Texas has found its way into the thick of the Big 12 conference race again
Nearly a decade has passed since the Texas Longhorns lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2009 national championship game. This season marks the first time since then that UT has made it through the first six games of the season with fewer than two losses.
The Longhorns have won five straight games since opening the season with a loss to Maryland. That includes a hard-fought win over rival Oklahoma last weekend in the Cotton Bowl, which elevated Texas to the position of Big 12 front-runner in the eyes of many in the college football punditry.
UT is still facing a few landmines in the second half of its schedule, but head coach Tom Herman appears to have his team rounding into form at the midway point of the season.
Offensive MVP: QB Sam Ehlinger
Ehlinger has answered any and all questions about his ability to run the Texas offense successfully. He gave the performance of his young career in the Longhorns’ big win over Oklahoma, completing 24 of 35 pass attempts for 314 yards and two touchdowns and running for 72 yards and three TDs on 19 carries. If Ehlinger keeps this up, UT looks like a lock for the Big 12 title game.
Defensive MVP: LB Gary Johnson
Johnson gets the nod here over a number of deserving candidates. The senior inside linebacker has continued his strong play from 2017 and emerged as a leader on D. He’s second on the team in tackles behind safety Brandon Jones and leads the squad in tackles for a loss.
Best Moment of First Half: Dicker the Clutch Kicker
The Longhorns had blown a three-TD lead in their annual rivalry matchup with the Sooners when Texas freshman Cameron Dicker trotted onto the field at the Cotton Bowl for a shot at a go-ahead field goal. His 40-yard boot split the uprights, sending half the stadium into pandemonium and the other into despair.
Best Newcomer: S Caden Sterns
Sterns staked a claim to a spot in Texas’ secondary immediately. The five-star recruit has proven himself to be an impact player on a defense that already had more than its fair share. Notably, Sterns has already picked off three passes in the first six games of his career.
Biggest Surprise: Offensive Line
Given that Texas has fielded so many subpar offensive lines lately, this entire unit deserves a nod here. The hire of position coach Herb Hand is already paying off, especially when it comes to opening up holes in the running game. Between the line’s growth and running back Keontay Ingram’s improving health, the Longhorns could add another degree of potency to their ground game in the second half of the year.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Texas is a staggering plus-seven in turnover margin in its last three games, a stretch that included three takeaways versus the Sooners and four in a 31-16 victory over TCU. The ‘Horns haven’t turned the ball over since the third week of the season. It will be hard to keep that up down the stretch, but it’s a particularly good sign that Sam Ehlinger has cut down on his interceptions.
2. Keontay Ingram’s emergence
After struggling through injuries to start the year, Texas’ freshman running back carried the ball 13 times in the win over Oklahoma. The season-high number of touches produced 86 yards. Senior graduate transfer Tre Watson provides a steadying presence in the backfield, but Ingram is a star in the making.
3. Manufacturing points
UT has supplemented the on-again, off-again scoring of its offense with timely plays on defense and special teams. The Longhorns are capitalizing on opportunities to set the O up with short fields and are even finding the end zone in the return game. They can’t count on that every game from here on out, but they should take those opportunities where they can get them.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 3 West Virginia
The Mountaineers boast one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football. Texas is making strides of its own on that side of the ball, but the Longhorns will have to be in top form to keep up with WVU.
2. Nov. 10 at Texas Tech
A week after a visit from the explosive Mountaineers, Texas will face another potential shootout in Lubbock. The ‘Horns will want payback for last season’s loss, which likely saved Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job.
3. Nov. 17 Iowa State
The Cyclones got off to a rough start, but inserting freshman QB Brock Purdy into the lineup last week against Oklahoma State appears to have given Iowa State a spark. UT could struggle with ISU’s underrated defense.
4. Oct. 13 Baylor
Following their emotional victory against Oklahoma, the Longhorns have to guard against a letdown versus the feisty Bears. Watch for Baylor’s offense to play up-tempo to try to take advantage of UT’s recuperating defense.
5. Oct. 27 at Oklahoma State
A road trip to Stillwater now looks less daunting after seeing Oklahoma State stumble out of the blocks. This is another revenge game for UT, which lost in overtime to the Cowboys a year ago.
6. Nov. 23 at Kansas
The Jayhawks have tripped up Texas before, but probably not this time around. The ‘Horns should have much trouble ending David Beaty’s tenure at Kansas with the familiar feeling of defeat.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.