of the game. Oklahoma’s redshirt sophomore receiver Mark Andrews appeared to reel in a first-down catch from redshirt junior quarterback Baker Mayfield, but the ball slipped right through his arms and into Haines’.

The Texas offense failed to capitalize with points, punting it away after a three-and-out. But Mayfield and Oklahoma gifted Texas yet again on their next drive. The Sooners’ quarterback lost sight of Haines in the secondary, and the Longhorns’ safety picked it off and rumbled 38 yards downfield inside the Oklahoma 20-yard line.

Once again, Texas faltered when given a chance to deliver a heavy first quarter blow. The Longhorns settled for a field goal to take a 3–0 lead, but it was their only score off four Oklahoma turnovers.

“It was really tight there in the beginning,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “Their defense was playing well, our defense was playing well.”

The Texas defense didn’t play well for long. Although the Longhorns only trailed 14–13 at halftime, they gave up 281 yards on defense in the first 30 minutes — and that number would only grow. Texas allowed Oklahoma to total nearly 400 yards in the second half alone, finishing the game with a whopping 672.

Strong, who took over the defensive play-calling duties this week, attributed most of those yards to fundamental lapses in which his players failed to make plays that they could have made. 

“You just got to look at it and just gotta keep coaching them,” Strong said. “[I told the team,] ’You guys are in position, just cover your guys. You know who you got, it’s just making sure [to] just lock down, don’t have a mental breakdown. Just stay on top of your guy.’”

His players agreed. Junior running back D’Onta Foreman, who totaled 159 yards and two touchdowns, said his team made too many mental mistakes. Foreman fumbled in the first quarter, leading directly to Oklahoma’s first touchdown.

“We’re not going to win like that,” Foreman said. “We get those things clean up, then I feel like we’ll be a really good football team.”

In the second half, sophomore cornerback Kris Boyd inexplicably stopped running with Westbrook as Mayfield launched a pass over Boyd’s head. Oklahoma scored two plays later.

Despite a lack of execution, Texas found itself with the ball and a chance to win the game with less than a minute remaining.

But it was too little too late as Texas’ drive ended in three plays. Strong’s team had its chance all afternoon as the Sooners piled up turnovers and mistakes.

And for the third straight week, it wasn’t enough.

“At the end of the day … we’re the ones out there playing,” Foreman said. “I feel like it’s unfair, at times, for coach Strong to be criticized. But we got to make plays. For four quarters, we didn’t make plays.”