Texas rises to top of Big 12 early with rival Sooners next
By JIM VERTUNO, AP Sports Writer
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas fans have seen this before: a modest two-game win streak and a hot young quarterback giving the offense some desperately needed juice.
The question heading into the annual rivalry game with No. 12 Oklahoma is, are these Longhorns for real?
“I’m really excited at the direction we’re headed,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “The sense on the sideline and the demeanor and our attitude is headed in the right direction. We’re not a finished product yet.”
The Longhorns’ 2-0 start in the Big 12 is their first since 2013, former coach Mack Brown’s last season when the Longhorns went into the final game of the regular season with a chance to win the championship. Texas booted Brown after that season and the Longhorns haven’t been close since as three straight losing seasons under Charlie Strong followed.
Each of those losing years were filled with games and players and that teased Longhorns fans into thinking the worst was behind them, only to be dashed by a critical turnover, a missed kick or a humiliating blowout. Longhorns fans can still hear opposing teams mock them with the “Texas is back!” call after a season-opening win over Notre Dame last year.
The program has been in such a rut that just about every new highlight is tempered by some recent disappointment.
Beat Oklahoma on Saturday and Texas will have its first three-game winning streak since the back end of the 2014 season. At the time, Strong promised that Texas would never lose five games in a season again. In a way, he was right. Texas lost seven three straight years.
Even this season’s emergence of freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger has to be tempered with caution.
Ehlinger’s 487 yards of total offense in the Longhorns’ 40-34 overtime win over Kansas State ranked third in school history. But who’s No. 1? It’s not Vince Young or Colt McCoy. It’s Jerrod Heard, who had 527 total yards against California in 2015 and beat Oklahoma that season, only to flame out at quarterback and later switch positions. Heard is now a wide receiver catching passes from Ehlinger.
Oklahoma (4-1, 1-1) has dealt Texas (3-2) several blowout losses over the last 15 years. More recent history has shown the Longhorns can surprise the Sooners when Oklahoma is a heavy favorite. Texas wins in 2013 and 2015 came when the Sooners were ranked No. 12 or higher and Texas was unranked.
In both of those years, Texas caught Oklahoma when the Sooners were perhaps overconfident amid Texas struggles. That likely won’t be the same Saturday. Oklahoma is desperate to regather itself after a stunning home loss to Iowa State. Another loss could dash its title hopes just three games into the league schedule and would be a tough blow for rookie head coach Lincoln Riley.
“Winning is hard and it is something you have to learn how to do. I guess you could say that we’re finally learning how to win,” Texas wide receiver Collin Johnson said. “Keep doing what we’re doing. Keep playing Texas Longhorn football and play the way that we redefined it to be.”
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