AUSTIN, Texas -- For all we know, Texas just might be the best overtime team in the country. But try as it might, it just can’t seem to get there.
Against California last week, Texas was an extra point away from tying a game in the final minutes, capping a 21-point comeback. It was no good; wide right.
This time, against No. 24 Oklahoma State on Saturday, Texas punts in a tie game with 42 seconds left. Maybe there’s enough time left for the Cowboys to drive and score, but Texas did get stops on five of its previous six possessions. The Longhorns liked their chances -- especially in OT.
“There ain’t no way we were going to lose in overtime,” Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway said. “Not at all.”
This time, all it took was six seconds to botch that plan. The snap to freshman punter Michael Dickson bounced off his hands. He hurriedly scooped it up and booted it to the nearest sideline. Texas had snapped it from its own 24. The punt went out at the Texas 18.
“It was definitely an ‘oh no’ situation,” cornerback Duke Thomas said.
A "game over" situation, too. Another inexplicable bad beat. A 1-3 start for a team that doesn’t believe it’s as bad as its record. They’re good enough to get their foe bruised, vulnerable and on the ropes. But right before they can throw the knockout blow, they trip and fall out of the ring.
“We just can’t finish right now,” coach Charlie Strong said. “We gotta learn how to finish and fight through it.”
There’s not much more to say than that. Strong's defense gave Texas every opportunity to win the game. It snagged three takeaways, two of them for touchdowns. It held the Cowboys to 26 yards on 14 plays in the fourth quarter. For the first time this season, it was dominant.
Dickson was averaging 45 yards a punt on his first six punts of the day, too. Had he done it once more and boomed one to the Oklahoma State 30, there’s no telling how the game would’ve ended. Instead, Texas players walked off their home field with a far too familiar feeling. It’s more shock than anger, really.
“When it happens,” lineman Sedrick Flowers said, “it’s kind of like a balloon popped.”
The finger-pointing at all the absurdity that preceded that dropped punt has already begun. Texas was penalized 16 times. Good luck explaining a few of them.
The biggest head-scratcher: Late in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Poona Ford was flagged for defensive holding on a run play up the middle for no gain. Yes, defensive holding. On a run.
“I’ve never heard of that,” Strong said. “In all my years of coaching, I’ve never seen that.”
That was the last straw for Strong. He ripped into an official on the sideline, who responded by bumping into him. Strong kept jawing. Out came a flag that sent Oklahoma State into field goal position to tie it up 27-27.
There was a roughing the passer call to negate a Texas interception in which the officials missed a blatant offensive holding.
There was a J.W. Walsh fumble in which three Texas defenders fell on the ball and officials determined, after review, that nobody had clear possession.
There was a double-pass trick touchdown to start the second half that officials flagged and determined, after review, that Marcus Johnson threw an illegal forward pass.
Strong said he’d love to see a few of those replays. A few of his players were baffled by them. Running back Johnathan Gray tried to hold back.
“All I can say is wow,” Gray said with a smile. “Next question.”
There’s really no question why Texas lost this game, or why it came up a point short against Cal. This is a young team taking its lumps. In the locker room afterward, Flowers said, Strong told his Longhorns they’re a great team and they know it now.
But when it comes time to finish a game off like one, they’ve been their own worst villain.
“We do it to ourselves,” Strong said. “It’s nothing that somebody else is doing to us. We do it to ourselves.”