Horns re­take con­trol of Big 12 des­tiny

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Sports - By Nick Moyle STAFF WRITER [email protected]­press-news.net

AUSTIN — About 35 min­utes be­fore kick­off, nearly ev­ery fan in Royal-Me­mo­rial Sta­dium ap­peared fix­ated on “Godzil­la­tron,” the gar­gan­tuan videoboard over the south end zone.

The crowd, then about quar­ter ca­pac­ity, roared in uni­son as it wit­nessed West Vir­ginia quar­ter­back Will Grier’s fi­nal pass bat­ted down by an Ok­la­homa State de­fender in the end zone. The Cow­boys had de­feated the Moun­taineers and, in the process, granted Texas con­trol over its own des­tiny.

For UT, the path­way to the Big 12 ti­tle game was now straight­for­ward: de­feat Iowa State on Satur­day and Kansas next Fri­day.

The 15th-ranked Longhorns (8-3, 6-2 Big 12) checked off the first box Satur­day night with a 24-10 win over the 16th-ranked Cy­clones (6-4, 5-3) on se­nior night.

Be­fore the game, coach Tom Herman told his team the “big pic­ture didn’t mat­ter.” For­get WVU and Ok­la­homa State and fo­cus on

this game.

“They were aware of it, but I think we got them di­aled back in very quickly,” Herman said.

Texas won this game with, for the first time since a 23-17 win over Bay­lor on Oct. 13, a swarm­ing and tena­cious de­fense.

It won de­spite los­ing start­ing quar­ter­back Sam Eh­linger for the en­tire sec­ond half af­ter he re-ag­gra­vated the shoul­der in­jury he suf­fered in that win over the Bears. It won be­cause it dom­i­nated the ma­jor­ity of 50-50 plays, the ones that can flip a game one way or the other.

Texas sig­naled its in­tent to out­mus­cle the con­fer­ence’s most phys­i­cal team on the game’s first pos­ses­sion. Af­ter sur­ren­der­ing open­ing-drive scores in eight of 10 con­tests, in­clud­ing each of its past five, Texas blan­keted ISU’s re­ceivers and swarmed quar­ter­back Brock Purdy to force a punt.

It was a heaven-sent sight for Herman and es­pe­cially de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Todd Or­lando, who of late had be­moaned his unit’s in­abil­ity to make rou­tine tack­les and get stops on third down.

Purdy in the first half was sacked three times, hur­ried thrice more, and in­ter­cepted by sopho­more de­fen­sive back Chris Brown. Se­niors An­thony Wheeler and Breckyn Hager col­lected a sack apiece.

Over the first two quar­ters, the Cy­clones could muster only three points and three punts. The true fresh­man Purdy even­tu­ally was re­placed by se­nior quar­ter­back Kyle Kempt in the sec­ond half, though it made lit­tle dif­fer­ence.

“Re­ally proud of our de­fense,” Herman said. “This is a de­fense that has taken a lot of hits lately. A lot of peo­ple thought we had for­got­ten how to play de­fense or how to coach de­fense. I can’t credit them enough for the way they re- sponded.”

On the other side of the ball, UT got pow­er­ful runs from tail­backs Tre Wat­son and Keaon­tay In­gram. That helped wear down ISU’s de­fense and open up the pass­ing game.

On its first drive, Texas set up com­ple­tions of 35 and 13 yards to wide­out Collin John­son with power runs by Wat­son. Eh­linger put Texas ahead 7-0 with a 7-yard touch­down run, his 10th of the sea­son.

In one half of ac­tion, Eh­linger com­pleted 12 of 15 passes for 137 yards with one touch­down, a 19yarder to In­gram.

The Horns’ phys­i­cal play wasn’t lim­ited to the run­ning game.

Ju­nior Shane Buechele, who re­placed Eh­linger for the sec­ond half, com­pleted all 10 of his passes for 89 yards and a 27-yard TD pass touch­down to Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey.

“What a re­mark­able young man,” Herman said of Buechele. “He’s the def­i­ni­tion of a good team­mate. He gets his men­tal reps at prac­tice, and then he stays ex­tremely en­gaged through the course of the game and no­body bats an eye when he jogs in. Just re­ally proud of him.”

Texas lim­ited ISU to 224 yards of to­tal of­fense. Star run­ning back David Mont­gomery, sus­pended for the first half, man­aged just 33 yards on 10 car­ries and a mean­ing­less 4yard TD with 1:33 to play.

Now, all the Longhorns have to do to reach the Dec. 1 Big 12 ti­tle game at AT&T Sta­dium in Dal­las is beat league punch­ing bag Kansas in Lawrence on Black Fri­day.

Noth­ing is as­sured, es­pe­cially not in a con­fer­ence as chaotic as this one. Af­ter all, the Jay­hawks hung 40 points on No. 6 Ok­la­homa in a 55-40 loss Satur­day.

But Texas sure has to like its chances.

Eric Gay / As­so­ci­ated Press

Texas WR Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey leaps over Iowa State’s Richard Bowens III to fin­ish off a 27-yard touch­down re­cep­tion.

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