Through the season’s first four weeks, the central criticism of the Longhorn defense stemmed from its inability to force turnovers.
Texas failed to take the ball from opposing offenses, allowing them to march down the field with minimal threat of a takeaway. The Longhorns stole the ball away just one time en route to a 2–2 start, putting excess pressure on its offense. “We have to be focused on making plays,” head coach Charlie Strong said following Texas’ loss to Oklahoma State three weeks ago. “We’ve got to come up with turnovers and give our offense a chance.”
The Longhorns heeded Strong’s words since they left Stillwater, Oklahoma. Texas has forced eight combined turnovers over the past three weeks, vaulting its defense from second to last in the nation up toward the middle of the pack.
But as usual for Texas since Strong arrived on campus, once one problem subsided for the Longhorns, another quickly arose. Texas has failed to benefit from its turnover production over the past three contests, ceding opportunities to put points on the board.
Texas’ battle with Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl provided a prime example of the Longhorns’ inability to capitalize after stripping the football or forcing an interception.
Texas scored just three points off of four Sooner turnovers, placing much of the burden on its defense. On one drive in the third quarter, freshman quarterback Shane Buechele tossed an interception just two plays after the Longhorns recovered a fumble at the Sooner 23-yard line, killing all momentum on Texas’ sideline.
“It’s real frustrating, [because] we had a chance to win these games, but we didn’t capitalize,” senior offensive lineman Kent Perkins said. “It sucks, honestly, but all we can do is look forward to next week. We need to control the things we can control, and we’re going to improve.”
That same frustration followed Texas to Manhattan, Kansas, on Saturday. The Longhorns harassed Wildcat quarterback Jesse Ertz into one fumble and an interception and picked up the ball again after forcing a fumble from running back Charles Jones near the goal line.
But once again, Texas failed to convert its opportunities. The Longhorns turned the ball over on downs twice after taking the ball and missed a field goal following their third forced turnover, all but sealing the loss.
“It just comes down to execution,” Buechele said. “Whenever the defense gives us the ball, we have to go out and run our offense and run with tempo. We have to go and find a way to score.”
Texas’ upcoming matchup with No. 6 Baylor presents a challenge far different than any other opponent the Longhorn defense has battled this year. Against Kansas State, every possession was paramount. The Wildcats brought the game to a halt, bleeding the clock on every drive. Points were at a premium in the Little Apple, and every missed opportunity was critical.
The Bears will bring a high-octane attack on Saturday, the antithesis of Kansas State’s low-speed machine. The Longhorns will get plenty of possessions to put points the board, but make no mistake. If Texas’ offense continues to stall after generating turnovers, it will be a long day against the nation’s No. 4 offense.