ARLINGTON, Texas — With the game still in doubt, primarily because it was only six minutes old, Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers pitched the ball to sweeping tailback C.J. Baxter, who pitched the ball to reversing receiver Adonai Mitchell, who flipped the ball back to Ewers.
Uh-oh. Trick play for a team that needed trickeration the way DisneyWorld needs a beach. Ewers flipped a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders, who was closer to Six Flags than he was a Cowboy defender.
The flea flicker was the most remarkable Longhorn play of the day. For this reason: How did UT coach Steve Sarkisian get any of his players to share the pigskin, when every ‘Horn who got the ball in the open field ran wild?
The Longhorns whacked OSU 49-21 Saturday in a Big 12 Championship Game mismatch. We figured the Cowboys would have trouble in the trenches, and they did — the Longhorns corralled OSU superstar tailback Ollie Gordon (34 yards, 13 carries).
But we sort of expected that. Texas stuffs the run.
What we didn’t expect was the Texas-sized talent discrepancy between these teams, considering OSU had been 9-4 in the previous 13 Cowboy-Longhorn meetings and considering OSU clearly has been the superior program over that lengthy span.
In the open field, the Cowboys looked like the junior varsity.
From the screens and swings and slants that Ewers threw to wide-open receivers who then proceeded to run away from huffing and puffing Cowboys, to Keilan Robinson, UT’s fourth-team tailback, who toyed with Cowboy defensive backs Trey Rucker and Kale Smith on a 57-yard touchdown run, this was an unfair game of tag.
At halftime, when the OSU and Texas bands crowded around the stage where Nelly performed, an OSU cynic called it the “first time all day Texas played in traffic.”
Before the game, we figured anyone yelling, “Whoa, Nelly,” was urging the rapper to end his gig. But halfway through the first quarter, we all were channeling our inner Keith Jackson, of ABC lore. Whoa, Nelly, look at those Longhorns go.
“Live, they’re actually better than what they look like on tape,.” Mike Gundy said. “Very fast, very explosive.”
Texas produced 27(!) double-digit-yardage gains. The Cowboys produced eight.
All of which should make OSU quite pleased that the Longhorns are hitting the road. They are Southeastern Conference-bound. After 13 seasons of mostly-hibernation, Sarkisian has resurrected Texas.
Since the 2009-2010 off-season, when Colt McCoy left UT and Brandon Weeden took over the OSU quarterback duties, the Cowboys have feasted on fried Bevo.
But if this is what Texas is going to be moving forward, OSU football should be encouraged, not discouraged by the events Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
The Sarkhorns are someone else’s problem, starting with the hated Sooners.
“They’re very talented, we all know that,” Gundy said. “It’s no secret … I was told during the week they have 11 players that are going to be drafted.
“To be honest, I told the guys, I would guess that team can play with anyone in the country right now, just from what I saw live.”
The new-look Big 12 is unlikely to have a roster as loaded as Texas’. With the Sooners and Longhorns out, the Big 12 is headed for egalitarianism. More equality.
Gundy noted earlier in the week that UT long has had superior athletes. But the Longhorns lacked the cohesion and culture — my words, not Gundy’s — to take advantage of it.
And now that the ‘Horns seem to be the awakened giant, they’re gone, taking one last championship trophy with them, but only their fourth in the 28 years of the Big 12.
“Couldn’t be happier for Longhorn Nation,” Sarkisian said. “I think it’s been a long time coming. I know everybody’s been starving for this championship. So to get it in our final game in the Big 12, I hope everybody enjoys this as much as we do.”
OSU offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn is in his 13th Cowboy season. So he’s never experienced a dominant Texas. The Sooners dominated the league for awhile, and Baylor had a couple of stout teams. Texas Christian and Kansas State, too.
But never Texas. Until now.
“College football’s so cyclical,” Dunn said. “So it’s weird. I can’t say they’re fully back, we’ll see. They’re damn good, yes. But depends on how many guys they lose. With the portal, the way it is right now, and essentially unrestricted free agency … guys coming in and guys going out, you just don’t know what team you’re going to have the next year.”
But man, Texas looks strong. Even without a star quarterback. Ewers’ numbers were spectacular — 35 of 46 passing, 452 yards, four touchdowns, one interception — but he was throwing to wide-open receivers who outmanned the chasing Cowboys. And some day, UT is going to get back in the Vince Young/Colt McCoy game of quarterbacking, and OSU wants no part of that.
The Longhorns look not just SEC ready, but Georgia-Alabama ready, which is the assignment facing the Sooners, too.
Losing OU and Texas causes the OSU administration some financial problems, with a television contract that will pay about half of what the Big Ten and SEC figure to reap.
But the likes of OU and Texas always have had more resources than the Cowboys, and now that headache is gone.
OSU is on a level playing field with K-State and Utah and TCU and whoever rises to be the Big 12 contenders.
There was no level playing field at JerryWorld on Saturday, when the Cowboys said goodbye to the Longhorns. Goodbye and good riddance. The Longhorns are leaving at just the right time.