Big plays burn Longhorns once again

Michael Shapiro

Heading into Saturday’s matchup with No. 20 Oklahoma, head coach Charlie Strong stressed the need for the Longhorns to force turnovers. 

Texas had taken the ball away from opposing offenses just once in four games, putting undue stress on its defense. 

“We’ve just got to get a few stops and get a few turnovers on defense and we’re going to be fine,” Strong said. “We got to focus on taking the ball away, making plays.”

Texas was finally able to generate turnovers in Saturday’s 45–40 loss to Oklahoma, but it was to little avail. The Longhorns were torched to the tune of 672 yards that afternoon, the worst mark of Strong’s time in Austin. 

Texas was unable to stop Oklahoma from generating big plays, allowing passes deep down field and pickup-truck sized
holes up front.

“That’s what’s hard, when you see the breakdowns and we continuously make them,” Strong said. “When you’re on defense you want to make them drive the ball and we didn’t do that today.”

Oklahoma bullied the Longhorns on the ground and assaulted them through the air, ending the day with 390 yards passing and 282 yards rushing. The Sooners garnered eight passing plays of over 15 yards, four of them over 40 yards. 

The most striking example of Texas’ defensive deficiencies came on the first two drives of the second half. The Longhorn offense came out with a vengeance after entering halftime down 14–13 while scoring on its first two possessions. 

But even though the offense did its part to remain in the game, the defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The Longhorns allowed three consecutive touchdown drives, allowing the Sooners to move at will. After a promising first half, the defense crumbled coming out of the locker room.

“It comes down to guys not paying attention, not being focused,” sophomore linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “We didn’t make the same plays in the second half, and we let them move on us.”

Sooner wide receiver Dede Westbrook shredded the Longhorn secondary, ending his day with 10 catches for 232 yards. The senior scored twice in the third quarter, the latter a quick slant slicing through the heart of the Texas defense. 

Westbrook continued the pattern of opposing receivers torching Texas this year. Week three featured California’s Chad Hansen hauling in 12 catches for 196 yards, and the Longhorns surrendered two touchdowns to Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown on opening night.

“We had too many busted coverages,” senior safety Dylan Haines said. “I know that’s been said before, but we need to find a way to understand our assignments and execute them.”

The lone bright spot for the Longhorns comes from their schedule. Texas faced a series of high-powered offenses through their first five games, allowing nearly 40 points per game. All three of the Longhorns’ losses thus far have come against teams that rank in the top 30 in total offense in the nation.

Things will calm down over the next two weeks as Texas faces Iowa State at home and Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas. The Cyclones rank No. 9 in the Big 12 in scoring offense, and the Wildcats have failed to cross the 20-point threshold in two of their five contests.

But while those matchups may provide a respite to an ailing Longhorn defense, they don’t mask the larger problems in Austin. Texas needs to step up its defensive effort if it wants to end the year with a winning record, and that starts by stopping the big play.