Second half struggles: No. 25 Texas collapses once again in 32-24 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma State

Nathan Han, Sports Reporter

The Texas offense pulled off its biggest disappearing act yet Saturday.

In a 32-24 loss to No. 12 Oklahoma State, the Longhorns sputtered out in the second half just as they did against Oklahoma the weekend before.

If the Red River Showdown loss was a collapse of epic proportions, this Saturday’s loss to the Cowboys was a mild comeback — the kind that slowly snuck up on Texas after it held a comfortable lead for most of the game.

This loss was just as heartbreaking. Up 24 -13 early in the third quarter, Texas had multiple chances to put the game and the undefeated Cowboys behind them. But the offense just could not get anything going, giving up four straight three-and-outs for a total of 2 yards on 12 plays.

One drive stalled due to a dropped snap. Another didn’t even get started after redshirt junior quarterback Casey Thompson had the wind knocked out of him. And sophomore running back Bijan Robinson got stuffed on several first down runs when the offensive line could not buy a block, putting the offense in long second- and third-down situations.

“They brought full-out blitzes,” Robinson said. “We’re trying to open up the pass game a little bit … but they came up with some different twists on different pressures, and it’s just hard for us to pick them up.”

Then came the two nails in the coffin. For all of defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski’s brilliance, his defense eventually wore out and allowed the Cowboys’ offense to score on three straight drives.

“I thought our defense held on probably about as long as they could,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You can’t go three-and-out four times in a row and expect those guys just to keep holding up. Ultimately, the dam broke.”

Down 25-24 with 3:12 left, Thompson and the Texas offense had a chance to redeem themselves. Then, redshirt freshman center Jake Majors, the lone anchor in an offensive line that reshuffled seemingly every drive, limped off the field. Texas went four-and-out.

Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson bolts down the field in Texas’ 32-24 loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Cowboys shut Robinson out in the second half. Jack Myer/The Daily Texan

In the Longhorns’ last-ditch effort, down 32-24 with 1:57 left in the fourth quarter, the doom that set across the shellshocked fans in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium seemed to foreshadow the inevitable. This time around, no touchdown heave tied things up: Thompson threw his second interception of the afternoon with pressure in his face to seal the loss.

For most of Saturday’s affair, the defense held strong. With senior defensive end Jacoby Jones out with an injury on defense, Kwiatkowski bolstered a struggling run defense by bringing an extra man into the box and playing a traditional 3-4 defense rather than the previous go-to 2-4-5 or 4-2-5 formation.

A Longhorn defense that allowed 8.3 yards per rush to Oklahoma only gave up a stingy 2.7 yards per carry against Oklahoma State in the first three quarters.

And the big beneficiary of Jones’ absence and the move to the 3-4 was defensive end Alfred Collins.

“The guy who’s probably made some of the best progress for us defensively has been Alfred Collins,” Sarkisian said before Saturday’s game. “He’s really played well the last two weeks, so I think this is a great opportunity for him to get more playing time.”

The 6-foot-5-inch, 302-pound sophomore showed his brute force on run downs, pushing and shoving his way into the backfield, and showed off his finesse on pass rushing downs, regularly coming free on stunts and coming off the edge with impressive speed for his size.

Against the Cowboys’ run-heavy offense, Texas stuck with its 3-4 look even when Oklahoma State threatened to pass with extra receivers. On third-and-long plays where the fifth defensive back, Anthony Cook, did make his way to the field, Kwiatkowski dialed up blitz after blitz that kept Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders off his rhythm and on the ground.

But when it came down to closing time, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy had tricks up his sleeve. Against a fatigued defense that had to come on the field time after time, he stretched his plays from sideline to sideline and forced Texas to adjust.

Spoiler alert: The Longhorns didn’t. Oklahoma State scored 17 points on its last three drives after scoring only nine in its first 10.

But Saturday’s loss is on the offense, and not just in the second half. Up 17-3 and threatening to score in the red zone, Thompson threw an ill-advised, 85-yard pick-six to Cowboys safety Jason Taylor II. Taylor read the slant route and Thompson’s eyes all the way and breathed life into a lifeless Cowboys team, taking what would’ve been a three-score deficit and turning it into a one-score game into half.

Texas fell to 4-3 and 2-2 in Big 12 conference play with the loss as it heads into a bye week. Any hope at a Big 12 championship game appearance will have to come with luck and outside factors.

But the Longhorns can’t look ahead just yet. That’s what cost them against Oklahoma, and that’s what cost them Saturday against Oklahoma State.