AUSTIN -- Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium rocked on Saturday. It rocked in a way that we have not seen in a long time.
In many ways, it was the most anticipated game in this city in years, maybe since the Longhorns earned a trip to the national championship game in 2009. Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba hung out with friends near the back wall. Texas governor Greg Abbott was posted on the sideline with a pristine view of the action. WWE legend The Undertaker patrolled the end zone with his signature hair tied in a long, black ponytail.
There was plenty of chatter from both sides before this one. Texas officials even ran out onto the field after the game and directed players to go to the band for the fight song to try to keep them out of scuffles. Their efforts weren't necessary; with this one over, the ties that bond these two programs came out and the animosity dissipated.
Players come to the University of Texas to play games like this, with College GameDay in town and the eyes of the nation on a team ranked No. 9 in the nation. But when the result is a 45-38 loss, even when it was to No. 6 LSU, it’s hard to feel much pleasure.
“At the end of the day, we’re playing football,” defensive lineman Malcolm Roach said flatly. “We went there and played a good football team, and they played a good football team in us. They came out victorious. We didn’t.”
It wasn’t for lack of opportunities. The Longhorns had two drives end within the 5-yard line with no points. Running back Keaontay Ingram had a ball bounce out of his hands with him wide open in the end zone. Wide receiver Collin Johnson nearly had the onside kick, but simply couldn’t hang onto the ball as he fell out of bounds.
“We know that when we play our best, we can beat anybody,” Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger said. “I guess we kind of proved that. We knew that, which is upsetting because if we know that, we have to play like that all the time.”
The Longhorns scored 31 points against LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, one of the brightest minds in the sport. Ehlinger threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the second half alone. But with those successes against an elite program, the frustration of inconsistency became even more sobering.
The secondary’s miscues were even more inflated with all the talk before the game. Texas defensive backs came out with shirts that said “DBU.” LSU, of course, fancies themselves as the premiere school for defensive backs.
By the end of the night, it didn’t particularly seem like anyone deserved the “DBU” moniker. LSU quarterback Joe Burrow threw for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Texas safety Brandon Jones admitted it’s sobering to take that much pride in defensive back play, and proceed to give up one of the best passing days in LSU history.
“Everything that happened is fixable,” Jones said. “It’s just a shot to reality.”
While Texas is disappointed with the result, there’s a reason Texas coach Tom Herman has instilled a 1-0 mentality. The game is over. Now, it’s on to next week.
“We can’t let this game end our season,” Roach said. “It’s not a one-game season. You guys hyped the f…” Roach caught himself and chuckled. “My bad. You guys hyped it up like it was a one-game season. We got a whole season to play.”
“This is game two of a marathon,” Herman said. “We wanted to win this game, certainly, very badly. We prepared to win...obviously it still hurts. It hurts a lot. I think they all realize that all of our long-term goals are still out there.”
This team has responded to adversity before. The Longhorns lost an opening game each of the past two years. In 2017, Texas started 1-2 and still powered to a bowl victory. Losing on the road against Maryland in 2018 didn’t keep the Longhorns from earning a Sugar Bowl trip.
“I’ve been a part of two different coaching programs, so I’ve been able to see the difference in the locker room and how we react to adversity,” Jones said. “Adversity hits in every game. If you can be strong enough as a team and face that adversity head on, you can have a lot of success.”
We’re not going to bore you with another “Texas is back” declaration either way. We’re as tired of it as you are. But regardless, one thing is true: DKR is rocking again. Losing the spotlight game to LSU will hurt, but Texas is still a top 10 program, and shouldn’t fall much in the polls. Even though the next one is against Oklahoma State, not LSU, maintaining the energy around the program remains critical.
“It was as good of an atmosphere as we have seen at DKR,” Herman said. “I expect more of the same when we get back here in a couple of weeks.”