By Tucker Stephenson
NEW ORLEANS — After a full month of hype, everyone wearing the burnt orange and white couldn’t wait to get a piece of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Even Bevo himself.
Texas’ mascot nearly maimed Georgia’s favorite pooch, Uga, during an ill-advised pregame meeting, and the Longhorns finished the job over the next several hours by outmuscling the Bulldogs for a 28-21 win in the 2019 Sugar Bowl. Head coach Tom Herman’s team showed confidence and urgency from the very first snap and ultimately left The Big Easy with the program’s biggest postseason prize in a decade.
And with regard to the obvious question surrounding Texas football, quarterback Sam Ehlinger — the game’s Most Outstanding Player — answered it during the postgame ceremony.
“Longhorn nation,” Ehlinger said, “we’re baaaaaaack!”
It was a nearly flawless start for the Longhorns (10-4), who rattled off 17 consecutive points to take control of the contest. The Bulldogs (11-3) eventually pulled to within two scores with plenty of time remaining in the fourth quarter, but Texas’ defense rose to the occasion and got the stop it needed thanks to a key sack by linebacker Gary Johnson.
The Longhorns survived a penalty-plagued final minute to snag an onside kick that sealed a major upset — in Las Vegas’ eyes, at least.
“We pride ourselves in our physicality,” Herman said after the game. “At this point in our program, that’s how we’re going to win games. That’s always how we’re going to win games.”
Texas moved swiftly after receiving the opening kickoff, marching 75 yards in 10 plays and scoring on a 2-yard touchdown run by Ehlinger — the first of three scores on the ground from the Westlake alum.
The Longhorns then got a short field after Georgia punter Jake Carmada’s knee touched the ground as he reached for a low snap. Cameron Dicker capped the brief drive with a 37-yard field goal.
The Bulldogs survived another disaster courtesy of Carmada — this time a shanked punt that traveled all of 11 yards — but they weren’t so lucky following a fumble by running back D’Andre Swift that was covered up by defensive lineman Gerald Wilbon. The takeaway resulted in more Texas points when Ehlinger ducked under the Georgia rush on third-and-goal from the 9 and bullied his way across the goal line.
Georgia showed signs of life by answering with a 12-play touchdown drive, but Dicker tacked on a 30-yard field goal prior to intermission to give the Horns a 20-7 edge.
The Texas defense kept that lead intact for much of the second half, as P.J. Locke III opened the third quarter with an interception and the Longhorns then forced back-to-back Georgia punts.
Ehlinger then led a determined 14-play, 70-yard drive that eventually found the end zone after four consecutive runs from the 1 by the sophomore signal caller. It was the second fourth-down conversion of the possession, which proved to be a crucial one for Texas.
“Our No. 1 goal coming to New Orleans to participate in the Sugar Bowl was to win the game,” Herman said. “We weren’t just happy being here. We were going to win the game and do everything it took to win it.”
Following a successful 2-point conversion pass, the Longhorns held a commanding 28-7 advantage with 11:49 left to play.
Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm notched a pair of late TD tosses to try and spark a rally, but the last one was mostly cosmetic. Texas’ Collin Johnson easily handled the Bulldogs’ desperation onside attempt with 14 seconds left, and the Longhorns lined up in the victory formation.
“I’m just so proud of how hard our guys played,” Herman said. “They played hard early, they played hard late, they overcame some adversity and it was a complete team effort.”
Ehlinger became the first Longhorn quarterback to rush for three scores in a bowl game since Vince Young did so in the 2006 National Championship Game. Ehlinger finished with 241 total yards — 169 through the air, 64 on the ground and 8 on a pass from Lil’Jordan Humphrey.
As a team, Texas ran for 178 yards on 49 carries. Graduate transfer Tre Watson led the way with 91 yards on 18 totes.
Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ youth movement, including freshmen B.J. Foster, Joseph Ossai, Keaontay Ingram and Sam Cosmi — were on display all night long, but the senior class also left a lasting impression in its final college game. Elijah Rodriguez, Patrick Vahe and Andrew Beck helped pave the way for the running game, while Locke, Gary Johnson, Chris Nelson, Anthony Wheeler, Kris Boyd and Davante Davis helped put the brakes on the SEC’s third-ranked offense.
“They are going to go down as the most influential senior class, certainly of our tenure here, because of the culture they have instilled and the culture that they have upheld as well,” Herman said. “That locker room has finally become a player-led team instead of a coach-fed team.”
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