AUSTIN, Texas -- There were plenty of reasons for Texas' meltdown and 38-13 home loss to Oklahoma State on Saturday, and some of them may tell us a lot about how these Longhorns will fare in big tests to finish out the regular season. Here are five things the Cowboys exposed about this Texas team on Saturday:
1. There’s zero room for error
For a team that ran off six straight victories in the Big 12, Texas was reminded that countless mistakes prove costly against good opponents.
The Longhorns started off horribly at West Virginia and got away with it. Case McCoy threw six interceptions during the streak but got away with it. Texas had to run the ball 50 times a game to win and still got away with it.
Its defense seemingly made tangible weekly improvement but also faced only one top-50 scoring offense along the way, a Kansas State unit that’s playing far better today than it was in September. Texas’ defensive line wrecked the Mountaineers but couldn’t find any semblance of a consistent pass rush to hurry Clint Chelf.
And imagine if Mike Gundy hadn’t backed his Cowboys off in the second half. This was a pure meltdown that could’ve been much worse. Credit Texas’ players for the 6-0 start they engineered in Big 12 play, but they learned just how little room for error they have in big games with the way this team is currently constructed.
Mack Brown's team might get away with stuff against a Texas Tech team that has lost four in a row. But these Longhorns would have to play a near-perfect ballgame to stand a chance of going four quarters with Baylor.
2. Small-play offense
There was just way too much dink-and-dunk going on with this offense against OSU, which is probably a product of injuries, a restrained approach with McCoy at the helm, his own checkdowns and a stout Cowboy defense.
McCoy had one completion of 15-plus yards on the day. He completed four or more for 15-plus in each of Texas’ past five games. Without Johnathan Gray, Texas managed just two rushes of more than 10 yards. When this offense was trying to take shots and mount a rally in the third quarter, only three plays gained more than 10 yards.
Against OSU, Texas faced second down and 6-plus a total of 17 times and third down and 6-plus on nine occasions, putting a team that’s overly dependent on the run into too many difficult spots. The kind of spots that can’t always be solved by screen passes.
3. Pass defense doesn’t pass test
The Texas secondary has avoided scrutiny for the most part this season, but that unit didn’t challenge Chelf and his receivers much on Saturday. Safety Mykkele Thompson snagged his first career interception when Chelf threw into double coverage. That was the high point.
Chelf averaged 8.95 yards per attempt and gained first downs or touchdowns on 45 percent of his throws. And he only had to throw the ball 22 times to pick apart Texas. Getting no pass rush up front didn’t help Duane Akina’s crew, but then again, none of his DBs recorded a pass breakup.
If you take a quick skim of the box score, you’ll see the Cowboys had 197 passing yards and no completion longer than 29 and you might call that a mild success for “DBU.” But again, that’s only because OSU had no need to throw the ball in the second half. Not when trading punts ensured an easy victory. Texas Tech and Baylor won’t be so merciful.
4. Special teams struggling
Disclaimer: Anthony Fera has hit 17 of his 18 field goal attempts this season. He should be a Lou Groza finalist. He’s that good, and he’s basically beyond reproach at this point compared to the rest of the Longhorns’ special teams foibles.
The kick returns are ineffective, none worse than a botched reverse that put Texas at its own 6 to start the second half. The kickoff defense isn’t any better. Bad starting field position hurt Texas a number of times.
And the returners are in a real funk. Daje Johnson might be sitting a few of those out going forward. He can break a big one ever so often, but he’s also liable to drop one at any moment. And his longest kickoff return against OSU went 18 yards. That’s a problem.
When Fera agreed to transfer to Texas from Penn State, Brown proudly declared that Texas could have some of the best special teams in the country. Surely, he’s not saying that right now.
5. The QB run still works
Kudos to Gundy and his staff for recognizing a weakness in the Texas defense and exploiting it. Its defensive linemen aren’t particularly adept at playing the read-option offense with consistent success, and the Cowboys knew Chelf would have some nice run lanes if OSU could get Texas’ linebackers spread out over the field and out of position.
Chelf picked up gains of 14, 22 and 18 yards on the ground, and those were just on his first four rushing attempts. He finished the day with 95 yards and two scores running the ball.