Tablet Sports

OU’s return TDs trump Texas’ stingy defensive effort

Some day, perhaps by the end of the season, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong hopes to develop an offense and some special-teams units that work in support of his stingy defense.

Until that happens, the Longhorns will continue losing games when they stymie productive offenses but dominate only statistics sheets instead of scoreboards. It happened again Saturday at the Cotton Bowl, where the Longhorns more than doubled the offensive yardage of No. 11 Oklahoma, yet lost 31-26 because the Sooners scored two touchdowns with the Texas defense on the sidelines.

Texas’ first-half gaffes were so pivotal that OU built a 17-3 lead it did not relinquish on the strength of one first down and 20 yards from the Sooners’ offense. Even with a pair of second-half touchdown drives, which gave OU a 31-13 lead to protect over the final 12:50, the Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) still managed only 232 yards on a sluggish offensive day against a salty Texas defense.

The Longhorns, meanwhile, rolled for 482 yards but short-circuited any meaningful momentum with a series of self-inflicted wounds. As a result, Texas (2-4, 1-2) departed an OU matchup with four losses on its season ledger for the first time in 109 meetings in this series. The 2-4 start is the worst by a Texas team since 1956, when the Longhorns finished 1-9.

That proved frustrating to Strong, whose team basically is out of the Big 12 title race and must improve over its final six games to become bowl-eligible with remaining games against No. 9 TCU, No. 16 Oklahoma State and No. 17 Kansas State.

“We need the whole team to get better. We can’t give away opportunities, especially when we’re playing a very good football team,” Strong said.

Texas squandered plenty of chances Saturday. The Longhorns also created scoring opportunities for the Sooners, who capitalized with first-half touchdowns on a kickoff return (Alex Ross, 91 yards) and an interception return (Zack Sanchez, 43 yards).

Two Longhorns fell during the kickoff return. Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes forced a pass into coverage on the pick-six, trumping an otherwise breakout passing performance (27 of 44, career-high 334 yards, 2 TDs) by the sophomore.

The Longhorns also buried themselves with penalties (11 stepoffs covering 85 yards), including seven pre-snap violations by the offense. A holding call on receiver John Harris turned Swoopes’ potential 73-yard run into scoring territory into an 11-yard gain during a first-quarter drive that ended with a punt. And so it went for a Texas team that felt it had as much, if not more, to do with Saturday’s loss than Oklahoma.

“Every big game we’ve lost this year, except for BYU, I feel like we’ve lost the game. We weren’t outplayed,” said Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks, who finished with a team-high 10 tackles. “The defense is playing. We can hang with these big guys. ... But then you look at special teams. You look at our turnovers. We’ve got to learn how to finish. When we get in key situations, we’ve got to learn how to convert.”

Instead, Oklahoma stepped up in those defining moments Saturday. That is why the Sooners won on a day when defensive coordinator Mike Stoops berated his troops for “skating” during a fourth-quarter rally that allowed Texas to close an 18-point deficit to 31-26 before OU stymied the Longhorns’ last possession in the final minute.

“We’re not playing nearly as well as we need to be. Or should be,” Stoops said. “You start skating, you lose momentum and they made a run.”

Sanchez, a Keller Central graduate, agreed OU defenders “got a little too comfortable” in the fourth quarter while trying to protect a 31-13 lead. But the victory, he said, “helps us get back on track” after last week’s 37-33 loss to TCU.

The Sooners got there despite some unusual statistical numbers. Because of two touchdown returns covering 134 yards, OU led at halftime 17-13 despite gaining only 29 yards and producing one first down during the first 30 minutes. Texas, meanwhile, scored just one touchdown despite averaging 6.2 yards on its 45 snaps in the first half.

But the numbers that mattered unfolded in the third quarter, when OU rolled for 116 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown march. Texas’ offense, once again, basically went stagnant during that stretch. Texas produced just 59 yards on 17 third-quarter snaps and trailed 31-13 by the time the Longhorns got their first fourth-quarter possession.

For the season, Texas’ third-quarter drives have produced 17 punts, two turnovers and two touchdowns.

“We haven’t been where we want to be offensively in that third quarter all year,” Texas receiver Jaxon Shipley said.

Oklahoma took advantage Saturday, putting away a mistake-prone Longhorns’ team and scoring an ugly win in the Cotton Bowl.

“Did I like everything about this game? Heck, no,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “But it’s always good when you can win and you didn’t play well.”

Strong, his counterpart at Texas, is still waiting for a chance to experience that emotion against a quality opponent this season.