If not for a last-second play that sent Texas to its first loss of the season, the Longhorns could be patting themselves on the back for surviving a brutal stretch that saw them face four consecutive teams ranked 11th or better.
Because of a late defensive breakdown, however, the Longhorns are no longer in the driver’s seat in the tight Big 12 South race.
The fifth-ranked Longhorns look to rebound from their first loss and improve their chances of winning the division for the second time in four years on Saturday when they host Baylor, which figures to be inspired after nearly pulling off an improbable upset last weekend.
Texas (8-1, 4-1) rallied from a 22-6 halftime deficit to take a one-point lead over Texas Tech with 1:29 remaining last Saturday. The Red Raiders were down to their last play when they scored on a 28-yard touchdown pass with one second left to cap a six-play, 62-yard drive, steal a 39-33 victory and derail the Longhorns’ undefeated season.
“Losing right now after we’ve done so much, it hurts,” Texas defensive tackle Roy Miller said. “But we’re going to fight. The good thing is, guys don’t quit.”
Texas had dispatched three consecutive top 11 teams over the previous three weeks, and a win over then-No. 6 Texas Tech would have put it in prime position to play for the national championship.
Instead, the Longhorns will try to finish strong with the toughest part of their schedule behind them and all of their last three games against teams that are currently unranked.
Texas coach Mack Brown isn’t worried about his team’s schedule, past or future.
“It’s an excuse. A schedule’s a schedule,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got to play. It’s the hand we were dealt and we got to step up to it and handle it.
“We’d better not worry about the national stuff. We have to quit pouting … So much talk has been about the end (of the season), I told them ‘You all have been the college football darlings the last three weeks, now let’s get back to work.’”
Two key Texas players could have their returns to the field delayed. Wide receiver Quan Cosby (back) and defensive end Brian Orakpo (sprained left knee) went down with injuries last weekend. Both will be evaluated further this week, trainer Kenny Boyd said.
“We’ve got a lot of things to fix to get ready and play better next week,” Brown said. “We don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.”
Staying focused could be important against a Baylor team that proved itself capable of hanging with the elite teams of the Big 12 last Saturday. The Bears (3-6, 1-4) pulled into a 28-all tie with then-No. 14 Missouri five minutes into the fourth quarter before falling 31-28.
Twice down by 14, the Bears got even both times but never led. It was their 16th straight loss to a ranked team over the last five seasons, but the others had been by an average of 29.7 points.
“It was a very emotional, very devastating non-win,” first-year coach Art Briles said, refusing to utter the word loss. “I am extremely proud of our players for their energy, for their belief, for their effort.”
Baylor freshman Robert Griffin set a major college football record for most pass attempts to start a career without an interception at 209. He was four short of the overall Big 12 record of 213 consecutive passes without an interception when his streak came to an end with a fourth quarter pick that sealed the win for the Tigers.
“For me to go out and throw an interception when we had a chance to win the game, that’s just not acceptable,” said Griffin, who was 26-for-35 for 283 yards and two TDs. “It’s a crucial part of the game, I tried to fit it in there and the linebacker made a good play.”
Griffin hopes to bounce back against a young Texas secondary that’s tied for 117th out of 119 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing defense, giving up 288.7 yards per game.
The Longhorns, though, have dominated their rivalry with the Bears, winning 10 straight to improve to 71-22-4 in the all-time series. Texas hasn’t lost to Baylor at home since 1991.