The Texas Longhorns traveled to Berkley to play California and came away with their first loss of the season 50-43 Sept. 17.
How can the Longhorns (2-1), who played so well in the double overtime win over Notre Dame to start the season, come up short against a California team that was reeling following a loss to San Diego State last week?
The answer is that the Notre Dame loss in 2015 changed the Texas program, while the loss to the Bears last season was a game Texas felt like they gave away.
The Longhorns played the Irish like a team that remembered how it felt leaving South Bend and used that to propel themselves to victory. It was a game that resulted in people, both coaches and players, losing jobs. It immediately told the players their coaches were on notice that the ship needed to be righted. In short, that loss set a course for the rest of 2015 that featured a Texas team that showed flashes of potential and downright ugliness depending on the week.
The Texas team that won in 2016 was motivated by passion, determination and emotion. The victory sent a clear message that the coaching staff had righted the wrongs of 2015 and the players were responding the right way.
The 2015 loss to Cal to many people came down to a missed extra point by the Longhorns. By the time the Longhorns got to California in week 3 of that season, Texas already made personnel changes in the locker room and in the coaches’ room.
So that covers the emotions of the two games against each opponent. Let’s dive further into the loss to California on the west coast in 2016.
The difference in the game came down to five points:
Two Texas interceptions that resulted in two California touchdowns.
Cal receiver Chad Hansen catching a play near the sideline in the second half that was called a catch and should have been called incomplete because he had to adjust the ball in his hands as he put one foot inbounds.
The Longhorns defense unable to defend Cal’s bubble screens, pressure quarterback Davis Webb or contain the Bears rushing attack (40 carries for 111 yards) that was effective enough to keep the chains moving, especially late in the fourth quarter.
Texas missed two long field goals and in essence left points on the field. Penalties at inopportune times killed drives and prevented the Longhorns from scoring points.
But the most important reason California won the game? Because they simply wanted it more.
On the Bears sideline, men wearing T-shirts reading “Tougher Team Wins” summarized the game perfectly. California was down after the loss to San Diego State where running back Donnel Pumphrey ran for 281 yards and three touchdowns as he broke Marshall Faulk’s single game rushing record.
Simply the Bears defense wasn’t going to let that happen in a second consecutive game. The Longhorns had 28 rushes for 153 yards in the first half and finished with 304 yards, but no back had 200 individual yards. Most insiders believed that amount of running output by one back was crucial for the game’s outcome.
California got the pace it wanted and realized something Texas didn’t — it was important to score points on every drive because that was the best way to put pressure on a true freshman quarterback still learning the college game and a senior quarterback who can’t pass well enough to keep the defense honest for a series.
Texas made too many mistakes to win this game. It still needs to realize that it takes flawless football to beat a motivated and down opponent. They should know that better than any team since the Longhorns were that squad in wins over Oklahoma and Baylor last season.
A sports truth is especially difficult for the Longhorns today — you learn more from a loss than you do from a win — and that should help them prepare for other spread and Air Raid teams as they turn their attention to Big 12 play that starts at Oklahoma State Oct. 1.
Whether fans believe the loss is on the offense or defense, the reality is 43 points wasn’t enough to win. Had the Longhorns gotten a defensive turnover, it would have given the offense another possession and another opportunity. But that didn’t happen.
And by contrast, while fans would still be annoyed by the defense giving up 50 points, it would sting a lot less if Texas had scored 51.
The Longhorns have two weeks to prepare for Oklahoma State and avoid the same trap they fell into last season when they lost to the Cowboys after losing to the Bears a week earlier. Fans can only hope the Longhorns have learned from this latest California loss.
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