The Texas football team will have an out-of-town trip to plan for later this month. But where are the Longhorns going? Orlando is nice this time of year. But they also have recently gotten used to spending the last part of December in San Antonio, too.
Texas' postseason plans will be revealed Sunday when bowl game matchups are announced. The two likeliest destinations are either the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio or Orlando's Cheez-It Bowl. Both games will be played on Dec. 29.
Now, the Longhorns and the Alamo Bowl aren't strangers. Texas has played in five Alamos, including at the end of the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The Longhorns haven't played in a bowl game in the state of Florida since 1974.
How Texas (8-4) found itself waiting on an invitation to either San Antonio or Orlando is a long story. But we can offer a condensed version: over the course of 12 games, the Longhorns were involved in 810 offensive snaps and 887 defensive plays. Here are five key moments that went a long way in getting the Longhorns to where they're at:
1. Bryce Young's escape act
After opening the season with a 52-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe, Texas welcomed then-No. 1 Alabama to Austin for a marquee national matchup. ESPN's "College GameDay" and Fox's "Big Noon Kickoff" both televised their pregame shows from the UT campus, it drew the biggest crowd in Royal-Memorial Stadium history and the game averaged nearly 10.6 million viewers on Fox.
The Longhorns lost starting quarterback Quinn Ewers to a sprained clavicle near the end of the first quarter but still took a 19-17 lead on Bert Auburn's 49-yard field goal with 89 seconds remaining. The Crimson Tide responded and eventually won the game with a 33-yard kick in the waning seconds.
As it rallied for the victory, Alabama was fueled by a 20-yard run from quarterback Bryce Young. On first-and-10 with less than 40 seconds left at Texas' 37-yard line, the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner was caught in the crosshairs of blitzing cornerback Ryan Watts. But he spun loose from Watts' tackle and took off for a critical scramble to the 17. Four plays later, the Crimson Tide won it.
"I had nightmares," Watts later said. "I got too happy just to get him. I didn't want to give up too much time. I got there real quick, I knew he was going to try something. To do what he did, that was a great play on him, but I definitely learned from that. I always think about that and I adjusted from it and it's helped me throughout the season."
Had Texas managed to stop the Crimson Tide on that final drive, the Longhorns would have been 2-0 and vaulted into the national rankings. As it was, they went from unranked to No. 21 after the loss. And a win also would have been Texas' first over a top-five team in Austin for the first time since 1999. (Two months later, the Longhorns also were unable to beat No. 4 TCU, too.)
2. Robinson's lost fumble in Lubbock
Bijan Robinson, who's a Doak Walker Award finalist, has touched the ball 277 times this season. He turned all those touches in a nation-leading 1,894 yards of offense, and his 20 touchdowns have ranged in length from one yard to 78 yards.
There's one carry that Robinson likely wants back, though.
On the first snap in overtime at Texas Tech on Sept. 24, the junior running back lost a fumble that the Red Raiders recovered at the 25-yard line. Five plays later, Tech kicked a short 20-yard field goal to secure the 37-34 upset over the 22nd-ranked Longhorns, who dropped to 2-2.
It was only the third lost fumble of Robinson's career. He rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns on the day.
3. Ewers, Keilan Robinson hook up in Red River rout
After missing three games with his sprained clavicle, Ewers was inserted back into the starting lineup for the annual game against Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl. Making his Red River rivalry debut, Ewers passed for 289 yards and four touchdowns.
One of those touchdowns was a 15-yard connection with Keilan Robinson that gave Texas a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. On the play, Robinson picked up key blocks from wide receivers Xavier Worthy and Jordan Whittington.
"That tells me we're playing really good team football, complementary football, and we're buying into all aspects of what we're asking of them," head coach Steve Sarkisian said of his blocking receivers.
The 49-0 victory was the most lopsided of UT's 63 all-time wins over Oklahoma. Texas hadn't shut out the Sooners since 1965.
4. Texas was Ford-tough against Kansas State
Texas exited its bye week at the start of November with a 5-3 record and a 3-2 mark in Big 12 play. In search of a signature win, the Longhorns found one in the 34-27 triumph over Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., on Nov. 5. The Wildcats were No. 13 in the country.
The game was decided in the final minute. On a play that started at the Texas 43, Longhorns defensive lineman Keondre Coburn forced a fumble by Kansas State quarterback Adrian Martinez. Linebacker Jaylan Ford fell on the loose ball and Texas began celebrating its win.
It was the second fumble recovered by Ford in the closing minutes of a one-score game. He did the same thing at Texas' 28 during a 24-21 win over Iowa State on Oct. 15.
Ford finished the game with 10 tackles, an interception and the fumble recovery and won Big 12 defensive player of the week honors. It was the second of three weekly conference awards Ford has won, and his 109 tackles and four interceptions are both top-three numbers among Big 12 defensive players. Yet those accomplishments didn't impress the voters for the Big 12's defensive player of the year award. That went to Kansas State defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah.
5. Texas finds that the run is fun against Baylor
With Texas clinging to a 24-19 lead in the fourth quarter of the regular-season finale on Nov. 25, Ewers fumbled after being sacked. Baylor returned the turnover for a touchdown and then converted the 2-point conversion to go up 27-24 with 13:34 left.
After the turnover, the Longhorns turned to their running game. On each of Texas' final 22 offensive plays, it was either a Bijan Robinson or Roschon Johnson run. They closed with 132 yards and two touchdowns.
The biggest highlight during that run of runs was Johnson's 11-yard touchdown. On the play, Johnson — playing in his final home game — took a direct snap and hurdled a defender on his way to the end zone. That was the final score in UT's 38-27 win.
Texas went 6-3 in Big 12 play but finished a game behind Kansas State in the standings. Since Texas was unable to catch the Wildcats, the Longhorns missed out on a chance to play TCU in Saturday's Big 12 championship game that Kansas State ended up winning in overtime.
The Longhorns will have the offseason to think about those three close conference losses to Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and TCU by a combined 17 points.
Last week, Sarkisian was asked if there was anything about those three losses that kept him up at night.
"Against TCU, I just wish we would have played better," he said. "Quite frankly, I wish I'd done a better job of preparing ourselves to play. ... I would have liked us to play good football and see what would have happened and we just didn't play great offensive football that day.
"I wish I would have found a way to run the football better in the second half (of the Texas Tech and Oklahoma State) games just to try to control the game a little bit more to where our defense wasn't playing so many snaps, because I think the accumulation of the snaps they had to play in those two games caught up to us to where missed tackles became a factor in that game at some really critical moments. I wish we could have controlled it a little bit more offensively in the second half to minimize some of the snaps they had to play, and maybe we make a couple of those tackles that change the outcome of the game.
"Again, that's self-criticism on me," he added. "And I'm OK with doing that. Hopefully we're better for moving forward, which I think we were in the second half of the season."
Alamo or Cheez-It?
TCU's loss, Kansas State's Big 12 championship and Utah's big win over USC in the Pac-12 title game have potentially changed, well, everything. The Wildcats, as Big 12 champions, look headed to the Sugar Bowl and the Horned Frogs could end up in the Cotton or still make the CFP. The Alamo Bowl, which enjoyed having Texas play there in 2019 and 2020, has the next pick among Big 12 schools with either Texas or Texas Tech the top likely choices.
Move over, ____
Move over, Jamaal Charles: This season, Bijan Robinson moved into fourth place on UT's all-time rushing chart (3,410 yards)
Move over, Roosevelt Leaks: This season, Robinson has recorded the seventh-best single-season rushing total in school history (1,580 yards)
Move over, Limas Sweed: This season, Xavier Worthy moved into third place on UT's career touchdown receptions list (21)
Move over, Jermichael Finley: This season, Ja'Tavion Sanders recorded the second-most receptions by a Texas tight end in a single season (49)
Texas' notable number: 10
There were 10 Longhorns who scored a touchdown in the regular season. Robinson's 18 touchdown runs led the Big 12. Worthy recorded a conference-topping nine touchdown catches. Two defensive backs also tallied touchdowns; D'Shawn Jamison returned an interception 69 yards in the season opener and Jahdae Barron scored on a 44-yard interception return and a 48-yard fumble return.
This article originally appeared on Austin American-Statesman: After solid football season, Texas awaits bowl game invitation