Outlook much different for Texas heading into Red River Showdown

Trenton Daeschner

In the wake of Texas’ 40-34 double-overtime victory over Kansas State on Saturday night, junior linebacker Malik Jefferson was asked a question that no one would have asked after the Longhorns’ season opener.

Can Texas win the Big 12?

“If we put our minds to it,” Jefferson said.

After moving to 2–0 in the conference with a home win over the Wildcats, Jefferson and his teammates are starting to believe. The last time Texas started 2–0 in the Big 12 was in 2013, when only two members on the Longhorns’ current roster were on that team.

2–0 in conference play is a far cry from where the Longhorns were following their season-opening 51-41 loss at home to Maryland, a game that now seems like an eternity ago. Texas appeared to still be stuck in the mud after three-straight losing seasons under former head coach Charlie Strong.

Since then, Texas has rattled off three wins in four games — and came within a hair of beating then-No. 4 USC in Los Angeles — to improve to 3–2 overall.

“The sense on the sideline — just our demeanor and our attitude — is headed in the right direction,” Herman said. “We’re not a finished product yet. Don’t know that we ever will be this year, but we are headed in the
right direction.”

At the moment, Texas and No. 6 TCU are the only undefeated teams in conference play. Not even No. 12 Oklahoma is 2–0 in the Big 12 after suffering a shocking loss at home on Saturday to Iowa State — a team that the Longhorns beat 17-7 on the road on Sept. 28.

But now comes a crucial test yet for a team that appears to be formulating its identity — the AT&T Red River Showdown against the archrival Sooners. The Red River Showdown has always been a monumental game for both programs. It defines careers, molds legacies and often plays a role in crowning the Big 12 champion.

“We’ve been thinking about that one,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said. “This is my last one, and I definitely want to go out with a good taste in my mouth.”

The Longhorns may be a long way from a finished product, but they have two critical things heading into Saturday’s showdown with the Sooners — a winning record and momentum.

Saturday’s game at the Cotton Bowl will be the Longhorns’ most pivotal game yet. It’s a chance for Texas to truly assert itself in the Big 12 spotlight and dampen national doubts about its program. But no one in the Texas locker room has put too much emphasis on that. Instead, it’s all business.

“Keep doing what we’re doing,” sophomore wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “Keep playing Texas Longhorn football and play the way that we redefined it to be.”