By Steve Habel/Associate Editor
DALLAS – There’s no doubting that the Texas football team that lost to No. 11 Oklahoma 31-26 Saturday in the Cotton Bowl is better than the squad that beat North Texas in the season opener. And it’s a better brand of Longhorns than the group that won in Kansas, and the team that lost to UCLA and BYU in September and to Baylor in Austin on Oct. 4.
But the problem is that even though the Horns have improved, they are still not good enough to beat the likes of a seen-it-all-before team like the Sooners.
Oklahoma, its offense stymied for all but seven minutes spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarters, still made enough of the opportunities that Texas gave them, winning thanks to touchdowns on a kickoff return and an interception return that tipped the scales before a capacity crowd of 92,100 on the grounds of the State Fair of Texas.
The Longhorns (now 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 Conference play) did everything but beat their most-hated rivals, amassing more than double Oklahoma’s offensive output (482 yards to the Sooners’ 232) while running 34 more plays than OU.
Texas even got a more-than impressive showing from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, who passed for a career-high 334 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 50 yards and another score on 11 carries.
But the Horns made too many mistakes. They had a season-high 11 penalties for 85 yards, including one for holding that turned a 73-yard Swoopes scramble into a meager 11-yard gain. Texas had another fumble near the goal line – the third time this season a miscue inside its own or its opponent’s 5-yard line has cost the Horns points.
“I love the way we competed and fought in this game, but we just made too many mistakes,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “We can’t give away opportunities when we have a chance to make plays. We have to continue to build on the good things we did here and work to get better.”
Even with all those issues, the Horns gave themselves the chance to win. Swoopes led a final drive that ended with his 12-yard touchdown run with 4:57 to play that cut the Sooners’ lead to 31-26. A two-point conversion run by the quarterback failed, leaving Texas needing a defensive stand and a touchdown to pull off the upset.
But Oklahoma (5-1, 2-1 in Big 12) held the ball for all but the final 18 seconds, converting its only third down of the game (it was 1-for-11) when its needed to the most, and held on for the win.
“We were confident we could make the plays to stop Oklahoma on that final drive and get the ball back to our offense but we didn’t get the job done,” Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We have to learn to capture the moment there, in the times when the game is on the line. But we’re getting closer.”
The game started out just as Texas prescribed, as the Longhorns drove 64 yards on 13 plays on their opening possession and before settling for a 28-yard Nick Rose field goal.
It switched downward at the drop of a hat as, on the ensuing kickoff, Oklahoma’s Alex Ross’s nearly-untouched 92-yard return for a touchdown gave the Sooners a 7-3 lead before their offense even got on the field.
That, unfortunately, was a sign of things to come in the first quarter and a half for the Longhorns.
The Sooners pushed their advantage to 10-3 early in the second quarter when they took advantage of a short field created by a punt and a personal foul penalty to drive to Michael Hunnicutt’s 44-yard field goal.
Then Swoopes, being pressured on a rollout to his right, had his pass intercepted by Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez, who returned the pick 43 yards for a touchdown and a 17-3 OU lead.
But the Horns’ offense responded, putting together its best drive of the half by moving 75 yards in seven plays to a 38-yard scoring pass from Swoopes to John Harris. The touchdown came as Swoopes stood tall in the pocket and delivered an on-the-mark throw over an Oklahoma linebacker to Harris cutting across the field.
Texas crept a little closer on its final possession of the first half, moving from its own 28 to the OU 3 before a wild snap on third down bounced off Swoopes' facemask and was recovered by M.J. McFarland. Rose banged home a 20-yard field goal a play later and the Horns were within 17-13 with a half to play.
The Horns outgained OU 278-29 in the first half and had 14 first downs to the Sooners’ 1. But Texas also had five penalties for 80 yards (OU had just one for 10 yards) and had those two crucial breakdowns in the kicking game.
OU’s offense had its best stretch of the game late in the third quarter, crisply driving 63 yards on five plays to a 24-yard TD pass from Trevor Knight to Sterling Shepard that gave it a 24-13 lead. Then the Sooners added to their advantage early in the fourth quarter when Samaje Perine waltzed into the end zone from 13 yards out to seemingly cement the game.
But Swoopes and the Horns fought back, moving 75 yards in 12 plays and scoring on a dead-on TD pass to Harris in the back corner of the end zone to cut the OU advantage to 31-20. That set the table for a final Texas score, but ultimately, it was too little, too late.
Texas returns to action Oct. 18 when it hosts Iowa State. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. at Darrell K Royal-Memorial Stadium.