Texas players gathered around head coach Tom Herman right before they made their way back to the locker room for final pregame preparations.
Moments before the Longhorns could break the huddle and head down the tunnel, though, eyes shifted to the jumbotron inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. The 56-foot-by-135-foot screen was illuminated with the final play of the Oklahoma State vs. No. 9 West Virginia game.
And once the Mountaineers, who sat in first place in the Big 12, were upset by Oklahoma State, the Longhorn faithful erupted. Texas players also reacted, knowing they were back in position to reach the Big 12 Championship. But talking about the big picture is the last thing Herman wanted to do with the matchup against Iowa State minutes away.
“I’ve got to talk to our video board operator about that, doing that right during pregame. That was tough to wrangle our guys in and focus on pregame,” Herman said. “You talk about not worrying about the big picture and there it is in frigging high definition right there in front of you.”
As much as the coaches and players avoid discussing the big picture, the winner of the No. 15 Texas vs. No. 16 Iowa State matchup would have the best shot at reaching the Big 12 Championship as a result of the Oklahoma State upset.
All of a sudden, Senior Night wasn’t the biggest storyline of the night.
“Right when I turned around and saw the implications of our future, I realized Senior Night can wait,” defensive end Breckyn Hager said on the Longhorn Network after the game. “It can wait five years from now. I don't care for this memory in the moment because I have to beat Iowa State so I can beat Kansas, and that way the story that was written by God that I have been proclaiming for oh so long now comes true.”
The energy level in DKR rose the second Texas realized it controlled its own destiny, and the 102,498 fans in attendance never let it waver en route to a 24-10 victory over the Cyclones for the Longhorns’ first victory on Senior Night since 2013.
The only moment of uncertainty came in the second quarter when quarterback Sam Ehlinger took a massive blow to his throwing shoulder, the same shoulder he injured against Baylor earlier this year.
Ehlinger, who finished the first half 12-for-15 for 137 yards and two total touchdowns, left the game moments before Texas took a 17-3 lead going into halftime and never returned. Herman said the sophomore quarterback sustained an AC contusion but clarified it is different from the AC sprain he suffered earlier in the year.
“The X-rays were negative for a fracture, and we’re going to get a MRI tomorrow to assess where we go from there,” Herman said. “But he came up to me and said, ‘Coach, I can go. I can run, I can take a hit. Anything over about 10 or 15 yards I’m just really weak because of the pain.’”
Ehlinger was restricted to the sideline, but backup quarterback Shane Buechele didn’t miss a beat. The junior quarterback went 10-for-10, including a 27-yard pass to wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who threw off an Iowa State defender and leaped into the end zone to put the Longhorns up 24-3 in the third quarter.
Humphrey’s touchdown grab was just one of seven receptions for 86 yards, which was enough to become only the ninth player in school history to reach the 1,000-yard mark.
“That dude is a superhero,” running back Tre Watson said. “His game speaks for itself. It’s a blessing to have somebody like that. Being able to see it in person is crazy. You don't realize how good he really is until you’re out there and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this guy is a grown man among kids.’”
The 24-3 lead proved to be insurmountable as the Longhorns now sit one win away from a trip to the Big 12 Championship. After the game, players gave shoutouts to Oklahoma State, but for now, they’re focusing on the one thing standing between Texas and a shot at a conference title: a trip to Lawrence, Kansas, for a matchup with Kansas.
“We’ve gotta focus on Kansas,” Watson said. “We don’t want to get too caught up in all the future stuff. We really want to focus on right now … We’ve put ourselves in position to have a shot. We’ve gotta finish the journey.”