LUBBOCK, Texas — If you didn’t believe in this Texas team, maybe the way the No. 8/9 Longhorns got off the mat Saturday and beat a darned good Texas Tech squad on a scorching afternoon on the South Plains at Jones AT&T Stadium will push you in that direction.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger passed for five touchdowns, including the game-winning 12-yarder to Joshua Moore in overtime as Texas rallied to beat the Red Raiders 63-56 on Saturday in both teams’ Big 12 Conference opener.
Ehlinger racked up 262 yards passing and also ran for a touchdown. The Longhorns (2-0, 1-0 in games against Big 12 opponents) scored the game’s final 22 points, including two touchdowns in the last 2:29 of the fourth quarter to send the wild game into the extra session.
Ehlinger connected on 10 of his final 11 passes and, after the Longhorns went down by 15 points late in the game, told Texas coach Tom Herman on the sidelines that the Longhorns were going to come back and win, even though Texas had little juice in the second half.
“Our quarterback actually looked at me and said 'they left us too much time,’” Herman said. “I've got a pretty decent vocabulary, but I'm running out of adjectives to describe (Ehlinger).
“It’s funny: as we were walking off, (Texas safety) Caden Sterns said that ‘if 2020 was a football game, that was it.’”
Tech quarterback Alan Bowman’s fifth touchdown pass of the game, an 18-yard strike to T.J. Vasher with 6:12 to play, was followed by SaRodorick Thompson’s 75-yard scoring run with 3:13 remaining, giving the Red Raiders a 56-41 lead. Texas Tech looked to be in control.
But Ehlinger hit Brennan Eagles on a 12-yard score with 2:29 left and, after a successful onside kick, threw to Joshua Moore for a 18-yard touchdown with 40 seconds to play. Ehlinger then lofted a pass to Eagles for the two-point conversion to knot the score at 56.
“We learned that we're never out of it,” Ehlinger said. “I would say, after we scored in overtime, I knew that our defense was going to go out there and get a stop. We made a lot of mistakes. We've got to get better. We've got to continue to get better.”
Texas Tech (1-1, 0-1 in Big 12 play) countered in the first half with a pair of touchdown passes from Bowman (who threw for 325 yards) to KeSean Carter, covering 13 and 22 yards , respectively, and Bowman’s 19-yard touchdown hookup to Erik Ezukanma.
The Longhorns’ D’Shawn Jamison fumbled a punt at the UT 18 after Texas Tech’s first possession of the third quarter and the ball rolled into the end zone, where the Red Raiders’ Xavier Martin fell on it for a touchdown to cut the Texas lead to 31-28.
Texas responded with a special-teams score of its own, as Tyler Owens blocked a punt that was returned for a 2-yard touchdown by Jahdae Barron, expanding the Longhorns’ advantage to 38-28.
Bowman hit Vasher on a 29-yard touchdown with 44 seconds to play in the third quarter before Thompson’s 10-yard scoring run in the final play of the quarter.
Texas led 31-21 at the half on the strength of Ehlinger’s two touchdown passes (a 31-yard strike to Joshua Moore and a 3-yarder to Brenden Schooler), a 2-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper and a 1-yard scoring plunge by Roschon Johnson after a 24-yard scramble by the Longhorns’ signalcaller.
The Longhorns also got a 43-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker in the first quarter. He added another, from 26 yards out, in the fourth quarter.
The Red Raiders made two huge plays on special teams in the first half — a successful onside kick in which Trey Wolff putted the ball to himself and recovered it after it rolled 10 yards, and a blocked punt by Jacob Morgenstern — but Bowman uncorked interceptions on the ensuing snap following each turnover to waste both chances.
Texas responded with a special-team score of its own, as Tyler Owens blocked a punt by Tech’s Austin McNamara that was returned for a 2-yard touchdown by Jahdae Barron, expanding the Longhorns’ advantage to 38-28. It was Texas’ first blocked punt return for a score since Josh Turner at Iowa State in 2011, a span of 111 games.
Bowman hit Vasher on a 29-yard touchdown with 44 seconds to play in the third quarter to bring Tech to within three points. Ehlinger then uncorked his first interception of the season to set the table for Thompson’s 10-yard scoring run in the final play of the quarter to give the Red Raiders the lead and set the stage for the furious finish.
Texas heads home to face TCU Saturday. The Horned Frogs (0-1, 0-1 in Big 12 play) lost at home in their season opener to Iowa State, 37-34.
Herman said his team will learn a lot from this game.
“You point out the things you did well, and you go back to work on the things you didn't do well,” he said. “Obviously, the tackling on defense ... I felt like it was last year. Really proud of our team. Obviously not our best performance, but to go on the road, to make the mistakes we made continually, especially on defense and special teams, and to find a way to gut it out in the end, I’m extremely proud.”