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After an embarrassing home loss to BYU, Charlie Strong and the Texas Longhorns football team were looking for a bounce-back win on Saturday to gain some momentum going into Big 12 play. The Longhorns were hoping to get that done by upsetting the No. 12 UCLA Bruins at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The Longhorns looked much improved from the BYU game and got off to a good start on both sides of the ball against UCLA. However, Texas got off to a terrible start even before the game began. UCLA won the coin toss and chose to defer to the second half, giving Texas the option of the ball for the first half. For some odd reason, the Texas captains chose to kick off to begin the game. UCLA deferring means they had the option to kick or receive in the second half. They obviously chose to receive and Texas found a way to kick off both halves, giving UCLA an extra possession. To say the coin toss was botched is a complete understatement. During the actual game, the Bruins struck first with a 47-yard field goal late in the first quarter. On that scoring drive, UCLA quarterback and Heisman candidate Brett Hundley left the game with an elbow injury. Despite original reports saying he would return, Hundley sat out the remainder of the game and Jerry Neuheisel took over under center for the Bruins. Texas’s chances to pull off the upset improved dramatically with Hundley’s injury, and the Longhorns turned up the heat right away.
Texas was able to respond to the Bruin’s scoring drive with a 10-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a Nick Rose 33-yard field goal to tie the game at three. After a UCLA punt, the Longhorns mounted a 14-play 62-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Tyrone Swoopes, making just his second career start, found tight end M.J. McFarland from two yards out for the score. The Longhorns took a 10-3 lead and took that lead the locker room after 30 minutes.
There was a lot of uncertainty heading into the second half for the Texas defense. After holding BYU to just six points at halftime last week, the Horns allowed 35 second half points in the blowout loss to the Cougars. The Longhorn defense didn’t get off to a promising start on Saturday, either. On the first play of the second half; UCLA running back Paul Perkins broke free for a 58-yard run. The Bruins went on to tie the game just two and a half minutes into the third quarter with a touchdown pass from Neuheisel.
The Texas offense struggled to get anything going in the third, and the Horns punted on all four of their drives. Early in the fourth, UCLA capped a six-minute, 71-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal to take a 13-10 lead. After the ensuing kickoff went for a touchback, Tyrone Swoopes made his first big statement as the Texas quarterback. The sophomore led the Horns to a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to take a 17-13 lead with just over five minutes to go. Swoopes went 5-5 on the drive, ultimately hitting John Harris for an 8-yard touchdown on 2nd and goal. The big play on that drive, however, came on the ground, when Johnathan Gray found a hole and picked up 31 yards to move the ball into the red zone.
The Texas defense forced a quick three-and-out and the Longhorns got the ball back with 4:17 on the clock. The Longhorn offense completely mismanaged the clock when they got the ball back, and it may have cost Texas the game. On 1st and 10, Malcolm Brown ran for five yards. UCLA opted not to use a timeout, and ideally, Texas would have run the play clock down to two or three seconds before snapping the ball. However, the offense stayed in the no huddle, and Swoopes hiked the ball with nearly 30 seconds on the play clock. On 2nd and 5, Brown lost five yards on a carry, forcing a third and ten. Once again, Jim Mora, Jr. chose not to call a timeout and once again, Texas went to the no-huddle. Swoopes snapped the ball on 3rd down with about 20 seconds on the play clock. The Horns tried to pass on 3rd down, but Swoopes throw fell incomplete, stopping the clock. The Horns used just one minute and 11 seconds before having to punt. William Russ boomed a 58-yarder, but he outkicked the Texas coverage and Ishmael Adams returned it for 45 yards, setting up UCLA with the ball at the Texas 33 with just over three minutes to play. On the very next play, Neuheisel found Jordan Payton for touchdown that gave UCLA a lead it would not relinquish. UCLA had been running the ball and throwing short passes all game long, and the Texas secondary was burned badly when the Bruins went over the top.
The Longhorns had one more chance, but Texas couldn’t pick up a first down on its final drive, and UCLA was able to run out the clock to secure a 20-17 victory.
The Horns looked much better on both sides of the ball against UCLA. Despite giving up 443 yards to the Bruin offense, the Texas defense held a good offense to just 20 points. The “bend don’t break” mentality seemed to work well for the Longhorns, and the defense gave Texas a great chance to pull off the upset. The offense, on the other hand, really struggled. The absence of three starting offensive linemen (two to suspension, one to injury) really showed. The Longhorns totaled 128 yards on the ground on 21 carries. However, 53 of those yards came on two carries, and the line struggled to get a push on most rushing attempts. Outside of those two long runs, Texas averaged less than four yards per carry on the ground. Tyrone Swoopes had a solid game for Texas, going 24-34 for 196 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest plus for Swoopes is that he did not turn the ball over. However, most of Swoopes’s passes were for short-yardage, and the UCLA defense was able to put seven or eight in the box because there was no threat of a deep pass down the field. The Longhorn coaching staff seemingly has its doubts about Swoopes’s downfield accuracy, and the play calling over the last two weeks has definitely shown that. Saturday’s defeat was just the second time in Charlie Strong’s coaching career in which his team won the turnover battle and lost the game (was previously 27-1.)
Despite the heartbreaking outcome, Texas showed some positive signs in the game against UCLA. After being completely dismantled by BYU, it was encouraging to see some good things from this Longhorn team. The Horns took some serious strides in just one week of practice and looked like a completely different team against UCLA. The Longhorns are off this week and travel to Lawrence to take on the Kansas Jayhawks next Saturday at 3 p.m. This bye week couldn’t come at a better time for the Longhorns, and hopefully Charlie Strong and the coaching staff can find ways to keep this team moving in the right direction.