No. 8 Texas looks to bounce back against high-flying Houston

Field Level Media

October 17, 2023 at 5:54 am.

No. 8 Texas looks to get back on the winning track when it travels to battle Houston on Saturday as the teams renew their rivalry and square off for the only time as members of the Big 12 Conference.

It’s the 26th all-time meeting between the programs, the first since 2002 and the first time as conference opponents since the Southwest Conference dissolved after the 1995 season. Texas leads the all-time series 16-7-2 and has won the past seven contests with the Cougars, including the past three played in Houston.

The Longhorns (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) head to the Bayou City after a bye week following a wild 34-30 loss to now-No. 6 Oklahoma on Oct. 7 in Dallas. Texas surrendered the deciding score on a touchdown pass with 15 seconds to play after taking the lead on a 47-yard field goal from Burt Auburn with 1:17 left.

Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers passed for 346 yards and a touchdown in the loss but threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and endured five sacks.

Jonathon Brooks reeled off 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries for the Longhorns, his fourth straight 100-plus-yard game. Jordan Whittington (career-high 10 catches for 115 yards) and Xavier Worthy (eight receptions for 108 yards) topped the 100-yard receiving mark in the setback.

However, it was Texas’ turnovers as well as nine penalties for 70 yards and the failure to score and stop Oklahoma from scoring in the red zone that doomed the Longhorns.

The Longhorns expect Houston to give them all they can handle. Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said his team needs to make sure it gets its mental intensity correct.

“We’re at our best when we do play with an edge, when we do play with a chip on our shoulder and when we do have something to prove,” Sarkisian said Monday. “We do have something to prove in the second half of the season. I think (my team) has improved each game. If we want to be the team we’re capable of being, we have to execute at a high level.”

Houston (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) has plenty of momentum after a thrilling 41-39 win over West Virginia on Oct. 12. That victory — the Cougars’ first as a member of the Big 12 after two losses to begin their inaugural season in the conference — was sealed when quarterback Donovan Smith hit Stephon Johnson with a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass on the game’s final play.

The deciding touchdown occurred after West Virginia took the lead on a 50-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 12 seconds to play. Smith finished 21 of 27 for 253 yards and four touchdowns.

Houston coach Dana Holgorsen, echoing the sentiments heard by other Big 12 coaches this season, said the Cougars’ fan base is rabid for a win over the Longhorns.

“I’ve got a lot of comments: ‘Just beat Texas. Don’t care if you win any of them, but you’ve got to win that one. You can go 1-11 and it’s OK if you beat Texas,'” Holgorsen said Monday.

The problem is that Holgorsen understands that demand will be a tough one.

“There’s not enough time in this press conference to explain all the challenges that Texas brings,” he said. “They’ve been dominant all season, but to have two weeks coming off that (loss), I’m sure they’re going to be about as motivated as anyone in college football coming into Houston on Saturday afternoon.”