They never wanted it to be brought up again, but this week they had no choice.
As they prepare to face Kansas on Saturday, nearly a year since the Longhorns suffered a 24-21 overtime defeat to the Jayhawks in one of the worst losses in program history, Texas players were inevitably asked this week about that ghastly cold day in Lawrence, Kansas, last November.
“No, we try not to talk about it,” junior linebacker Malik Jefferson said. “But we know in the back of our head what happened.”
What happened is to this day still hard for many Longhorn fans to wrap their heads around. How could a national power like Texas lose to one of the worst programs in college football? Kansas entered that game having won just one of its last 25 games and hadn’t beaten Texas since 1938.
When Texas wide receiver Jacorey Warrick scored on the first play from scrimmage in last year’s meeting, there was seemingly zero doubt in the Longhorns’ minds over what the game’s outcome would be.
“With that, we definitely thought we were gonna win the game,” senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said.
Eleven seconds in, the Longhorns were in front 7-0, but what transpired over the next few hours was unthinkable. The Jayhawks hung around and even took a 10-7 lead into halftime. In the fourth quarter, the Longhorns were in control and led 21-10.
Kansas came all the way back to tie the game at 21. A 36-yard field goal by the Jayhawks with seven seconds left in regulation sent the game into overtime.
Texas had the ball first in overtime, but quarterback Shane Buechele threw an interception that led to the Jayhawks kicking a 25-yard field goal for the win — Kansas 24, Texas 21.
Kansas fans stormed the field and tore down a goal post. Poona Ford laid flat on his back and stared at the sky. Charles Omenihu slammed his helmet against the turf and shouted in disgust.
“It just really taught us not to take a team for granted at the end of the day,” junior defensive end Chris Nelson said. “It left a bad taste in our mouths. It’s something that we don’t want to experience again.”
After the game, former head coach Charlie Strong sat at a table for his postgame press conference. He was shocked. He was quiet. He didn’t know what to say.
“Do you have any idea what this means for your future?” a reporter asked.
Strong stuttered, paused, then mustered a couple words.
“No idea,” Strong said.
“I don’t think we knew what was gonna happen after that,” Hughes said. “But basically we knew that because of the play that we had produced on the field and (because we) didn’t come out with a win, (Strong’s) job was now in jeopardy.”
That loss in Lawrence last November set in motion the beginning of the Tom Herman era at Texas.
Less than a week later, the Longhorns lost to TCU at home, 31-9, the day after Thanksgiving in Strong’s last game. Strong was fired the next day, and Herman was immediately hired.
On Saturday evening, Texas will meet Kansas, this time in Austin. The Longhorns are 34-point favorites. Asked on Monday if he planned on bringing up last year’s loss in Lawrence with his team this week, Herman brushed it off.
“We were 16-21 in the past three years. There’s plenty of reminders,” Herman said. “The past is, in my opinion, not a great motivator.”
But the past still had to be brought up this week.