Show­down in ev­ery sense

Two ranked teams, two pow­er­house of­fenses, two top QBs, one fi­nal field goal

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Nick Moyle STAFF WRITER nmoyle@ex­ twit­­moyle

DAL­LAS — One thought kept re­turn­ing to the fore­front of Sam Eh­linger’s mind when­ever he fired up last sea­son’s game film. Who is that?

The 18-year-old in that footage wore his num­ber, moved like him, pos­sessed the same lit­tle quirks. But to Eh­linger, it looked like some stranger within was pulling the levers.

Time and again this year Texas’ sopho­more quar­ter­back said he was dif­fer­ent, couldn’t even rec­og­nize the mis­take-prone fresh­man who too of­ten got in his own way. Sat­ur­day, he proved it. Eh­linger chan­neled ev­ery great Longhorns quar­ter­back of lore at the Cot­ton Bowl, lead­ing No. 19 Texas to a 48-45 vic­tory over seventh-ranked Ok­la­homa.

“The guy pre­pares like a pro,” UT coach Tom Her­man said. “There’s no­body that would ever ques­tion the way he pre­pares. I don’t think any­body was sur­prised to see him do what he did.”

One year af­ter lock­ing horns with Heis­man win­ner Baker May­field, Eh­linger out­du­eled quar­ter­back Kyler Mur­ray, a cel­e­brated Heis­man can­di­date in his own right en­ter­ing the 113th edi­tion of the Red River Show­down.

21 unan­swered points

Mur­ray was phe­nom­e­nal against Texas (5-1, 3-0 Big 12). He threw for 304 yards and four touch­downs and broke off a 67yard touch­down run in the fourth quar­ter to breathe new life into OU (5-1, 2-1).

But Mur­ray’s two turnovers — Bran­don Jones in­ter­cepted him in the first quar­ter and Breckyn Hager re­cov­ered his fum­ble at the Soon­ers’ 23-yard line — proved the dif­fer­ence in a game de­cided by a last-sec­ond field goal.

Eh­linger was bet­ter Sat­ur­day. On the ground. Through the air. He even caught a pass for the sec­ond straight week from wide­out Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey.

Eh­linger com­pleted 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards and two touch­downs, added an­other 72 yards and ca­reer-high three scores rush­ing. Ex­clud­ing a kneel down to end the first half, Texas scored on six touch­downs and kicked one field goal over its first eight pos­ses­sions.

Humphey capped UT’s first drive by tak­ing a snap out of the wild­cat for­ma­tion and toss­ing a jump pass to Collin John­son in the back of the end zone. One drive af­ter Cameron Dicker’s 44-yard field goal, run­ning back Tre Wat­son blew by his de­fender on a wheel route and hauled in Eh­linger’s pass for a 28-yard score.

Eh­linger then had a rush­ing touch­down on three of UT’s next four drives. Those power runs used edge-seal­ing blocks from his line and tight end An­drew Beck.

Humphrey ce­mented his jackof-all-trade per­for­mance with a 15yard touch­down grab to put UT ahead 45-24 late in the third quar­ter. He fin­ished with a game-high nine re­cep­tions for 133 yards.

It was a vir­tu­oso of­fen­sive per­for­mance. It nearly wasn’t enough.

Even af­ter Eh­linger’s Her­culean ef­fort, the dif­fer­ence be­tween suc­cess or fail­ure rested with the right leg of a fresh­man kicker.

Ok­la­homa scored 21 unan­swered points over a six-minute span in the fourth quar­ter to tie the game at 45. Run­ning back Trey Ser­mon’s 7-yard dash with 2:38 left sent UT’s side of the sta­dium into tem­po­rary shock.

“The of­fense never doubted,” said John­son, who had six re­cep­tions for 81 yards. “This team never doubted. We’ve been there in prac­tice. We do a two-minute drill ev­ery day, do that ex­act same thing and go down and kick a field goal or score a touch­down.”

John­son drew a pass in­ter­fer­ence call on a deep pass, and Eh­linger fol­lowed that by find­ing Devin Duver­nay for a gain of 18. Af­ter a 7-yard com­ple­tion to Beck and three runs to­tal­ing 13 yards, the kicker strolled onto the field.

Never a doubt on FG

Dicker drilled a 40-yard field goal with nine sec­onds left.

“It felt good right when it left my foot,” Dicker said. “Look­ing up, it was go­ing through. I don’t even think I watched it go all the way through. I just turned around and went to Ryan (Bu­jcevski) and cel­e­brated with him.”

Mur­ray en­tered this game the un­beat­able su­per­hero with a su­per­star’s smile. From his 43-0 ten­ure at Allen to this year’s blis­ter­ing start, the fu­ture base­ball player moved and op­er­ated with an aura of in­vin­ci­bil­ity.

Eh­linger was the game man­ager. He was de­pen­dent on the bril­liant schem­ing of de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Or­lando and the play-mak­ing of his of­fen­sive weapons. Or so it went.

In the most pres­sur­ized sit­u­a­tion imag­in­able, Eh­linger looked like a star. He looked like, well, a new Sam Eh­linger.

“We were com­ing up in this el­e­va­tor (to the news con­fer­ence) as play­ers, and I told them it feels a lot bet­ter com­ing up than it did last year,” Eh­linger said. “I still can’t put to words how great this ri­valry is and to be a part of it. I hon­estly can’t.”

Cooper Neill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UT kicker Cameron Dicker, sec­ond from left, is mobbed by team­mates af­ter boot­ing a 40-yard, game-de­cid­ing field goal with nine sec­onds re­main­ing Sat­ur­day at the Cot­ton Bowl.

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