As his handlers tried to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the Uga X, the 62-pound English bulldog that serves as Georgia’s live mascot, Bevo sent all 1,600 of his pounds forward, over some metal barriers toward Uga before he was eventually stopped.
The show of excitement by Texas’ mascot turned out to be a sign of things to come.
Between the white lines, the No. 15 Longhorns mimicked Bevo’s mojo, taking it right to No. 5 Georgia in a 28-21 win at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
From the start, Texas (10-4) was first to punch. The Longhorns jumped to a 17-0 lead with a physical defense and a determined quarterback, Sam Ehlinger, leading the way. Texas pressured Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm with regularity. The Horns kept D’Andre Swift corralled in the run game. They took advantage of critical mistakes by the Bulldogs (11-3). Ehlinger used a healthy mix of run and pass to keep Georgia’s short-handed defense off-balance much of the night.
While securing its first 10-win season in a decade, Texas showed why it’s worth being bullish on the program’s future.
Since its 2009 BCS Championship game loss to Alabama, Texas has searched for and failed to find a way to return to national prominence. Fans have longed for just a hint of the success the team found in the 2000s, when Mack Brown led it to nine consecutive double-digit-win seasons, including a national championship.
It’s uncertain if the Longhorns can compile a run quite like that again, but for the first time in 10 years, it feels like they’re making real progress on that journey.
Forget the overused “Texas is back” phrase that can go from proclamation to punchline, depending on the week. Tom Herman looks like he’s building something in Austin.
On Tuesday, his team embodied many of the qualities he desires. They were tough. They played fast. They were physical. There was nary a moment when they didn’t look like they believed they were the better team.
The Bulldogs were favored for a reason. Many observers — coach Kirby Smart included — thought they were one of the four best teams in college football and deserved a spot in the College Football Playoff. Overall, they’re further along as a program than Texas is, in large part because of talent.
Georgia did nothing to back up that claim. The Dawgs were outclassed virtually from start to finish and made costly errors. Jake Camarda caught a low snap for a first-quarter punt, but his knee was touching the turf as he caught it, resulting in a turnover on downs in Georgia territory.
Swift turned the ball over in the second quarter, which led to Texas’ second score. Georgia even cost itself field position with a silly end-of-half personal foul penalty. (The silver lining for Smart’s group? Coming into the season, it was supposed to be a “rebuilding year” of sorts, with numerous key pieces to replace, and the Dawgs got to the doorstep of the playoff. With Fromm back to lead the charge next season, they’ll be surefire contenders in 2019. And for what it’s worth, they didn’t quit, playing hard until the buzzer sounded.)
Despite all that, Texas didn’t win by smoke and mirrors. Herman has often said that he believes Texas’ best is good enough to beat anybody. Tuesday was validation of that claim because the Longhorns played close to their best, and it was plenty.
The better news for Herman and the Horns: There’s more talent on the way. The Longhorns’ 2019 recruiting class is ranked ninth nationally, and if it holds or improves, it will be the second consecutive top-10 class Herman has signed. That’s the type of recruiting needed if Texas is to return to prominence and make double-digit seasons the norm, rather than the exception.
Not to be overlooked is perhaps the most important piece of that puzzle: quarterback. In a season when Tua Tagovailoa, Kyler Murray, Dwayne Haskins and Will Grier wowed the country with eye-popping statistics and record-breaking performances, Ehlinger quietly proved himself to be one of the nation’s better signal-callers.
Texas’ struggles have coincided with the program’s inability to find a reliable, multiyear starter at the most important position. Ehlinger appears to have ended that search. His growth from his freshman to his sophomore season has been tremendous. He’s smarter with the ball (he threw two fewer interceptions despite 150 more attempts), and his ability to run the football — he broke the school record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback on Tuesday — gave Texas a boost when it sorely needed one this season. Ehlinger’s Sugar Bowl stats won’t get him on any Heisman Trophy lists, but if he continues to lead this team by playing the winning football he did in 2018, he’ll be impossible to ignore.
If the Longhorns continue to add talent and play the way they played in the Sugar Bowl, Bevo will be feared again.