AUSTIN, Texas — Two hours before Saturday's game morphed into a gut-churning barnburner, before defense disappeared and LSU firmly pushed itself into the conversation for the College Football Playoff, Texas held the ball at the Tigers' 8-yard line.
It was the first quarter, and No. 6 LSU led by a field goal. Inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns crept toward the end zone. First-and-goal.
In that moment, Texas had an opportunity to score a touchdown, one that would have loomed as the teams traded scores throughout the second half and Texas twice cut LSU’s lead to two points.
But with the Longhorns deep inside the red zone there in the first quarter, LSU made two goal-line stands in less than five minutes. The Tigers beat the No. 9 team in the nation 45-38, and though their defense slipped during the second half, their goal-line stands provided the difference.
"We don't stop them on the goal line," coach Ed Orgeron said after the game, "we're dead."
AUSTIN, Texas — Joe Burrow silenced Texas with a steady series of throws.
With the ball on the 8-yard line, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger rushed six yards after an incomplete pass. The Longhorns stood two yards from a touchdown and the lead.
Ehlinger, pressured by outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, threw incomplete on third down. Texas kept its offense on the field. The Longhorns ran a misdirection play that left running back Keaontay Ingram uncovered in the end zone.
Ehlinger lofted a pass toward Ingram. Texas fans began to celebrate as the ball landed in Ingram’s hands — but Ingram dropped the ball. Ehlinger put his hands on his helmet. LSU took over on downs.
Two plays later, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow threw a pass tipped at the line of scrimmage. Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai intercepted the ball and returned it to LSU’s 4-yard line.
Less than a minute after it had stopped Texas on the goal line, LSU’s defense ran back onto the field in the same situation. Texas threatened to take the lead. The Tigers needed to protect their end zone.
"We take pride in goal-line stands," Chaisson said. "That's when it gets real."
AUSTIN, Texas — Remember those T-shirts the Texas defense wore before their season-opening blowout of Louisiana Tech last weekend?
Earlier in the week, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda installed a defensive scheme designed for the goal-line. The Tigers expected Ehlinger to run the football. The formation moved senior Michael Divinity to outside linebacker. It brought in one of the Tigers’ larger inside linebackers. It asked defensive linemen to "submarine," getting lower than the offensive linemen to create chaos.
Texas called two-straight running plays. Ehlinger carried both, and officials ruled he scored on second down. After replay review, they decided Ehlinger’s knee landed inside the 1-yard line.
On third down, the Longhorns gave the ball to Ingram. Divinity and inside linebacker Patrick Queen and stuffed him at the line of scrimmage. And instead of trying to tie the game, Texas went for it on fourth down.
LSU recognized the formation at the line of scrimmage. They suspected a sweep.
Ehlinger caught the snap, tucked the ball under his arm and ran toward the right side of LSU’s defense, the exact play LSU anticipated. Queen tackled him for a loss of 2 yards — one of three tackles Queen made that series. The Tigers defense had stopped Texas short of the goal line. Again.
In about four minutes, Texas ran eight plays inside LSU’s 10-yard line. It scored zero points.
AUSTIN, Texas — Heading downstairs to a team meeting Saturday morning, Ed Orgeron ambled up to an elevator full of Texas fans at the LSU team …
LSU took a 20-7 lead into halftime, but Texas came back in the second half. The Longhorns’ offense moved with relative ease as a fatigued LSU defense managed injuries to a handful of starters.
In the second half, Texas had 352 total yards. It scored on every possession. The Tigers didn’t put enough pressure on Ehlinger. They missed tackles. Schematically, Texas outsmarted LSU, and it kept the Tigers within nine points for almost the entire second half.
“I don't think we were very good on defense,” Orgeron said. “We couldn't stop them.”
At the end, Burrow threw a touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson that gave LSU a 14-point lead with about two minutes remaining. But the Longhorns scored another touchdown.
It might have tied the game, sending it to overtime — if LSU’s defense had not made those goal-line stops a few hours earlier.
"They bailed us out in the first quarter," Burrow said. "Then we ended up bailing them out in the end. That's what teams do."