Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas has physicality, toughness and momentum heading into Red River Rivalry game

Posted October 8th, 2017

Story highlights
  • Freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger impresses as a "fearless" runner who puts fear in the opponent, linebacker Malik Jefferson said.
  • Head coach Tom Herman said Texas "has the potential" to be a good team, but says it has to bring its A game each and every week.
  • The Longhorns find themselves at 2-0 with a better Big 12 record than next week's opponent Oklahoma.

Texas out-Bill Snydered Bill Snyder.

The Longhorns can’t say that very often, but they stood toe-to-toe with a Kansas State team Saturday night that has come to personify a coal miner’s toughness and matched the Wildcats’ physical play in a game that may go a long way in defining this season.

Matched it. Maybe exceeded it.

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Meet your newly minted Longhorns, a 3-2 team  — yes, it’s on the right side of .500  — that is shaping up as a team that wins in the trenches, wins in the late going and, well, just wins, period.

That represents the biggest change for a program that has endured three consecutive losing seasons but may be witnessing a transformation under new ownership. The latest embodiment of that metamorphosis was a 40-34 double-overtime victory over a Wildcats team that has tormented Texas over the years.

This was exactly the kind of game that the locals have bungled in this decade. They still missed two field goals, came away with zero points out of two trips in the red zone  — actually the reddest zone  — to the Kansas State 1- and 8-yard lines, and seemed to be on the verge of losing to a backup quarterback for the second time this season. Who can forget losing to Maryland’s Kasim Hill after the starter went down?

But this was now, and that was didn’t-yet-know-how-to-win then. This has the look of a good team, one that overcame a 10-point deficit and its own kicking woes that still may haunt them in the future if Joshua Rowland can’t find more consistency. He missed from 27 and 45 yards and is a concerning 4 of 9 on the season.

That said, an enthralled crowd of 90,462 had to come away impressed after watching the home team amass 546 yards of offense, suffer one turnover on the game’s first play and none in its final 90 snaps and prevail without a sack allowed from an offensive line that included two new starters and a third making his second career start. And Texas played clean football with only three penalties while Kansas State had two crucial holding calls in the final overtime that led to a missed 53-yard field goal.

Texas wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey (84) leaps Kansas State defenders Duke Shelley (8) and Johnathan Durham (6) in the second half of a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

“I think we’ve got good momentum,” first-year coach Tom Herman said. “There is a lot of positive energy in that locker room right now. Are we a good team? I think we have the potential to be. We can’t afford to play our B game and beat anybody. And that’s OK. That just means we’ve got to bring our A game each and every week.”

So these Longhorns enter the Red River Rivalry with a better conference record than the Sooners. What were the odds against that in August?

But it’s true because No. 3-ranked Oklahoma (1-1 in Big 12 play) was toppled 38-31 by the same Iowa State team that barely mustered a touchdown in defeat against these Horns a week ago. And OU was whipped by yet another backup quarterback, senior Kyle Kempt, who had thrown all of two career passes before firing for 343 yards and three scores in Norman. Now OU is unkempt and Texas is unbelievably on the right path.

The Longhorns won with their own backup, albeit an emotionally charged Sam Ehlinger, who absolutely deserves to keep the job. They will swagger into Dallas with a 2-0 record — tied for first in the conference with only TCU  — along with some serious momentum and supreme confidence. Heck, you might as well assume they are legitimate Big 12 contenders until they’re not. Can they win it?

“Yes,” defensive tackle Poona Ford said, “but it’ll take hard work. Do we have a lot of momentum? Not a lot, but it’s something.”

Asked if Texas is a good team, Ehlinger said, “We just won.”

Told that doesn’t exactly answer the question, the precocious freshman replied, “Yeah, we’re a very good team.”

Most outside are starting to think the same. Texas had grit and Texas had game on Saturday. And barring future stumbles, it’s about the task of altering outside perceptions that the Longhorns are a long ways away from respectability. They’ve shortened that distance considerably.

Toward that end, Herman has found some deep belief as well as a quarterback who has escapability and a thunder in his footsteps even if he does run like a linebacker and ran over a safety on a 9-yard run to set up Chris Warren III’s game-winning touchdown.

Bill Snyder had to appreciate that, calling Ehlinger’s bullish scrambles “major in the ball game.” So did Texas’ Malik Jefferson, who is a linebacker and a good one. “He’s fearless. And that puts fear into the opponent,” Jefferson said. “He’s like 240 pounds. He’s very massive, and he’s seeking people out.”

And so is Texas.

 

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