The Texas Longhorns football team returned from its bye week and first loss of the season with a hard-fought 31-24 road victory in a wild game against the Houston Cougars on Saturday afternoon.
With plenty of motivation on both sides, partially stemming from Houston’s long-time exclusion from the Big 12, the Longhorns took early control and moved the ball up and down the field. However, the Cougars mounted a rally, and Texas had to fight them off with a massive fourth-down stop with 1:03 remaining.
“The lesson learned here is we have to have a killer instinct,” Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian told the media postgame. “… We relaxed, we didn’t execute the way we have.”
Texas raced out to a 14-0 lead, gaining 142 yards on its first two drives and putting Houston in an early hole as quarterback Quinn Ewers connected with wide receivers Adonai Mitchell and Xavier Worthy on touchdown passes.
Houston finally came up with a defensive stop but had to punt the ball back to the Longhorns, who marched down the field and capped their drive with a one-yard touchdown run to open up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter.
The Cougars came up with another stop and finally showed some life offensively as Texas Tech transfer quarterback Donovan Smith found wide receiver Matthew Golden for a 32-yard touchdown to get Houston on the board.
The momentum continued to swing Houston’s way as a fake field goal attempt by Texas did not fool the defense. The Cougars took the ensuing offensive possession in for a touchdown with 26 seconds left in the first half, cutting the lead to a touchdown at halftime.
Houston received the second-half kickoff and started the half with the ball at Texas’ 49-yard line after a facemask penalty. A few plays later, Smith connected with Joseph Manjack IV for what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown. After review, the play was ruled down inside the five-yard line, and Houston tied the game two plays later.
The offenses struggled for most of the third quarter, but Texas broke through with a field goal to take a three-point lead following a fumble by Smith. Houston responded with a long drive, but Smith’s pass was overthrown and intercepted. The Cougars finally tied the game with 7:43 left after a 51-yard completion to Golden and a personal foul on Texas put the ball at Texas’ 22-yard line, allowing Houston to kick a game-tying field goal.
The Longhorns quickly scored the game-winning touchdown as they leaned on their running game, and CJ Baxter ran into the end zone.
Houston’s final drive reached the Texas 10-yard line, where a controversial third-down spot led to a fourth-and-inches with just over a minute remaining. Smith rolled out to find a receiver, but the ball was knocked to the turf — giving Texas the win as it knelt out the clock.
“Fourth-and-two’s hard to get,” Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen explained after the game. “We got one earlier. Got the right play-call. We just didn’t execute.”
Ewers finished the game with 211 yards and two touchdowns on 23-of-29 passing, while Smith threw for 378 with three touchdowns and an interception.
WHAT TO KNOW
— Houston and Texas played for the first time as conference opponents since November 11, 1995. It will be the only time they play as conference foes before Texas moves to the SEC next season. It was also the first matchup since 2002.
— Texas held off a rally to return to the win column after a loss to Oklahoma two weeks ago and remains in the hunt in the Big 12.
— The game was the first sellout for Houston since its 2016 win over then-No.3 Louisville.
— Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers left the game with an injury in the fourth quarter after taking a hit from Houston linebacker David Ugwoegbu, who was also injured on the play.
— Texas has not lost to Houston since 1991.
BY THE NUMBERS
— Texas held a Houston rushing attack that averaged 134 yards entering the matchup to just 14 yards on the day.
— Manjack IV and Golden combined for 178 receiving yards and scored all three Houston touchdowns.
— Texas running back Jonathon Brooks entered the game averaging 121 rushing yards, but Houston held him to 99.
— Sarkisian on his team’s response: “I think there’s a resiliency of this group, I think there’s a togetherness of this group, I think there’s a fight on this team that is real, it’s genuine.”— Holgorsen on the controversial spot that set up 4th and 2: “I think that spot was horrible. I think he got the first down, and it was first-and-nine at the nine. I don’t understand review. Every time I think something’s reviewable, I can’t get them to review it. They say they’re looking at it, but I don’t know that.”
— Texas (6-1, 3-1 in Big 12) hosts BYU (4-2, 1-2) in Austin at 2:30 p.m. CT next Saturday, while Houston (3-4, 1-3) has a road game against Kansas State (4-2, 2-1) at 11 a.m. CT.