It was 3rd and 17 with only 2:38 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns were only one touchdown away from finally catching the LSU Tigers after trailing most of the game, and a sack from senior safety Brandon Jones earlier in the drive kick-started a building momentum on the Texas defense.
Once the ball was snapped, linebacker Joseph Ossai attempted to blitz quarterback Joe Burrow, but Burrow found a hole and completed a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Jefferson. All that stood between Jefferson and the end zone was sophomore safety Caden Sterns.
Sterns ended up on the ground and Jefferson in the end zone, seemingly ending the game.
“I probably watched it more than anybody has in the building,” Sterns said to the media on Wednesday. “But again, I was very hard on myself, but just the simple fact is I got to perfect my technique. I think with other issues that I haven’t been able to really perfect my craft as much as I have so again, it just comes back to practice and just doing it, not giving up leverage, trusting myself, and this is all what it comes down to.”
It seems to be the question on all Longhorn fans’ minds: What happened? Why did it happen? The play had many moving parts. Ossai and senior linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch rushed toward Burrow, but they were unsuccessful in tackling him.
“I could’ve done a better job of getting to the quarterback and taking some pressure off the corners and the defensive backs,” Ossai said.
Texas’ defense took down Burrow earlier in the game, with four total sacks for a loss of 25 yards. Sterns himself had seven total tackles and two assists. He thinks the defense did well in terms of tackling but can always improve.
“I think we tackled pretty well,” Sterns said. “Again, understand that they have playmakers too, they’re going to make plays. It wasn’t a bad team that we played. But I mean, it is something you can work on, missing tackles. But, I think we did a decent job.”
Texas’ secondary was blamed following the game, especially after responsibility fell on the corners and safeties in the aftermath of LSU’s final scoring drive. Though Sterns said he was hard on himself following the play, he still isn’t listening to the outside noise.
“Honestly, what other people’s thoughts I guess about how bad or secondary how bad we play, whatever, I really don’t care,” Sterns said. “Do we need to improve? Yeah, but are we bad? No, or not at all. So, (I’m) not really concerned with other people’s opinions on how we are. We firmly know who we are and how well we can play. So at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
Now, Texas will travel to Houston to play against the Rice Owls. And just as they are leaving Austin behind for the weekend, they are leaving 3rd and 17 there, too.
“We reviewed (3rd and 17) once during film, and that was it,” Ossai said. “We’re over it, moving onto Rice and watching a lot of film on that.”