With a restful bye week and quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s shoulder injury in the rear-view mirror, Texas made the trip to Stillwater, Oklahoma, on Saturday looking more like the squad that lost to Maryland than a team ranked sixth in the country.
The Longhorns entered a sold-out Boone Pickens Stadium under the lights and left with an emotional 38-35 defeat at the hands of Oklahoma State, virtually squashing any possibility Texas had of making the College Football Playoff.
Hordes of OSU students sprung over the sideline walls and rushed the field as the final seconds ran off the game clock while many Texas players could only stare endlessly as disbelief set in. The Longhorns had just lost their first game in nearly two months.
“That’s a really upset and dejected locker room, but they are very, very together,” head coach Tom Herman said after the game. “I love the fact that one loss hurts that bad.”
Herman continued, “We had guys in tears. To think how far we’ve come, to where one loss matters that much, and it should. That means we are headed in the right direction as far as the attitude of this football team and the belief in the way we do things.”
Oklahoma State jumped out to a large lead in a hurry, piling up 24 points with 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter as Ehlinger struggled to efficiently throw the ball, going 2-for-7 in the first 15 minutes of action.
But as both teams emerged from the locker room following halftime, Texas began to resemble the team that emphatically defeated Oklahoma just three weeks earlier, cutting the deficit to just three points during the fourth quarter.
The Longhorn defense forced a three-and-out, putting Ehlinger and the offensive unit in prime position to take the go-ahead lead. However, safety Brandon Jones hurt the potential for a game-winning drive by attempting to return a punt instead of signaling for a fair catch, forcing Texas to take over at their own two-yard line.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize we were in punt safe,” Jones said. “We were down. I just wanted to make a play for my team. It was obviously a bad read, I didn’t expect the ball to go as far over my head. I was standing at the 20-yard line and didn’t really realize where I was at that point …”
Jones’ error wasn’t the leading factor in the Longhorns loss to Oklahoma State, though. From the beginning, Texas performed underwhelmingly by giving up 260 yards in the first quarter as the Cowboys nearly averaged a first down per play during the quarter.
The slow start and lack of execution proved to be too much to recover from as the Longhorns showed faults in each area.
“We did this to ourselves,” Ehlinger said. “Hats off to them, they played an excellent game, but we did not play our best and that showed. We hurt ourselves in every facet of the game and every side of the ball, and we’ve got to learn from that if we want to be as great as we want to be.”
Any hope of making it into the committee’s top four at the end of the season is now gone. But the Longhorns still have the opportunity to reach the Big 12 Championship should they win each of their last four games, starting with next Saturday’s home matchup against West Virginia — a game that can’t come soon enough for many disappointed Longhorns.
“I’m already looking forward to it,” Jones said. “There’s nothing you can do about the past. You can’t change it. All we can do is learn from it, watch film, make corrections and get out there Sunday and move on to West Virginia.”