Throughout the Texas's six-game winning streak in the Big 12, the Longhorns lived on the edge of a knife. There were injuries, and key turnovers overcome, and close could-have-gone-either-way games with Iowa State and West Virginia. When playing close games, a play or two could make the difference.
Saturday, many of those same issues came home to roost, and this time, the Longhorns didn't have an answer for an Oklahoma State onslaught that opened up a game that was tight for almost a half. While Texas's talent and some late-game heroics carried the Longhorns through those previous games, Oklahoma State took advantage of the Texas errors and made sure there weren't any late game heroics to be had.
"I'm disappointed," said Texas coach Mack Brown afterward. "I don't get stunned about anything anymore.
"They're a good team, so we need to play better than we did," Brown said. "I don't think people give them enough credit. But they should tonight. They played really well. That game with Baylor next week will be a good game."
Texas trailed 14-3 early, the result of poor opening defense of the Oklahoma State quarterback run game. That's when the Longhorns responded, as they have throughout the winning streak, with a physical drive. Texas traveled 75 yards in 10 plays, seven of which were runs, including a seven-yard touchdown run from Malcolm Brown to cut that deficit to 14-10 with 3:39 left in the first half.
The game swung in a huge way back toward the Cowboys. On a second-and-8, Adrian Phillips jumped in front of a corner route for Tracy Moore. But the potential interception went right through his hands and landed Moore's, with the receiver holding onto the tipped ball for a touchdown.
"It's just a play I have to make," Phillips said. "I make that play every day, it just went through my hands. Sometimes, when you roll the dice it doesn't go your way."
If that was the only big play before halftime, perhaps the Longhorns could have survived it. But Texas elected to try and answer with a quick score of its own before the break, and Cowboy cornerback Justin Gilbert stepped in front of an out route intended for Kendall Sanders, taking it back for six points of his own. Just like that, a game that was within reach at 14-10 with under two minutes left in the half sent Texas into the locker room with an 18-point deficit.
The game wasn't over yet, but the Longhorns were obviously knocked woozy by the Cowboys' one-two combination. McCoy led Texas on another scoring drive — aided by a 41-yard deep ball from McCoy to Mike Davis — but this one ground to a halt inside the red zone, and Anthony Fera was forced to kick a field goal.
Oklahoma State drove for a field goal of its own to re-up the lead to 18, and after the two teams exchanged punts, Texas was obviously running out of time late in the third quarter. That's when McCoy made his second big mistake. Throwing over the middle, McCoy didn't appear to see middle linebacker Caleb Lavey, who picked off his pass and returned it to the Texas 21. On the next play, Clint Chelf hit Charlie Moore for a 21-yard touchdown, effectively sealing the game. McCoy was intercepted on Texas's next possession — again by Gilbert — and neither team scored again.
"The quarterback goes out and throws three picks, you're not going to win the ballgame," McCoy said. "It's very rare that happens. So it's on me, my team knows it's on me, and we're going to get it fixed and go win."
"We dug a hole and we couldn't get ourselves out of it," said Texas defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.
Brown's said his message to the team after the game was simple, pointing out the reasons why the team lost and, for the second time this season after a key loss, mentioning that the team's goals were still within reach. Oklahoma State travels to Baylor next weekend, and should the Bears win, and Texas take care of business against Texas Tech, the Longhorns would still enter Waco for a de facto Big 12 championship game, with the winner heading to the Fiesta Bowl.
"They're disappointed, but they know the goals are still there," Brown said. "They're still in place. They just don't control their own destiny, so now they have to beat Tech. But Oklahoma State's got Oklahoma and Baylor left. Baylor has got some tough games tonight, tough game next week. So they've got some tough games left. So there's a lot of football to be played. You just can't get your head down and lay down and quit when you have a bad night. You have to go back to work."
It seems laughable to mention such goals after a loss that saw Texas out-played in all three phases of the game. In fact, arguably the biggest difference between the two teams was on special teams, a gap that often left the Longhorns in terrible field position and fighting out of the back of its own end zone.
But Brown delivered a similar statement after the Ole Miss game, when Texas was 1-2 and the season seemed lost, only to have the Longhorns run off six straight Big 12 wins. The Longhorns are now 7-3 and 6-1 in the conference, and they need a little help from the Cowboys' opponents, but once more, their goals of a Big 12 title are still in front of them.
"You've got to put this game behind you," said receiver Jaxon Shipley. "You can only think about the game for one day, while you're watching the film and you've just got to think about it anymore and focus on ultimately the opportunity that is still ahead of us. You know, we still have a shot and we're still in this thing. So we can't get too down on ourselves."
Oklahoma State — Clint Chelf 18 run (Ben Grogan kick), 9:09 1Q
TEXAS — Anthony Fera 39 FG, 3:47 1Q
OSU — Chelf 4 run (Grogan kick), 7:31 2Q
TEXAS — Malcolm Brown 7 run (Fera kick), 3:39 2Q
OSU — Tracy Moore 12 pass from Chelf (Grogan kick), 1:15 2Q
OSU — Justin Gilbert 43 interception return (Grogan kick), 0:18 2Q
TEXAS — Fera 29 FG, 11:18 3Q
OSU — Grogan 39 FG, 7:16 3Q
OSU — Charlie Moore 21 pass from Chelf (Grogan kick), 1:54 3Q