SAN ANTONIO, TX – Sam Ehlinger and the Texas Longhorns finally looked like the team everyone thought they could be when the season began.
Ehlinger passed for three touchdowns, ran for another and the Longhorns took out a season of frustration on No. 12 Utah with a dominant 38-10 Alamo Bowl win Tuesday night.
After a 10-win season in 2018 and an impressive Sugar Bowl win over Georgia set up a Top 10 ranking for the Longhorns to start 2019, Texas (8-5) underwhelmed in a season they fell to the middle of the pack in the Big 12. As the pressure mounted on third-year coach Tom Herman, he replaced both his offensive and defensive coordinators and Texas entered the Alamo Bowl unranked with a fan base unnerved.
The release came in a romping New Year's Eve party in front of a “home” crowd dominated by Texas fans who made the one-hour drive from Austin.
"Our talent can take us pretty far," Ehlinger said. “When you add mistake-free football, watch out.”
For Utah, it was a bitter end to a season that was so promising just a month ago when the Utes were on the verge of making the College Football Playoff.
Utah (11-3) didn't get there after it was swamped in the Pac-12 title game by Oregon and perhaps struggled to shake off the heartbreak of what could have been.
Texas physically handled the Utes at the line of scrimmage. Longhorns linebacker Joseph Ossai had three sacks of quarterback Tyler Huntley and six total tackles for a loss.
“We knew that we were going to have to play with a greater passion and physicality than they would,” said Texas coach Tom Herman, who is 4-0 in bowls in his career with three wins in three seasons at Texas.
Texas also pounded out 231 yards against the nation's No. 1 rush defense, which had held 10 opponents under 70 yards. Texas' biggest run came on a 31-yard burst by Ehlinger on third down on the drive that led to his 6-yard touchdown that made it 24-3 late in the third quarter. Keaontay Ingram later added a 49-yard TD burst late in the fourth.
“Very disappointing end to a very good season,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “We got outplayed, we got outcoached. It doesn't diminish one iota what this senior class accomplished.”
Ehlinger finished with 201 yards passing. His first touchdown went to Collin Johnson, who missed six games this season with a nagging hamstring injury. His last was to Devin Duvernay, who caught three passes for 92 yards.
"I’ll take those guys in 1-on-1 coverage against anybody in the country,” Ehlinger said.
Utah: The Utes delivered a dud after a season that was so good until December. Whittingham had talked about what a boost getting a 12th win would be, particularly against a name program like Texas. Now the Utes head into 2020 needing to replace nine senior starters, six on a defense that was among the best in the nation much of the season.
“They just played harder than us,” Huntley said. “We took it more as a vacation than preparing for a game and it came back to bite us.”
Texas: For the second straight year, Texas used a bowl win to pummel a team that just missed the national playoff and a conference championship. What it means for 2020, there's no way to tell. Texas will have new offensive (Mike Yurcich) and defensive (Chris Ash) coordinators in what will be a pivotal year for Herman. The Longhorns expect to return 15 starters and Herman expects to relinquish play-calling.
"It would have been easy for guys to splinter after the regular season was not what we had hoped," Herman said. “These guys are competitors. They want to win.”
Both teams have several players who expect to be in the NFL draft combine, but only Utah junior cornerback Jaylon Johnson skipped the game. Texas seniors Johnson and Duvernay had a huge impact, while Utah's senior leaders were non-factors. Zack Moss, a 1,300-yard rusher this season, finished with 57 yards. Huntley passed for just 126 yards and defensive end Bradlee Anae was in on one sack but otherwise struggled to get much pressure on Ehlinger.
BIG HIT BIG PENALTY
Utah's biggest hit backfired. In the third quarter, defensive lineman Maxs Tupai leveled Ehlinger with a shove but did it right in front of a game official and drew a 15-yard penalty. The heated moment only seemed to fire up Ehlinger, and three plays later he smashed through the middle of the Utah defense for a 6-yard touchdown that put Texas ahead 24-3.
Utah plays BYU in Salt Lake City on Sept. 5.
Texas hosts South Florida on Sept. 5.