Texas Longhorns look to build upon big wins
AUSTIN — Sam Ehlinger spied 6-foot-4, 276-pound TCU defensive end L.J. Collier barreling his way. Simultaneously, Texas’ sophomore quarterback spotted receiver Collin Johnson tearing toward the end zone.
Time to take a shot, he decided in the few microseconds he had to think.
Just before Collier lunged for his legs, Ehlinger uncorked a tight spiral from the TCU 40-yard line. The 6-foot-6 Johnson, running ahead of the coverage on a deep post route, dove for a ball only he could reach.
The score put Texas ahead of No. 17 TCU, 17-16, late in the third quarter of Saturday’s game at Royal-Memorial Stadium. The Longhorns never looked back, vanquishing a Horned Frogs team that had tyrannized them over the past four seasons.
A couple months from now, Texas (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) might look back on Johnson’s breathtaking 31-yard touchdown reception as a watershed moment for this team’s state of mind. Its 31-16 win over TCU (2-2, 0-1), on the heels of a 37-14 win over No. 22 USC, was the type of momentum-building win that had escaped this program all decade.
“In the past, we’d beat a ranked opponent and then just blow it away the next week,” said Johnson, who had seven receptions for 124 yards and one score in Saturday’s win. “Seeing us do this tonight is just another step. We’ve got to keep building on each step week in and week out — we could be a special team.”
Johnson’s go-ahead score becomes even more significant when viewed as one winning play stacked among a tower.
That scoring drive was setup by sophomore defensive lineman Marqez Bimage, who jarred the ball lose from Horned Frogs quarterback Shawn Robinson with Texas trailing 16-10. Junior safety Brandon Jones was there to smother the ball on the TCU 45-yard line.
TCU’s first offensive snap following Johnson’s touchdown catch resulted in freshman safety Caden Sterns’ second interception of the game. Sterns returned the ball to the 2-yard line and Ehlinger ran in for a touchdown one play later.
Texas just kept stringing together big plays as the game clock dwindled and sunlight faded.
Senior cornerback Davante Davis broke up a pass near the goal line on 3rd-and-9 in the fourth quarter, forcing TCU to settle for a 41-yard field goal. It missed wide right.
On the Longhorns’ ensuing drive, Ehlinger converted a 3rd-and-7 pass to Johnson to keep TCU’s tired defense on the field. On another 3rd-and-7 on that series, Ehlinger considered running from the pocket, but instead backed up and fired a dart to receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
Humphrey turned up field, evaded one tackler with the help of Johnson, and wiggled around TCU safety Ridwan Issahaku to complete the 38-yard touchdown catch to put Texas up 31-16 with 3:14 remaining.
It was a remarkable reversal considering Texas failed to convert on its first eight third-down chances. Both coach Tom Herman and Ehlinger commended the defense for keeping the game close as the offense worked through some struggles.
“What they did today against a really good offense with a lot of speed and a lot of threats, it’s really comforting,” Ehlinger said. “And we should never stall like that, and that’s what we’re continuing to progress, but it’s very comforting to know that you have such an elite defense that will help you out and get you the ball back in great field position.
Texas on Sunday re-entered the Associated Press Top 25, coming in at No. 18, the program’s highest spot since September 2016. Now the Longhorns will head to Manhattan, Kan., a hostile spot where they have not won since 2002.
Kansas State (2-2, 0-2), coming off a 35-6 road loss to No. 12 West Virginia, doesn’t look like one of coach Bill Snyder’s better teams. For the Texas of old, this would be a classic trap game.
“Managing success is something we talked a lot about last Sunday,” Herman said. “It’s something we’ll talk a lot about (Sunday). That our family, the guys that sit in this team meeting room on Sunday, which is our coaches, our players, strength staff, trainers, those are the people whose opinions solely matter. There’s nobody that can put higher expectations on us than ourselves.”