A BETTER THIRD QUARTER
For one reason or another, the Longhorns have struggled on all sides of the ball in third quarters this season.
The Longhorn defense held Baylor’s electric offense scoreless in the first half, shooting down everything the Sooners could send their way before halftime. The front seven clogged inside lanes, and senior cornerback Quandre Diggs and his teammates in the secondary consistently made open-field tackles.
But both games saw dramatic collapses in the second half. It is very easy to chastise the Longhorn defense for opponents’ second-half scoring frenzies, but the offense’s inability to sustain drives and chew up clock deserve the majority of the blame.
At one point against Oklahoma, the Texas offense had three out of four drives end in three-and-outs, with the one outlier being an uneventful five-play drive that ended with a punt. Even the best defense in the country — Texas deserves to be in that conversation — would be hard pressed to sustain success when it gets virtually no rest against teams keen on moving quickly.
The best thing the Longhorn defense could hope for against the Cyclones is more consistency from sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes on third downs and a clock-eating run game that gives the defenders some well-deserved rest.
It is never a good sign when something so simple shows up as a key to victory. Discipline on the field should be a given for a power-five conference team like Texas. Hard-nosed head coach Charlie Strong usually has this sort of thing under control, but Texas’ showing against Oklahoma proved otherwise.
The Longhorns had some crippling penalties against Oklahoma. Senior wide receiver John Harris got caught for a crucial holding penalty, which wiped out a 73-yard scamper by sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Holding calls happen, but Harris’ penalty was especially painful because it occurred 10 yards down the field. Swoopes was on his way to a first down regardless of whether Harris held or not.
A flagrant kick catch interference penalty in the third quarter by sophomore Adrian Colbert gave the Sooners great field position, for which Colbert earned a rather loud talking to from Strong.
Texas could get away with a couple dumb penalties if it had a good offense, but, when Swoopes and company struggle to score 21 points per game, unnecessary penalties can make the difference. Iowa State nearly upset a very talented Kansas State team, and Texas’ bowl hopes could be in jeopardy if it cedes free yardage to a Cyclone team hungry for an upset.
Prior to the Red River Showdown, Swoopes’ struggles looked to be the weight that was dragging down a talented Texas team. Swoopes completed less than half of his passes against Baylor and threw for just 144 yards, with two picks and no touchdowns.
Fans were inquiring about the readiness of freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard, but then Swoopes erupted for 344 passing yards, 50 rushing yards, and three total touchdowns against Oklahoma.
Swoopes even connected on three passes of 32-plus yards, briefly quieting concerns about his inability to throw the deep ball.
The sophomore still misfires every so often, and play-caller Shawn Watson does not trust Swoopes enough to put him alone on third-and-longs, but the Oklahoma game was a step in the right direction.
In the Cotton Bowl, the offense was finally exciting. If Swoopes can maintain his confidence and continue to perform well, things could open up for the immensely talented Longhorn running backs who have been sitting stagnantly, and the defense can finally get the rest it needs to dominate all four quarters.