SOON­ERS WIN BIG 12, NOW WAIT FOR BID.

OU ex­ploits 13 penal­ties and cap­i­tal­izes on big plays to cap­ture con­fer­ence crown

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Nick Moyle STAFF WRITER

AR­LING­TON — Six days af­ter the cal­en­dar flipped to 2014, Char­lie Strong was in­tro­duced as the new coach of Texas, the man se­lected to step into, and even­tu­ally es­cape from, Mack Brown’s Forty Acres-size shadow.

Uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent Bill Power si­dled up be­side Strong dur­ing that Jan. 6 news con­fer­ence, slung his left arm around the for­mer Louisville coach and pro­claimed, “He’s the right per­son to rep­re­sent our uni­ver­sity on the field, on cam­pus and in liv­ing rooms.”

Strong lasted three sea­sons.

A sim­i­lar mood soaked Tom Herman’s for­mal in­tro­duc­tion two years ago.

“We got our man,” cur­rent uni­ver­sity pres­i­dent Greg Fenves de­clared in front of a room brim­ming with re­porters, boost­ers and Texas foot­ball power-bro­kers.

Fenves was, it seems, a bet­ter prophet than his pre­de­ces­sor.

Herman man­u­fac­tured a swift and sig­nif­i­cant turn­around at Texas over two years, though his pro­gram demon­strated Satur­day it wasn’t ready to as­cend to the top of the Big 12 as the 14th-ranked Longhorns (9-4) fell to fifth-ranked Okla-

homa 39-27 in the con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship game at AT&T Sta­dium.

“Hard-fought game,” Herman said. “Re­ally proud of our ef­fort. Proud of our phys­i­cal­ity. We ob­vi­ously didn't make enough plays down the stretch.

“Ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed in the out­come for these se­niors, es­pe­cially. But we’ve earned the right to the play in a big-time bowl game.”

The game was per­fectly un­pre­dictable, a thriller with sud­den swerves and lead changes.

Texas built a 14-6 lead in the first half on a pair of touch­down runs by quar­ter­back Sam Eh­linger.

Ok­la­homa moved into the red zone on its first two pos­ses­sions, but set­tled for a pair of field goals. Credit goes to lineback­ers Gary John­son and An­thony Wheeler for their third-and­goal gang tackle on run­ning back Trey Ser­mon, and cor­ner­back Kris Boyd for break­ing up a touch­down pass to wide­out Mar­quise Brown.

But Texas could only keep the Soon­ers’ pun­ish­ing of­fense in check for so long. With un­der five min­utes re­main­ing in the first half, Ok­la­homa quar­ter­back and most out­stand­ing player Kyler Mur­ray threw touch­down passes to re­ceivers CeeDee Lamb and Grant Cal­caterra.

Then Ser­mon rushed for a 6-yard touch­down on the open­ing drive of the sec­ond half to put Ok­la­homa ahead 27-14.

For a good por­tion of the day Eh­linger was Mur­ray’s equal. And his main tar­get, re­ceiver Collin John­son, looked as un­stop­pable as any re­ceiver in the na­tion.

John­son, who set a cham­pi­onship-game record with 177 re­ceiv­ing yards, put his 6-6 frame to use on a leap­ing 27-yard touch­down reception in the back cor­ner of the end zone.

Six min­utes later, Eh­linger hooked up with re­ceiver Lil’Jor­dan Humphrey for a game-ty­ing 5-yard touch­down.

But kicker Cameron Dicker’s ex­tra-point try ric­o­cheted off the left up­right, keep­ing the game knot­ted at 27. And maybe that was the sign these Longhorns weren’t quite ready.

For Texas, the cul­prits in this loss are many. Too many penal­ties. Thir­teen in all, for a stag­ger­ing 128 yards.

Texas handed Ok­la­homa’s of­fense, which ranked fourth na­tion­ally in first downs this sea­son, a fresh set of downs five times via penalty.

“We had some ag­gres­sive penal­ties that were called that cer­tainly hurt us,” Herman said.

Then there’s the safety. The game-chang­ing play that fol­lowed what seemed like a game-chang­ing fum­ble re­cov­ery by Bran­don Jones at the Texas 8-yard line.

Gary John­son was re­spon­si­ble for jar­ring that ball loose from Lamb, who had bobbed and weaved through Longhorns for 54 yards be­fore the se­nior line­backer crunched him from be­hind.

Texas, then trail­ing 30-27 af­ter a Soon­ers field goal, had walked it­self back from the brink of de­feat. Two plays later, it was right back on the precipice.

Eh­linger ad­mit­ted he never saw Tre Brown com­ing. None of his team­mates did, ei­ther.

Brown came clean on a cor­ner­back blitz and con­verged on Eh­linger in less than two sec­onds. By the time he en­tered Eh­linger’s pe­riph­eral vi­sion, it was too late.

“It seemed to be their game-plan blitz,” Eh­linger said. “Un­for­tu­nately, we didn't pick it up in our slide and it was my fault for not see­ing him, be­cause I was look­ing the other way. We had an op­por­tu­nity, our de­fense did a great job of get­ting the ball back to us, and then of­fen­sively we didn't take care of our part of the bargain. That's on us.”

Ok­la­homa (12-1) be­gan its en­su­ing drive with eight min­utes 19 sec­onds re­main­ing and drained the game clock for what felt like an eter­nity. Cal­caterra clinched the Soon­ers’ fourth straight Big 12 ti­tle with a stun­ning one-handed touch­down catch with two min­utes left, too lit­tle time for the Longhorns.

“I will make it my mis­sion to never let this team or this school feel this dis­ap­point­ment again,” Eh­linger said.

Texas waited eight sea­sons to win a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship un­der Brown. In 2018, that sort of pa­tience no longer ex­ists. Es­pe­cially not within an ath­letic depart­ment that an­nu­ally rakes in over $200 mil­lion in rev­enue.

But there’s no hot seat for Herman, whom Fenves once called “the hottest coach in col­lege foot­ball to­day.” This, Texas be­lieves, is just the start.

“Af­ter the bowl game, I think we will do some re­flec­tion and be very proud of where we’ve come,” Herman said. “But there’s just not any time for that right now. We’ve got a game to pre­pare for start­ing to­mor­row.

“I do know that when­ever we’re done we will re­flect on the sea­son and re­al­ize truly just how much progress we have made.”

Jef­frey McWhorter / As­so­ci­ated Press

Ok­la­homa tight end Grant Cal­caterra, left, hauls in a one-handed TD catch in front of UT de­fen­sive back B.J. Fos­ter for the fi­nal score of OU’s win.

Ron­ald Martinez / Getty Images

UT quar­ter­back Sam Eh­linger, left, is brought down by OU’s Tre Brown for a safety in the fourth quar­ter.

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