Is Texas back?
That’s the question everyone is asking in the wake of its thrilling 50-47 victory over Notre Dame on Sunday. The Longhorns beat a top 10 team in front of the largest home crowd in school history and a massive TV audience. The postgame celebration felt like a throwback to 2009, the last time they were nationally relevant. Texas coach Charlie Strong crowd surfed on players and quarterback Tyrone Swoopes fired a cannon. It was pandemonium in Austin.
“We needed a win to get the program in the spotlight,” Strong said Sunday night. “This is a win to get us back.”
If Texas returns to national prominence, this will certainly be viewed as the moment Strong turned the corner and got this once proud program back on track.
But is that really where the Longhorns are headed? For now, all you can say is they are off to a good start.
Though Texas looked great against Notre Dame, building a 17-point lead in the third quarter and making impressive plays in double overtime, this isn’t the first big game it has won under Strong. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma and Baylor last year, and neither of those wins were program-changers. Heck, they weren’t enough to get them to a bowl. Three weeks after Oklahoma, they lost 24-0 at Iowa State. Before Baylor, they lost consecutive games to West Virginia and Texas Tech. Texas finished 5-7.
Late-game blunders cost the Longhorns in seemingly every close game. Much like then, beating Notre Dame won’t end up meaning much if Texas can’t back it up with wins against UTEP and California.
Strong wants this to be different.
“One game does not make a season,” Strong said Monday. “We played very well. Now, let’s put this game behind us. People are going to pat you on the back, but we have to move forward.”
An improved offense should help Texas in its pursuit of consistency. When Mack Brown had the Longhorns rolling (winning at least 10 games every season from 2001-2009) they were an offensive juggernaut, routinely topping 50 points. That rarely happened in Strong’s first two seasons, but Texas looked like a different team when moving the ball against Notre Dame.
Strong appears to have found the perfect balance between quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Swoopes. On Sunday, Buechele looked like a future star in his first start, completing 16 of 26 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. His top highlight came on a 72-yard bomb to John Burt. The ball was perfectly thrown against both pressure and coverage. The freshman looked confident guiding the offense up and down the field, even rushing for 33 yards and a touchdown on five carries.
But Swoopes won the game with powerful goal-line runs. Texas turned to Swoopes in both overtimes, and he found the end zone twice. Notre Dame knew what was coming and loaded the box to stop Swoopes, but it didn’t matter. The Texas quarterback lowered his shoulder and won the game.
“I knew all along what I had at quarterback,” Strong said. “… Our system is set up where you can play two. They know their packages and have enough respect for one another that it works.”
Everything seemed to work for Texas against Notre Dame.
Time will tell if Texas is truly on its way back, but the Longhorns created a great deal of optimism in their opener.
West Virginia joined Texas as the Big 12’s biggest winner over the weekend, thumping Missouri 26-11. The rest of the conference failed to deliver a signature victory.
Preseason favorite Oklahoma lost its opener to Houston, a defeat that will limit the Sooners’ chances of returning to college football’s playoff. Though Houston is a top 15 team and there is plenty of season left, Oklahoma may need to win the remainder of its games to get back in the conversation. That won’t be easy with Ohio State and nine conference games looming. No team has gone undefeated in Big 12 play since it switched to a round-robin.
K-State lost the league’s only other prominent game of the weekend, falling 26-13 at Stanford.
Everyone else in the conference started with FCS competition. Most rolled in those guarantee games, including Kansas, which pounded Rhode Island 55-6 for David Beaty’s first victory. But Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa in Matt Campbell’s debut.
Call it a slow start for the Big 12. The conference gets three chances to prove itself against power-conference teams next week. Iowa State heads to Iowa, TCU hosts Arkansas and Texas Tech plays at Arizona State.
When asked about what went wrong in Oklahoma’s loss to Houston on Saturday, Sooners coach Bob Stoops pointed to a field-goal return for a touchdown in the third quarter. He thinks that was the turning point.
Oklahoma attempted to take the lead on a long field goal and ended up trailing 26-17 when Houston’s Brandon Wilson returned the miss 100 yards for a score.
Other coaches across the Big 12 took notice. Many of them said that play, along with a similar touchdown by Auburn against Alabama in 2013, have led them to practice field-goal returns and consider whether to attempt a long kick in games.
“There’s coverage involved against a returner every time we do it, so it’s a daily preparation for us,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “It’s a difficult thing because normally you have all those big, lumbering guys that are protectors on your field-goal unit and all of a sudden you’re asking them to become cover guys against a guy that runs a 4.3. That’s not an easy task, so everybody has to be in the right spot. We drill on that every single day, every practice.”
1. Texas (1-0): Carried the Big 12 flag this week and landed the league’s best victory.
2. West Virginia (1-0): New Big 12 member beat old Big 12 member (Missouri) 26-11.
3. Oklahoma (0-1): Always disappointing to lose this early, but Houston is good.
4. Texas Tech (1-0): Looked better than anyone clobbering a FCS opponent in opener.
5. Oklahoma State (1-0): Good start, but rushing attack still needs improvement.
6. TCU (1-0): Kenny Hill will need to minimize interceptions against stronger opponents.
7. Baylor (1-0): Art Briles is gone, but his explosive offense remains.
8. Kansas State (0-1): Defense showed serious potential against Stanford. Offense did not.
9. Kansas (1-0): Jayhawks are favored by 2.5 over Ohio coming off first win since 2014.
10. Iowa State (0-1): Cyclones got rid of Paul Rhoads for this?
Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett