Penalties have been Texas’ kryptonite since head coach Tom Herman took control of the program in 2017. The Longhorns haven’t finished higher than 107th in the nation in fewest penalties in Herman’s four seasons, and they ranked 111th coming into Saturday’s game against TCU.
Any fans who thought the team’s 11:00 a.m. matchup against the Horned Frogs would be a clean, uninterrupted game were dearly mistaken. The two teams combined for 26 penalties, and were on pace to break the all-time FBS record of 36 penalties after the third quarter. Texas finished with 12 penalties for 92 yards in its 33-31 loss to the Horned Frogs.
“That’s on me to get them ready and find a way to make sure we don’t beat ourselves,” Herman said. “We’ve got to play much smarter for us to have a chance to win.”
The game was ugly from the start. The teams were called for eight combined penalties in the first seven minutes of game time in a quarter that lasted more than an hour of real time. A handful of first-quarter injuries and junior linebacker Juwan Mitchell’s targeting ejection added to the Longhorns’ misery as they trailed 14-7 at the end of the first.
The flags didn’t slow down in the second quarter. The teams had a total of 17 penalties at the end of the first half, although redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Keondre Coburn didn’t blame the officials.
“We lost this game off of penalties,” Coburn said. “I can’t give you the answer (to why there were so many penalties). The refs saw some flags, and they called them. They did their job.”
There’s no denying the game would have been severely different without the penalties. One negated a 40-yard catch by sophomore receiver Jake Smith. Another moved Texas from inside the TCU 35 to behind the 40, just beyond junior kicker Cameron Dicker’s field goal range.
“Self-inflicted mistakes killed us,” Ehlinger said. “We can’t make that many mistakes and expect to win. We stopped ourselves. We didn’t play well enough to win. If I knew (how to fix it) I would try to get it fixed.”
Although there were only a handful of penalties in the fourth quarter, the game appropriately ended with a flag on its final play. The Horned Frogs were called for a hold on the final play of the game as TCU sophomore quarterback Max Duggan ran out the back of the end zone for a safety as time expired.
After a moment of confusion and some discussion from the referees, the Big 12 officiating crew announced the penalty would be declined, the safety would stand and the game was over.
Texas’ players described themselves as “disappointed” after committing almost a football field’s worth of penalties, and Herman said he plans to have deep conversations with his leadership council to better understand the psyche of the team. He said he never expected the team to play the way it did after three good days of practice this week, and he needs to figure out how to translate good practices to game performances.
“It’s a matter of us finding a way to take the practice reps to the field on Saturday,” Herman said. “That falls on me, that falls on our coaches and it falls on the leadership of this team to make sure that we get that done.”