Longhorns miss out on CFP national championship game with nail-biting loss to Washington

Penalties and turnovers tallied up for Texas in a 37-31 Sugar Bowl loss.

By Michael MarksJanuary 2, 2024 10:51 am,

The Texas Longhorns lost to the Washington Huskies, 37-31, in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans, missing out on a chance to play for the College Football Playoff National Championship. Washington will play Michigan in the title game next week.

Texas had its chances, but an unstoppable passing game from the Huskies and a steady stream of miscues were just too much to overcome.

Danny Davis, who covers UT sports for the Austin American-Statesman, joined the Standard with more from New Orleans and what comes next for the Longhorns.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Oh, boy, what a game. I know you were in New Orleans covering the game for the Statesman. Give us a little bit of the back story: What was the feeling like among the team and the Longhorn faithful after that heartbreaking final drive?

Danny Davis: You know, I think Jahdae Barron probably said it best in the post-game press conference: he said, you know, the tears were gone. But at that point, it was about an hour after the game, it was just frustration. I think the players kind of know the opportunity they let slip through their hands.

But you also got tip your hat to Washington. That’s a really, really good Washington that Texas lost to. But Texas is definitely going to be kicking themselves for a couple mistakes that they made that may have changed the outcome of the game.

Well, this game almost ended in a miracle for the Horns. Shades of 2005 was what I was thinking there. Can you describe that final sequence of the game?

Yeah, it was definitely one of those things – you know, as journalists, I had a story ready to go at the buzzer so we could get something on our website as soon as possible, and I was kind of Control+ALT+deleting a lot of it and kind of trying to edit on the fly. Normally we go down to the field for like the last 5 minutes of the game, and I stayed in the press box the entire time because we didn’t know what was going to happen.

And, you know, Texas definitely had a shot there at times once Jordan Whittington kind of hauled in, I think it was a 42-yard pass, to get Texas down within striking distance – you kind of go, ‘is this actually going to happen? Are they actually going to pull this off?’ And then, you know, Texas gets four shots at it from inside the 15 and just can’t quite get it done.

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Yeah, it was a real heartbreaker. In fact, there at the last minute, it looked like Texas wouldn’t even have control of the ball. You talked about the mistakes – what stood out to you?

If you’re going to think of two things, I mean, turnovers kill, especially at this stage of the game. Washington, granted, had a huge one on a punt return, but Texas fumbled away the ball inside the Washington 25 – I believe it was early in the fourth quarter – and then also had another fumble that Washington turned into a field goal. So I mean, you can kind of do the math. I think those were the two big ones.

But, you know, Texas had penalties the entire day. The drive before their last drive, you know, they couldn’t quite punch it in the end zone. They had to settle for a field goal. If they got a touchdown there, they may have been able to kick that last drive instead, which would’ve helped. So stuff like that just definitely kind of stood out.

Some of the playcalling was a little questionable, especially early in the game. I thought they waited too long to try to get Quinn Ewers going. The running game was clearly working and they kept throwing the ball, which I’m sure is frustrating to a lot of fans.

And then that last drive, you talk about marching down the field – that first down at the Washington 12, they throw this little swing pass and the running back loses a yard because he has to run out of bounds instead of trying to get more yardage because they don’t have any timeouts. You know, that was a little questionable, too. [Coach Steve Sarkisian] kind of explained that they were just trying to live to see another day on that play instead of trying to throw the ball downfield and get stopped toward the goal line. But it was just stuff like that definitely kind of stands out.

Still, you know, you look back over this season, a remarkable one for Texas, considering that just two seasons ago they won five games and lost seven – now here they were in a national semifinal game. What do you think this portends for Texas: Was this their last best shot for a while, or is this the return of a powerhouse? How do you see it?

You know, I think Texas is in a good spot. I mean, the college playoff is expanding to 12 teams next season. So now you only have to be in the top 12 teams. There’s a lot more margin for error; you can possibly go 9-3 during the regular season and still make the playoffs. And then once you make the playoff, it’s just a matter of getting hot at the right moment.

So I think Texas is heading in the right direction. They’re recruiting well. But at the same time, you know, this Texas team is going to be losing a lot of talent. And so it’s going to be a matter of trying to replace some of those guys and see what happens in the future and who comes back.

But you can’t guarantee anything. This may be Texas’ last best shot for a while, or it may be the start of something new, and Texas could be right back here in the Final Four next year. It’s just really, really hard to tell. We’ll have to see. That’s the beauty of college football.

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