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ROAD TO SUGAR BOWL: Texas Longhorns' journey to New Orleans

Here is an in-depth look at the Texas Longhorns' journey to the Allstate Sugar Bowl in the 2018 college football season.

AUSTIN, Texas — The No. 15 Texas Longhorns will face the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs in the Allstate Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on Jan. 1. Here's a recap of the Longhorns journey to one of the New Years six bowls.


Oklahoma was chosen as the odds on favorite to win the conference title. The Sooners received 46 first place votes out of a grand total of 52 votes cast. Texas was slated to finished fourth in the standings, receiving one first place vote.

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The full Big 12 preseason standings were as follows:

  1. Oklahoma (46)
  2. West Virginia (2)
  3. TCU (1)
  4. Texas (1)
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. Kansas State (2)
  7. Iowa State
  8. Texas Tech
  9. Baylor
  10. Kansas

UT booster Frank Denius passed away before the season started as well, and the Longhorns paid tribute to him at their first practice of 2018.

In August, Texas announced its iconic stadium would receive a facelift. The University of Texas System Board of Regents approved construction plans to renovate the south end zone of Darrell K Royal - Texas Memorial Stadium. The south end zone expansion project will cost approximately $175 million, according to the agenda book.


This was a very rough way to start the season. Texas fell to Maryland 29-34 in its season opener on that Saturday in a hard fought game. Texas fell behind early to an emotionally-charged Terrapins team, who honored their late teammate Jordan McNair by taking the field with 10 players on the first play and intentionally committing a delay of game penalty. Maryland shot out to an early 24-7 lead.

However, Texas showed some spark in the second and third quarter, scoring 22 unanswered points to take a 29-24 lead.

Maryland regained the lead in the fourth after an 86-minute weather delay and Texas couldn't finish off drives for the rest of the game. The Longhorns committed turnovers on three straight possessions in the fourth quarter -- two interceptions from sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger and a fumble on a swing pass to Tre Watson.

PHOTOS: No. 23 Texas Longhorns fall to Maryland Terrapins 29-34 in season opener


Texas started this game the complete opposite way it started the game against Maryland. In week one, the offense and defense came out flat and found themselves in a deep deficit early. This week, it was the Longhorns who came out firing the cannons over and over. The Texas offense looked completely different in week two, as they propelled the Longhorns with 21 first half points. Texas took a 21-0 lead into halftime thanks to three (technically four, but a penalty erased one) missed field goals by Tulsa. Tulsa did bounce back in the second half with 14 unanswered points and made things interesting for a moment, but Ehlinger and the Longhorns ended all comeback hopes with a strong, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth. Tulsa did respond again quickly with another touchdown to narrow the game to a one-possession affair late. However, the Longhorns iced the game with a 10-play drive that ate the last five minutes of the game.

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In a game drawing tons of hype due to the history between the two programs, Texas fans filled DKR to capacity for this highly anticipated contest.

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USC came out strong in the first quarter and took an early 14-3 lead in the first quarter. USC freshman quarterback JT Daniels looked comfortable to this point and the Trojans were rolling, but that was about to change. A 47-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger to junior wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey swung the tide of the game and the Longhorns went on a tear. Including that touchdown, the Longhorns scored 34 unanswered points throughout the rest of the game.

Daniels outgained Ehlinger, throwing for 322 yards compared to Ehlinger's 223 yards, but the UT quarterback threw two touchdowns to Daniels' zero. Ehlinger also did not turnover the ball and Daniels did. Another key to the Longhorns' win was the balanced rushing attack. Texas ran for 160 yards on 48 carries as a team -- Tre Watson had 72 yards on 18 carries, Daniel Young had 57 on 12 carries, and Ehlinger added 35 yards on 17 carries and also had a rushing touchdown, as well.

The win was the 900th in program history and improves the Longhorns to 2-1 on the season

PHOTOS: Texas Longhorns take down USC Trojans 37-14


The first half of this game was pretty even, although despite a TCU halftime lead, it felt like Texas was in control of the first half. TCU led 13-10 at the break after sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson drove his offense down the field and took the lead in the final seconds of the first half with a one-yard back shoulder fade touchdown pass. To this point, Robinson was 11-for-18 passing with 108 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for another 42 yards on seven carries. Ehlinger threw 11-for-14 for 115 yards and zero touchdowns in the first.

Ehlinger was more productive in the second half, finishing with 225 passing yards and two touchdowns in the air -- including a 31-yarder to junior wide receiver Collin Johnson and a 38-yarder to junior wide receiver Lil'Jordan Humphrey. Ehlinger also ran a two-yard zone read keeper in for a touchdown, as well.

Texas' win marked its third straight and its second in a row against a ranked opponent.

PHOTOS: Texas Longhorns stomp the Horned Frogs, 31-16


Texas started out strong... really strong. Ehlinger completed 17 of 22 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Texas shot out to a 19-0 lead -- including a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown by freshman D'Shawn Jamison -- and held that into halftime, but this game was a tale of two halves.

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Kansas State made a change at quarterback at halftime -- switching from junior Alex Delton to sophomore Skylar Thompson -- and that made all the difference. The Kansas State offense could not move the ball the entire first half, but under Thompson's first drive, the Wildcats marched 10 plays and 82 yards for their first score of the game. After a three-and-out and a missed field goal from Texas, Thompson led another long touchdown drive -- this time for 16 plays and 70 yards -- including four back-breaking first down conversions (two on third down and two on fourth down). After 14 unanswered points, Texas only led by five with just under 10 minutes remaining and we had ourselves a game. Arguably the play of the game, however, was a sack by senior defensive end Breckyn Hager on a third and six in the fourth quarter. Texas could not stop Kansas State on third and fourth down the entire second half, but that Hager sack got the Texas defense off the field in order for the Longhorn offense to milk the final six and a half minutes of the game.

Ehlinger finished the game 29-for-36 passing with 207 yards, one touchdown, but most importantly... no interceptions. Ehlinger had not thrown an interception since week one against Maryland. He's boasted a 7-0 touchdown to interception ratio in that span.

By all means, Texas survived what was seemingly an inevitable Kansas State comeback. The more the second half progressed, the more the curse of the Big Apple seemed to loom in the eyes of the Longhorns. But, the curse was broken this year. Texas won its first game in the Big Apple since 2002 and for the second time in program history.

PHOTOS: No. 18 Texas Longhorns survive after allowing 14 unanswered second half points, win 19-14


Texas was 3-9 against Oklahoma when both teams were ranked in the top 25. The bad history in these types of games did not affect the Longhorns in this game though. Texas controlled the first half, scoring on every drive except for one, where UT ran one play to run the clock out before halftime. Texas led Oklahoma 24-17 at halftime after the Sooners scored with 28 seconds left in the first half.

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Texas dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Sooners 21-7 in that period of time, and entered the fourth quarter with what seemed to be a comfortable 21-point lead. However, junior Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray had other plans.

Oklahoma scored a touchdown with eight minutes to go, and Murray continued the comeback with a 67-yard touchdown run to narrow the Texas lead to 7 points with just over five minutes left in the game. After a Longhorn three-and-out, Oklahoma scored quickly again. Junior running back Trey Sermon got three touches on a three-play, 57-yard touchdown drive and the game was tied for the first time since the score was 10-10 in the first quarter.

Texas responded to the adversity, however, with a crucial nine-play, 52-yard drive that milked the final two minutes of the game and ended with the game-winning field goal by Cameron Dicker.

"We've always had confidence in our kicker," Longhorn's coach Tom Herman said. " I mean it bears noting that it was a true Freshman deep snapper, snapping to a true Freshman holder, with a true Freshman kicker kicking it through the uprights."

And somehow, Cameron Dicker knew beforehand that all of that would happen. After OU came back to meet UT's three touchdowns Dicker said "I'll kick the game winner and I kind of knew I was going to, I felt that."

Sam Ehlinger noted after the game, "It means a lot to us. I mean we were coming up the elevator (t the post-game press conference) and I told the other players it feels a lot better coming up right now than it did last year," referring to last year's 24-29 loss to the Sooners.

This Texas-Oklahoma matchup was the fifth straight game decided by seven points or less and was the Longhorns' first top 10 win since 2016.

PHOTOS: No.19 Texas wins 48-45 over No. 7 Oklahoma after taking lead with nine seconds left


As the clock ticked down with under 20 seconds left in the game, the Texas defense forced Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer to sail multiple throws out of the end zone -- including the final pass attempt with one second on the clock -- in order to secure the team's sixth straight win of the season.

"(The defense) came up when they needed to. We know we have some work to do on that side of the ball in the fourth quarter,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said.

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Texas showed plenty of capability to win these close games in dramatic fashion throughout the early part of the 2018 season and this game against the Bears was no exception. However, the close dramatic finishes would start to bounce the other way...

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Texas was just that one play away from getting the ball back, down three points, with a chance to make a game-winning drive and complete a 17-point comeback.

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Despite outscoring the Cowboys 21-7 in the second half, the Texas Longhorns could not stop Oklahoma State senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius on a crucial third down conversion with just over a minute to go, which essentially clinched the win for Oklahoma State.

It goes without saying this was a heated matchup, which was prevalent when Texas was issued two penalties at the end of the game as Oklahoma State kneeled the clock out.

The energy was felt from the opening kickoff all the way throughout the game.

PHOTOS: No. 6 Texas Longhorns fall to Oklahoma State Cowboys, 38-35


In true shootout fashion, the Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers gave the fans at DKR a fireworks show until the final seconds of the game.

All signs pointed to another UT home win after Ehlinger hit Devin Duvernay on a double move for a 48-yard touchdown with just over two minutes left in the game. But, West Virginia senior quarterback Will Grier and the Mountaineers had other plans.

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Grier orchestrated a seven-play, 75-yard drive which ended with a 33-yard touchdown pass to Gary Jennings Jr.

From there, the next move was obvious for Dana Holgorsen and his staff: go for two and win the game in regulation.

Despite allowing big plays in the passing game, Texas head coach Tom Herman took notice to the effort of the guys who stepped in on the secondary unit, replacing an injured Brandon Jones.

"I know this: they battled their butts off," Herman said. " Whatever issues we had, they weren't lack of effort."

Technically, West Virginia converted the final two-point conversion twice. Grier connected with wide receiver David Sills V on a slant, but Texas used its final timeout before the ball was snapped. On the next try, Grier scampered into the end zone for two points to give West Virginia a 42-41 lead with 16 seconds left.

This was West Virginia's first lead since the team led 24-21 with 7:36 to go in the second quarter.

Grier was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct and the penalty was enforced on the ensuing kickoff. Texas' Lil'Jordan Humphrey returned the ball to the 41-yard line.

However, with no timeouts and less than 10 seconds remaining, the Longhorns had only enough time for two plays. Ehlinger's first pass was almost intercepted and one second remained on the clock. A hail mary pass was out of the question, so Texas completed a short pass and started the lateral game, which ended with a fumble recovered by the Mountaineers.

PHOTOS: No. 17 Texas Longhorns fall to No. 13 West Virginia Mountaineers, 42-41


Texas Tech played without starting quarterback Alan Bowman, who was out after a recurring collapsed lung. With backup quarterback Jett Duffey in his place, the offense didn’t miss a beat in the beginning. Duffey led the Red Raiders to the end zone after lobbing one up to TJ Vasher to score on their first drive of the game. Texas Tech held a 7-0 lead.

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After Texas’ offense stalled on its first trip, the defense came up with a huge interception by Davante Davis inside the five yard line to give the Horns the ball back. Sam Ehlinger was missing one of his favorite targets, Collin Johnson, who was sidelined after tweaking his knee the past week. Fortunately, his weapons are aplenty. Lil’Jordan Humphrey caught two passes to convert on third down and extend Texas’ second drive of the game. It paid off in the form of a 52-yard field goal by freshman kicker Cameron Dicker. It’s the longest kick of the Lake Travis alum’s career. Texas trailed 7-3 in the second quarter.

After the Texas defense forced a three-and-out, the Longhorn offense cashed in on the ensuing drive. At one point, Texas faced third and 34 but a personal foul was assessed against Texas Tech, giving the Horns new life with a first down. A couple of plays later Humphrey hauled in his fifth catch of the game in the form of a nine-yard touchdown. That gave Texas the lead, 10-7 with three minutes and 46 seconds left in the first half.

Once the offense got going, the Longhorns were rolling. Following a huge defensive stop on fourth and one, Ehlinger led his unit on a four-play, 34-yard drive ending with a two-yard touchdown by Keaontay Ingram. A much easier score stretched the UT lead to 10.

A Texas Tech field goal right before halftime would send the Horns in the locker room with a 17-10 lead. However, Texas got the ball to start the second half and kept their offensive rhythm. Getting down to the goal line, the Texas Tech defensed bowed up and forced a fourth and goal. But a play-fake by Ehlinger worked perfectly when he hit Devin Duvernay in the back corner of the end zone for a one-yard score. Texas rolling at that point to increase it’s lead to 24-10.

After Texas’ first possession that ended in a punt, the Horns scored on their next five drives including another field goal by Cameron Dicker in the third quarter. A 46-yarder put Texas up 27-10 late in the third quarter.

Texas Tech unraveled at that point in the game. Kris Boyd came up with a huge forced fumble after he stripped the ball out of Duffey’s hands on the following drive. It was the third red zone turnover by Duffey. Texas scored six points off of Tech’s three turnovers through three quarters.

Meanwhile Ehlinger continued his string of passes without an interception, setting a Big 12 conference record of 274 consecutive passes.

Texas Tech would keep it interesting though. Antione Wesley would make his first appearance of the game. Duffey threw a bomb pass to Wesley downfield who finished it off for a 58-yard score to pull the Red Raiders within 10 points with 13 minutes left in the game.

The Horns weren’t done yet, though. Devin Duvernay would come up again for Texas. Ehlinger would find Duvernay for a 39-yard touchdown. Duvernay’s fourth of the season and second in the game. Texas began to pull away with a score of 34-17.

But while the Horns weren’t done, Tech still refused to go away. Executing an onside kick, the Red Raiders recovered the ball, turned around and scored to make it a one possession game, 34-27, all with almost five minutes left on the clock. On the next series Tech’s defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back with a chance to score with three minutes left in the game. The Red Raider offense needed just five plays to score and tie the game up. Duffey had a 9-yard strike to Wesley for the touchdown, and the game was knotted up at 34 with under two minutes to play.

But that was plenty of time for Sam Ehlinger and the Texas offense. The sophomore quarterback hooked up with Humphrey once more for the go-ahead touchdown.

Texas pulls out the road win, 41-34 over Texas Tech improving to 7-3 on the season.


After Oklahoma State defeated West Virginia moments before kickoff at DKR, that result opened up Texas' opportunity to control its own destiny for a berth in the Big 12 title game. If the Longhorns won out, they would qualify for the conference championship game and potentially set up a rematch with the Oklahoma Sooners.

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Iowa State stood in the way first, but the Longhorns handled the test and convincingly defeated the Cyclones 24-10, taking one step closer to a conference title.

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It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but the Texas Longhorns did enough to get the win against Kansas and solidify their spot in the Big 12 Championship game next Saturday.

The Longhorns started out solid on both sides of the ball. The Texas defense forced a 3-and-out on its first drive, and the offense quickly settled into the end zone to follow.

Sam Ehlinger and Collin Johnson hooked up for a 26-yard score when Ehlinger threaded the needle to Johnson who made a huge catch.

Texas was dominant in the first quarter but only had seven points to show for it.

For five drives, the teams would trade punts, and then the streak was over. Sam Ehlinger was picked off by Najee Stevens-McKenzie,which ended his streak of consecutive passes without an interception at 308. Fortunately for Texas it would not turn into Kansas points.

By the end of the first half, Texas held the lead 7-0, with the only scoring coming on the Longhorns’ opening drive.

Midway through the third quarter the Longhorns would break out of their rut. Tre Watson broke off a 31-yard rush to set up Texas at the 5-yard line. The very next play, Ehlinger found tight end Andrew Beck for a 5-yard touchdown. Texas led 14-0 with 8:40 left in the third.

The Longhorns would really break away with a minute remaining in the third quarter when Ehlinger rushed in for his 11th touchdown of the year. That stretched the lead 21-0.

The Longhorn defense had its first breakdown to start the fourth quarter when Pooka Williams busted loose for a 57-yard touchdown. That put the Hawks on the board, 21-7.

On the ensuing possession, despite Ehlinger committing his second turnover of the game, his defense came to the rescue. Jeffrey McCulloch came up with a huge pick and returned it 65 yards to give Texas the ball back and thwart a Kansas threat. That turnover would result in a field goal and a 24-7 lead.

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The Longhorns wern't in the clear just yet. Peyton Bender found Daylon Charlot who made an incredible catch completing a 31-yard touchdown to pull the Jayhawks within 10 points with 3:27 left in the game.

Then after recovering the onside kick, Kansas had the ball back with 3:07 to go, down 24-14.

While Kansas was driving, true freshman Anthony Cook delivered a huge sack of Peyton Bender. The Jayhawks would settle for a field goal.

After a failed onside kick, Texas would kneel it out from there. The Longhorns pull out the road win, 24-17.

Oklahoma defeated West Virginia, setting up the Red River Rematch at AT&T Stadium for the Big 12 Championship.


In what seemed to be another Red River Shootout to the end, the Oklahoma Sooners took over in the fourth quarter and got their revenge on the October loss at the Cotton Bowl to the Texas Longhorns.

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The teams entered the fourth quarter tied 27-27, but the Sooners scored 12 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, including a crucial safety and late touchdown drive to seal the game with just over two minutes remaining.

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With the win, Oklahoma has won both Big 12 Championships since the conference title game was reintroduced in 2017.

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The Bulldogs are favored by about two touchdowns after losing only two games in the regular season, to LSU and Alabama.

"Whoever made those predictions probably haven't played ball before, so the scoreboard will be decided through the field of play that we're playing on January first at the good 'ole Superdome," said defensive lineman Charles Omenihu. "Not decided on someone writing it on pen and paper and putting it out to the media."

Plus, the underdog role is familiar to the Longhorns and something they embrace.

"I think that kind of fuels the fire and gives us a lot of motivation, you know. We don't freak out. We really don't pay attention to the outside noise. We know that the only opinions that matter are people in the bunker with us and on the team," said Texas defensive back Brandon Jones.

Texas coach, Tom Herman, admits his team faces a tough task.

"We've got a tremendous game ahead of us in the Sugar Bowl against a tremendous opponent in Georgia," Herman said. "You look on both sides of the ledger, I think they're in the top 20 in dang near every statistical category on both sides of the ball. They're certainly not one-sided."

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When Texas and Georgia kick off the new year at the Sugar Bowl, the winner might not be decided by talent.

Both teams lost in their respective conference championship games. So instead, it could come down to who does a better job of putting the past behind them.

"We both took a loss in the championship, it's going to be about who wants it more," said UT linebacker Gary Johnson.

On the defensive side for the Bulldogs, Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker decided he would not play in the Sugar Bowl as he prepares for the NFL Draft. Texas has not had any players announce they'll be skipping the Sugar Bowl.


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