Berry’s OSU report card: Short passes were Texas’ lethal weapon

Berry’s OSU report card: Short passes were Texas’ lethal weapon

UT’s gameplan was to take advantage of OSU’s linebackers, even though ‘Horn coach Steve Sarkisian called them the Big 12’s best unit.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Dec 3, 2023, 3:04pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Dec 3, 2023, 3:04pm CST

ARLINGTON, Texas — OSU’s 49-21 loss to Texas on Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game was a mismatch. The Cowboy defense offered little resistance; the Cowboy offense seldom threatened the Texas defense — one of OSU’s touchdowns came on a three-yard drive, set up by Nick Martin’s interception return.

The Longhorns’ victory was not surprising, but the domination was, considering the Cowboys had won nine of the last 14 in the series.

The OSU report card reflects a one-sided game that included little on which to build:

Short-passing defense: D. Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers threw 29 passes that landed less than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He completed 28. That’s bad enough, but the yardage was a Longhorn bonanza. Swing passes and sideway throws basically are virtual running plays, designed to pick up five or six yards. Texas used the short passes to produce big plays. Ewers’ 28 completions on short throws produced 284 yards, including gains of 54 (flanker Xavier Worthy), 26 (tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders) and 17 (tailback C.J. Baxter) yards. UT’s gameplan clearly was to take advantage of OSU’s linebackers, even though ‘Horn coach Steve Sarkisian called them the Big 12’s best unit. OSU was better in the second half, when Ewers was 9-of-9 on short throws, for 59 yards.

Deep-passing defense: B. The long ball has been OSU’s vulnerability with a young secondary, and Texas occasionally tried to exploit it, but the Cowboys mostly held up. Ewers threw deep six times, connecting only once. That one connection went for 62 yards, as Adonai Mitchell got behind freshman cornerback Cam Smith. Mitchell likely would have had an 83-yard touchdown, except he tripped without being touched.

First-down offense: D. Until their only fourth-quarter possession, trailing 49-14, the Cowboys faced just three short-yardage situations. That’s what happens with first-down futility. The Cowboys made just 23 yards on nine first-down running plays, and quarterback Alan Bowman completed just five of 12 first-down passes, for 34 yards. None of the completions went for more than nine yards, though one first-down pass produced a pass interference penalty against Texas. Bowman also was sacked once on first down. Another first-down completion was fumbled away by Leon Johnson. First-down failure generally leads to defeat.

Kicking game: B. Mike Gundy was worried about Texas’ kicking advantage, but that didn’t play out. Neither team had much in the way of returns, and OSU punter Hudson Kaak had a good day, with five kicks averaging 42.8 yards, plus three downed inside the 20-yard line. But OSU’s first possession ended with a punt that was near-disastrous and still crippling. Texas almost blocked Kaak’s punt, and the Cowboys’ Shea Friebaum was penalized 15 yards for kick-catch interference, setting up a 39-yard Texas touchdown drive.

Trenches: C. OSU didn’t get overpowered in the trenches. Texas stopped the OSU running game, but the Cowboys mostly held the UT run game in check, outside of Keilan Robinson’s 57-yard touchdown run. UT used five tailbacks, who outside of that 57-yard run combined for 124 yards on 34 carries. And while Bowman was often flushed from the pocket, he was sacked only once and ended up throwing away the ball just twice.

Crowd: A. AT&T Stadium was filled, with a standing-room-only crowd of 84,523, a Big 12 Championship Game record. Credit the Cowboy fans, who turned out in heavy throngs. Texas’ crowd advantage seemed something like 65/35 or 60/40. Excellent turnout by OSU, which sold all its allotment of 7,000 tickets, plus 1,500 student tickets, and asked for more.

Igniting Gordon: D. Gundy said he thought his offensive line played fairly well. Which very well could be true. But that didn’t lead to a productive running game. The Cowboys needed a big game from tailback Ollie Gordon to get their offense humming. And midway through the first quarter, Gordon had 17 yards on three carries. But the rest of the game, Gordon had 10 carries for 17 yards. There was no running room, and OSU soon became one-dimensional.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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