Longhorns make lemonade out of lemons, outlast determined Houston 31-24

Steve Habelby:Steve Habel10/21/23


No. 8 Texas got a 16-yard touchdown run from freshman CJ Baxter with 5:37 remaining to make lemonade out of lemons in a wild 31-24 victory over Houston on Saturday in a Big 12 Conference game played before a capacity crowd of 42,812 at TDECU Stadium in the Bayou City.

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It wasn’t pretty in any way outside the final score but a win is a win, even in a contest that will be mostly forgettable for Longhorns’ followers. Texas, with quarterback Quinn Ewers on the sidelines for the entire fourth quarter with an injury, made the plays it needed down the stretch and bounced back after a loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry on Oct. 7 and a bye week.

The Longhorns (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) dominated the game’s first 17 minutes when they roared to a 21-0 lead but sputtered thereafter, with Houston tying the contest at 24 on a Jack Martin 40-yard field goal halfway through the fourth quarter.

That set the stage for Baxter and his deciding scoring run as Texas ground out a 53-yard touchdown march that featured five runs and just one pass, a strategy dictated by the injury to Ewers that occurred on a hard hit on a scramble late in the third quarter. 

Houston (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) drove to the UT 10 but Donovan Smith misfired on a head-scratching fourth-down-and-1 pass with 1:03 to play.

Ewers finished 23 of 29 passing for 211 yards and two TDs in the win. Jonathon Brooks led Texas with 99 yards on 20 carries and added eight catches for 51 yards. 

Smith passed for 378 yards and three touchdowns but also had a fumble and an interception. 

Texas wasted little time lighting the scoreboard, marching 75 yards in 11 snaps on the game’s opening possession to a 14-yard Ewers-to-Adonai Mitchell TD pass and a 7-0 lead. Ewers hit Worthy with a 16-yard pass on fourth down and 2 from the UH 30 to set the table for the score.

After a Houston three and out, the Longhorns struck again with Ewers dropping a perfect deep pass into the bucket to Worthy for a 42-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 6:56 to play in the first period.

Texas’s Wildcat quarterback Savion Red scored on a 1-yard plunge at the end of a 58-yard, nine-play march with 12:49 to play in the second quarter pushed the Texas lead to 21-0. Houston responded with a 32-yard TD pass from Smith to Matthew Golden to cut the Longhorns’ lead to 21-7 at the 6:07 mark of the second quarter.

The Longhorns failed on a fake field goal pass on the UH 26 late in the second quarter, flipping the momentum back to the Houston, which pulled to within 21-14 on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Joseph Manjack IV with 26 seconds to play until halftime.

While Texas dominated the first 17 minutes of the game, the Cougars ruled the final 13. The Longhorns racked up 240 yards in the half, 198 of those in the first quarter which Houston countered with 156 of its 169 first-half yardage in the second quarter

The Cougars tied the game at 21 on the first possession of the third quarter on a 2-yard TD pass from Smith to Golden that came two snaps after Manjack hauled in a 35-yard pass at the UT 1. 

Texas retook the lead on a 25-yard Bert Auburn field goal 24-21 at the 3:17 mark of the third quarter, capping a 31-yard, 11-play possession. The Longhorns inherited the short field after Jaylan Ford forced a Smith fumble that was recovered by Vernon Broughton at the UH 38.

Houston drove to the UT 28 early in the fourth quarter but stopped itself when Smith uncorked an interception by the Longhorns’ Michael Taaffe on a pass into the end zone. 

The Cougars then knotted the game at 24 on their next possession via Martin’s 40-yard field goal with 7:43 remaining, with the key play in the drive a 51-yard pass from Smith to Samuel Brown.

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There are plenty of questions to be answered – perhaps more than any time this season – before the Longhorns return home to play new conference foe BYU on Oct. 28. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

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