Photo via Kevin Jairaj, USA Today Sports
Shane Buechele started the last drive of the fourth with 1:50 remaining, the expectations of the Texas Longhorns weighing heavily on his padded shoulders. From the sideline, a vein throbbed anxiously on Charlie Strong’s forehead as he habitually glanced at the scoreboard, notched at 37; his coaching career — after a lackluster 11-14 record in his first two years — was seemingly in the balance. The Longhorns offense got the series off to a good start, constantly feeding D’Onta Foreman to pursue field goal range.
Just as everything was falling into place for the Burnt Orange, a penalty was issued to Patrick Vahe and a bad snap from center Zach Shackelford (his second of the game) began pushing UT into the wrong direction.
Overtime reared its ugly head, and an unlikely hero emerged to defeat the vicious monster of upset.
After having a subpar career with UT his last two seasons, senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes figured out a pivotal role in the Sterlin Gilbert’s new spread offense scheme. The much bigger quarterback (250 lbs. to Buechele’s 190) was a perfect body for goal line scores, running three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime.
Similar to the latest incarnation of the Longhorns’ mascot Bevo XV, the Texas team was a completely different animal — both offense and defense were vicious beasts unwilling to be tamed by the Irish, defeating Notre Dame 50-47 in 2 OT. A stadium record 102,315 watched as Texas improved on nearly every statistical category from last season. The offense — transformed by Gilbert as a parallel of his former Tulsa scheme — relied on the dependable run game of backs Foreman and dual quarterbacks Buechele and Swoopes.
It was all it was billed to be — a lone Sunday game that garnered the attention of the sports world.
UT played a near perfect first half (and a handful of minutes) of football, and with a 28-14 lead, charged out of the gate in the third like an irritated bull bothered by a flank strap tied by cynical analysts. The Longhorns extended their lead to 31-14 after LSU transfer Trent Domingue booted in a 25-yard field goal.
The Fighting Irish rubbed some lucky charms in their cleats and proceeded to destroy the Longhorns secondary for three straight touchdowns. Texas regained the lead 37-35 after a Foreman 18-yard touchdown run; the sea of burnt orange fans erupted with ecstasy at the prospect of finally becoming a relevant Big 12 player. However, the euphoria quickly soured into a mood of sullen dread as the Irish struck back immediately, blocking an extra point that Shaun Crawford returned for a 2-point score that tied the game at 37. In overtime, UT drew first blood with a three-yard Swoopes touchdown, which was immediately answered by a swift 25-yard touchdown pass to C.J. Sanders.
Notre Dame kicked a field goal, and Swoopes put a dagger in the Irish’s pulsing leprechaun heart with a six-yard touchdown run.
Shane Buechele impressed in his first start as a true freshman quarterback, throwing 16-of-26 completions for 280 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. Despite a so-so second half, Buechele definitely looks like the starter this year, and arguably has the most upside since Colt McCoy. His deep ball was incredibly accurate early, but inexperience lead to some misfired looks and a crucial interception that set up an eventual Kizer touchdown.
DeShone Kizer showed his experience as the more accurate passer, completing 15-of-24 throws for 215 yards and five touchdowns. D’Onta Foreman lead the backfield with 133 yards and one touchdown. Texas accounted for 517 total yards of offense to Notre Dame’s 444 yards.
Up next, Texas faces an easier task in Conference USA foe UTEP, a perfect field for Buechele and the young UT core to develop.