UT out­lasts OU in show­down

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - brian.smith@chron.com twit­ter.com/chron­bri­an­smith

QB Sam Eh­linger runs for three scores and passes for two more as Texas beats archri­val Ok­la­homa 48-45 at the Cot­ton Bowl.

DAL­LAS — The old, clas­sic “OU sucks!” chant had just shaken a his­toric sta­dium.

Kyler Mur­ray’s eyes filled with the be­gin­nings of tears, then Ok­la­homa’s once-un­de­feated quar­ter­back paused time as he tried to find the right words to cap­ture de­feat.

Tom Her­man — drenched in sweat, filled with mount­ing pride — was asked about the Col­lege Foot­ball Play­off. Texas is ba … Wait. Let’s not get too crazy. No. 19 Longhorns 48, No. 7 Soon­ers 45 was an all-timer on a gloomy, then glo­ri­ous Sat­ur­day be­fore 92,300 in burnt or­ange and crim­son at the Cot­ton Bowl. A record 93 com­bined points in the 113th ver­sion of the Red River Show­down. Texas sopho­more QB Sam Eh­linger to­tal­ing 386 yards and five touch­downs, while Mur­ray’s name was at­tached to 396 yards and five TDs in a shootout that be­came a blowout, then ended on a 40yard field goal by a fresh­man with nine sec­onds re­main­ing.

“What a col­lege foot­ball game, huh?” said Her­man, whose tough, spir­ited squad led 45-24 with less than nine min­utes left, then sur­vived a 21-point bar­rage by OU in less than six breath­less min­utes.

‘One of the epic ones’

If Texas is back, the Longhorns dom­i­nate the fourth and si­lence the Soon­ers.

If Texas is back, a some­what sur­pris­ing 5-1 start be­comes the CFP.

If Texas is re­ally, truly, fi­nally back, the Longhorns end up in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game and the Her­man dream that be­gan in Novem­ber 2016 comes true.

“It’s ir­rel­e­vant to us, I think, is prob­a­bly the best way to put it,” said Her­man, when asked the ques­tion that never goes away. “We’re not so con­cerned about where peo­ple think Texas is. … The peo­ple in that locker room, the coaches and play­ers, are the peo­ple whose opin­ions who mat­ter the most to us.”

UT was some­times bril­liant and ul­ti­mately enough Sat­ur­day in the mid­dle of the State Fair. For a pro­gram that might fi­nally be liv­ing up to its na­tional name again, three Top 25 vic­to­ries in less than a month speak to the sec­ond-year im­pact the for­mer Univer­sity of Hous­ton leader is hav­ing in Austin.

The Longhorns were bet­ter, stronger and more in­spired dur­ing a game they lost from 2010-17. Her­man’s team was 2-of-2 on crit­i­cal fourth-down calls, forced two huge Mur­ray turnovers and ran 75 of­fen­sive plays for 27 first downs and 501 yards.

“That was one of the epic ones there,” Soon­ers coach Lin­coln Ri­ley said. “That’s one peo­ple will keep talk­ing about for years and years and years. It was a re­ally spe­cial at­mos­phere.”

All those num­bers were al­most erased by three late Ok­la­homa TDs, which in­cluded a thrilling 67-yard, left-side­line sprint by Mur­ray that be­came a one-play, 11-sec­ond scor­ing drive. But a sweat-cov­ered Her­man said the “grit” word for a rea­son af­ter his big­gest win in burnt or­ange. Texas had it Sat­ur­day. The 6-3, 230-pound Eh­linger pow­er­ing for 72 yards on 12 rushes, slowly but con­stantly blast­ing through a weak OU line and coun­ter­ing Mur­ray’s safe­ty­first slides. Fresh­man Keaon­tay In­gram adding 86 yards on the ground, while Texas con­trolled the clock for 21:37 of the sec­ond half ’s 30 min­utes. Ju­nior Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey re­fus­ing to re­lent on third-and-21 at OU’s 46, even­tu­ally end­ing up with a 19-yard gain that cap­tured the Longhorns’ heart.

“That to me was the play of the game, the play of the game,” said Her­man, who added ex­tra em­pha­sis to his re­peated words and per­son­ally thanked Humphrey on stage.

It was 34-29 Mary­land on Sept. 1 and the same ol’ Longhorns all over again. For all the talk since Her­man traded Hous­ton for Austin, the Longhorns had to fight for 7-6 dur­ing his first sea­son and one of the sport’s most-en­er­giz­ing coaches was a flat .500 at the start of his new job. Since then, Texas has rolled off five con­sec­u­tive vic­to­ries and should be in the top 15 when the new rank­ings are re­leased.

Full speed ahead

Do the Longhorns hold off Mur­ray, Ri­ley and No. 7 Ok­la­homa with­out first beat­ing up USC and TCU, then win­ning in Man­hat­tan. Kan.?

Her­man, king of un­der­dogs and pub­lic in­spi­ra­tion, went a level deeper again.

“We all un­der­stood that that (Mary­land) game was not go­ing to de­fine our sea­son,” he said. “But how we re­spond to that game would. … Thus far, we’ve re­sponded tremen­dously. We re­ally have.”

Sat­ur­day’s proof: An Eh­lingerled nine-play, 52-yard, gamewin­ning drive that ended with just nine sec­onds to go.

“There was zero neg­a­tiv­ity. There was zero bad body lan­guage. There was zero hang­ing of heads,” said Her­man, who then re­vealed that UT has started its re­cent Tues­day prac­tices with a sim­i­lar two-minute of­fen­sive drill.

Cameron Dicker was true from 40 yards. Cue the “OU sucks!” chants. “True fresh­man deep snap­per, snap­ping to a true fresh­man holder, with a true fresh­man kicker kick­ing it through the up­rights … in this game,” Her­man said.

Texas isn’t back. But the Longhorns are build­ing.

“It’s a feel­ing I can’t even ex­plain,” de­fen­sive back P.J. Locke said. “We’ve been through so much. … To fi­nally get the win and go out with a bang my se­nior year, I can­not thank these guys enough.”

Mur­ray, so darn fast and of­ten un­touch­able, was al­most brought to tears.

The burnt or­ange faith­ful, af­ter wait­ing and wait­ing, left the Cot­ton Bowl be­liev­ing again.

Ron­ald Martinez / Getty Images

See­ing the end zone ahead brings a smile to Sam Eh­linger’s face Sat­ur­day. The UT quar­ter­back ran for three touch­downs and passed for two more against Ok­la­homa.

Ver­non Bryant / Dal­las Morn­ing News

UT’s Tre Wat­son, left, and Collin John­son are jump­ing for joy af­ter Wat­son scored on a 28-yard re­cep­tion in the sec­ond quar­ter at the Cot­ton Bowl

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