For now, the Golden Hat Trophy -- awarded to the Red River Rivalry victor -- heads north of the border following Texas' 28-21 loss to the Oklahoma. Texas had posted two straight Ws in the bitter series.
It was a breakout performance for Jermichael Finley, who had 135 of Texas' 185 total yards at halftime. He opened the third quarter with a 14-yard reception, his final catch of the ballgame. The big sophomore became integral to the game plan after Texas coaches detected that OU linebackers tend to bite on play-action, leaving the TE in single coverage.
"All I had to do was beat the linebacker," Finley said, "and I knew I could do that every time".
Finley became the first TE in Longhorn football history to notch two or more receptions of 50+ yards in a game, or in season, or even in a career, for that matter. Where the heck was he during the final 30 minutes of a closer-than-expected contest? It was a question that head coach Mack Brown dodged two or three times during the post-game press conference. But offensive coordinator Greg Davis noted OU made adjustments in its backside coverage following the break.
"A couple of different times they rolled the coverage over the top," Davis said. "It gave us single coverage on the backside so we went to the backside."
Finley's 22-yard TD reception with 6:48 remaining in the second quarter was the fourth of his career but just his first of the season. His 149 receiving yards set a new Longhorn record for TEs that had been on the books for 40 years (Randy Peschel, 126 yards against Rice, 1967). But one play into the second half, Finley was shut out.
"We just changed up our coverage," OU coach Bob Stoops said.
Even so, you still have to like Finley's chances when folks are doubling-down on him.
"On one of those where he had a big play," Stoops continued, "we had three guys that were running around the football and he beat us to the ball. A couple of times we didn't cover him very well. We just switched up our coverages."
Two second-half turnovers were critical for Texas, and RB Jamaal Charles had a hand in both of them. His fumble at the Oklahoma four stopped a 68-yard, eight-play march on Texas' first possession of the third quarter. It came at the end of a nine-yard run, but MLB Curtis Lofton stripped the ball just as Charles was about to hit paydirt and put Texas on top in what was then a 14-14 ballgame. Later, with Texas trailing 28-21 early in the fourth-quarter, QB Colt McCoy's pass was thrown slightly behind Charles. The junior got his hands on it just enough to tip it to Reggie Smith at the Sooner 28.
"We were moving the ball every time we had the ball," McCoy said. "When you have a stall like that it really hurts. I don't know if that was the biggest play of the game, but it definitely stalled us. Those things can't happen."
But they have in back-to-back Longhorn losses. Since opening Big 12 play, the Horns have been guilty of six turnovers while producing none.
The dagger may have been Oklahoma's 94-yard drive to take the lead for good with 10:42 remaining. The Horns had just knotted the affair at 21 with RB Vondrell McGee's one-yard rush behind LT Tony Hills' clearing block. Then, Sooner DeMarco Murray watched as Hunter Lawrence's 63-yard KO bounced along the left sideline inside the Sooner five. His four-yard return reached the Sooner six. But the out-passes over-the-middle worked all day for Sooner QB Sam Bradford as he efficiently moved his team out of the shadow of its own end zone. Then, on 3rd-and-five from the Texas 35, the dagger. His flag pass to wide-open WR Malcolm Kelly gave OU the lead for good.
"It was a great drive," Brown said of the Sooner march. "We answered every time they scored and they answered every time we scored."
Well, except this time. Texas answered with the only INT of the afternoon for either team.
"It (lack of forcing turnovers) is frustrating," said NT Derek Lokey. "But I saw more gang-tackling from our defense today, holding guys up and guys ripping for the ball. I think we tackled better today. I really think Oklahoma just did a great job of hanging onto the ball."
Charles ran for 79 tough yards on 17 totes, but Texas' 61 net yards (on 29 attempts) obviously won't get 'er done against quality opponents. Oklahoma came with run blitzes (specifically from the SS and SLB) that coaches did not expect. Texas' inexperienced offensive line played okay, surrendering four sacks, but generally giving McCoy enough time to complete balls to eight receivers. But SE Limas Sweed remains one of college football's most high-profile downfield blockers. He finished with 25 yards on two catches and, other than Rice, Sweed has not given Texas the vertical passing game that most expected from the deepest corps of WRs in program history.
For the first time in Brown's 10-year tenure, Texas is 0-2 in Big 12 Conference play and has now dropped four straight league games dating back to last season.
"Fortunes are out of our control right now as far as a the championship at the end," Brown said, "but we have to continue to get better as a football team."
Is there a silver lining for a Texas team that walked out of the Cotton Bowl under a steady rain?
"Offensively, this was the game we needed to have," said McCoy, whose 19-of-26 passing for 324 yards and two TDs represent his best outing of the year. "From now on, we'll be good."
RT Adam Ulatoski checked in on Texas' second series. The Horns collected their initial first-down of the ball game when McCoy connected with WR Quan Cosby for five yards on third-and-three from the 35. Backup QB John Chiles entered the game on the next play, handing off to RB Jamaal Charles on the counter left. The drive ended when an outside blitz got to McCoy, forcing a 40-yard Justin Moore punt.
Oklahoma drew first-blood on its third possession, tallying three huge completions into points. The first was QB Sam Bradford's right sideline pass to WR Malcolm Kelly against CB Deon Beasley. It overcame a 3rd-and-14 from the Sooner 12. Bradford's right sideline pass to Juaquin Iglesias was good for 39 yards on 2nd-and-17 from the Sooner 19. Next play, Bradford went up top to Kelly on the post pattern, his 41-yard reception setting up 1st-and-goal from the one. On second down, Bradford found TE Jermaine Gresham wide open in the back of the end zone with 39 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
Both teams exchanged punts when Texas jumped back into this one in dramatic fashion. McCoy's slant to TE Jermichael Finley covered 54 yards when the big sophomore cut left before he was shoved out of bounds at the Sooner six. On first-and-goal, McCoy hooked up with FL Jordan Shipley in the left corner of the south end zone on play-action. The score was knotted, 7-7, just 3:24 into the second quarter.
The only problem with Longhorn scores is that it puts Texas' KO coverage team on the field. DeMarco Murray returned Hunter Lawrence's boot 40 yards to the Sooner 49 before Lawrence made the TD-saving tackle.
But this drive stalled when DE Brian Orakpo threw Bradford for a 10-yard loss. DT Frank Okam pressured the RS-freshman QB into an incompletion and the Horns took over on their own 17 following a 42-yard punt.
Finley struck again. Texas overcame a delay-of-game penalty on first down (following a timeout) when McCoy found Finley on 2nd-and-12 from the 15. This time, Finley motored 58 yards to the Sooner 27 where, three plays later, he was on the receiving end of McCoy's 22-yard TD toss over the middle. Chiles also kept for four yards on first-down during the five-play 83-yard march. The Horns grabbed a 14-7 lead with 6:58 remaining until the break.
But Oklahoma answered with a 10-play, 65 yards march. The Sooners converted three third downs on the drive and were assisted by DE Eddie Jones' personal foul. Gresham collected his second TD of the half against WLB Scott Derry to tie the score at 14 with 4:03 remaining.
Finley picked up where he left off with a 14-yard reception on Texas' first play of the second half. Freshman Blaine Irby got in on the 'Tight End Show' with a 26-yard catch-and-run to the Sooner 19. But then disaster struck. The Horns faced a 1st-and-goal from the 13 following their second delay penalty of the game. At this point, it was a turnover-free game until Charles was stripped by MLB Curtis Lofton following a nine-yard run. DT Gerald McCoy made they recovery at the four.
"I saw the end zone and tried to do too much," Charles said. "I thought I scored and the defender came around with his other arm on my left hand and knocked the ball out. I was holding the ball well; he was just a good tackler."
The Sooners rode the momentum of the sudden-change for a couple of first-downs before the defense forced a 46-yard punt. Charles stepped off eight tough yards on 1st-and-10 from the 12, but the Horns couldn't move the chains on two successive runs. Justin Moore's punt covered 44 yards to the OU 45. (Moore did a solid job in replacing erratic Trevor Gerland, averaging 43.7 yards on six punts in a pressure-packed setting).
But from there, RB DeMarco Murray raced untouched 65 yards around left end on first down. OU led, 21-14, with 4:21 left in the third.
"It gave us some momentum back," Bradford said. "It was key in getting us going and getting us into a rhythm. That play sparked us."
Texas answered with a nine-play march which, frankly, was one of Davis' best-called series of the season. Operating from his 30, McCoy hit WR Nate Jones over the middle for 16. Charles' six-yard run set up a 3rd-and-one play and McCoy moved the chains (barely) with a sneak. A well-timed tunnel screen against a heavy blitz was good for a nine-yard Jones reception, setting up another 3rd-and-1 from the 35. This time, McCoy hit Chris Ogbonnaya out of the backfield in the right flat for a 29-yard rumble to the Sooner six. Texas faced 2nd-and-goal from the one as the quarter expired. Hiccup-quick RB Vondrell McGee cashed in on the power-I off left tackle and we were tied at 21 just three seconds into the final frame following the nine-play, 70-yard march.
It appeared that the the Big Mo was squarely on Texas' sideline following the score and Murray's mishandling of Lawrence's kickoff. But Bradford's 35-yard TD to a wide-open Kelly, in essence, sealed the deal, at the 10:42 mark.
The Horns will look to rebound in consecutive road games, heading to Iowa State and Baylor.
Lots of Heart, But Still No 'Hat'
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