University of Texas

Is Texas back? Longhorns take another step in thrilling win over Oklahoma

Tom Herman avoided making any bold declaration about Texas football being “back,” but acknowledged a significant step happened Saturday.

The Longhorns dominated No. 7 Oklahoma for much of the 113th edition of the Red River Showdown, and then avoided a complete meltdown late in a thrilling 48-45 victory at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

It’s the biggest victory in the brief Herman era and will push the No. 19 Longhorns further up in the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll.

Herman took a few seconds to gather his thoughts when asked if Texas “was back.”

“It’s irrelevant to us I think is probably the best way to put it,” Herman said. “We’re not so concerned about where people think Texas is. We’re concerned about where we … the people in that locker room, the coaches and players, are the people’s whose opinions matters the most to us.

“Like any family, those are the people that we have to answer to on a daily basis with our work ethic, with our determination, with our sacrifice.

“It would be foolish for me to not understand the big picture. We’ve taken some really big steps here the last few weeks. I’m not going to deny that. I’m not going to downplay that for these players. They have taken some very important steps in this program’s development and its progress, but we’re going to worry about the opinions of the people in that locker room first and foremost.”

Fair enough. And one win – even against the school’s biggest rival – doesn’t mean “it’s back.” The expectation level at Texas is contending for national championships on a yearly basis.

As Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said, “I don’t think one game or one thing does anything. That’s their program. That’s not our program. We’ve been nationally relevant for a long time and we’re going to keep it that way.”

Winning Saturday helps the Longhorns get back in that conversation.

They showed a potent offense – the 48 points is the most Texas has ever scored against Oklahoma since the rivalry began in 1900. The defense wasn’t great, but forced a pair of takeaways that turned into 10 points.

Oh, and they have a true freshman kicker, Cameron Dicker, with ice in his veins as he drilled a game-winning 40-yarder. The entire kicking operation – Dicker, holder Ryan Bujcevski and snapper Justin Mader – are all true freshman who came through in one of the most high-pressure situations imaginable.

“It’s great to have this, it’s a cool feeling,” Dicker said. “I like [the pressure]. It’s fun to go out there and have pressure on you.”

No position has more pressure than the quarterback and Texas’ Sam Ehlinger turned in the best game of his career. He accounted for five touchdowns – two passing, three rushing.

Ehlinger completed 24-of-35 passes for 314 yards, and also had 72 yards on 19 carries, scoring three times on a play Texas likes to call “QB POWER.”

“It works well within our offense,” Ehlinger said. “In those certain situations in short yardage, they’re going to man guys up to load the box so we may have an extra blocker with the running back. It works well schematically.

“The guys trust me to get that 1 yard and I trust myself to do that as well.”

Ehlinger wasn’t alone in standing out on offense. Receivers Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson used their bigger bodies to their advantage all day.

Humphrey, the Southlake Carroll product, had what Herman called the “play of the game” on the opening series of the second half.

Texas faced a third-and-21 play from the Oklahoma 46, and Humphrey caught what could have been a 10-yard gain. But he muscled his way for an additional 9 yards after contact, keeping what became a TD drive alive.

“All my life I played running back, so I feel like I’m just a running back who just runs routes right now,” Humphrey said. “I take great pride in [YAC], just being dominant and being physical to DBs. I take great pride in that.”

That play paved the way for Texas to build a 31-17 lead, and it extended it to 45-24 by the end of the third quarter. Oklahoma fans were headed toward the exits by the end of the third quarter.

But the Longhorns’ made it interesting to the end. The defense gave up 532 total yards, including 179 in the fourth quarter.

Oklahoma took advantage and tied it by scoring 21 unanswered. The Sooners were particularly impressive on the final two scoring drives, putting up 14 points in a 2:33 stretch. Quarterback Kyler Murray scored on a 67-yard TD run and then led a three-play, 57-yard TD drive capped with a 7-yard run by Trey Sermon.

In the end, though, it was Texas’ day. Ehlinger and the offense drove into field goal range, and Dicker didn’t disappoint.

Is Texas back? Time will tell, but winning Saturday is the biggest step taken to date. Beating a ranked USC team after a season-opening loss at Maryland and a too-close-for-comfort win over Tulsa was nice.

So was knocking off TCU for the first time in four years to open Big 12 play, and winning at Kansas State for the first time in 16 years.

But those pale in comparison to knocking off a Top 10 team and top rival.

For Herman and the Longhorns, though, it’s not something to get too far ahead of themselves. Herman “won’t even begin to think about” whether this might help Texas get into the College Football Playoff conversation.

Neither will the players.

“The only thing that’s back is we’re going back to work to beat Baylor,” defender Breckyn Hager said. “Hook ‘em.”

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