The unbeaten Oklahoma Sooners and their flashy duo of redshirt quarterback Kyler Murray and playmaking wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown entered the Red River Showdown with all of the hype but it was the underdog Texas Longhorns flipping the script Saturday with their bigger, grittier passer Sam Ehlinger and towering pass-catcher Collin Johnson playing leading roles in a program-resurrecting 48-45 win Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.
Ehlinger, the game’s obvious Most Valuable Player, completed 24 of 35 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 72 yards and three scores, out-playing OU’s Heisman contender Murray for much of the game.
It almost was not enough.
Murray led the Sooners on a furious fourth quarter comeback, out-scoring Texas 21-3 in the final frame.
Shaking off a couple of poor decisions that resulted in turnovers, the redshirt junior passer completed 19 of 26 passes for 306 yards and four touchdowns (along with an interception) and rushing for another 92 yards, including a sensational 67-yard scamper for a score late to make things interesting.
Showing impressive composure as the game seemingly was getting away from Texas, Ehlinger drove the Longhorns down the field to set up freshman kicker Cameron Dicker for a 40-yard field goal in the closing seconds, giving head coach Tom Herman his biggest win since taking over the storied program a year and a half ago.
While the quarterbacks (as always) generated most of the buzz, scouts will likely be even more impressed with the play of the receivers in this contest.
Statistically-speaking, the wonderfully named Lil’Jordan Humphrey was Ehlinger’s favorite target Saturday, hauling in nine passes for a game-high 133 yards and a touchdown while throwing another (to Johnson) on a Tim Tebow-like jump-pass in the first quarter.
It was the 6-foot-5, 220 pound Johnson, however, who arguably played an even “bigger” role in the game, corralling six passes of his own for 81 yards and the touchdown grab from Humphrey while also drawing two critical pass interference penalties, including one deep down the left sideline to extend the Longhorns’ game-winning drive.
Johnson moves very well for a receiver of his size, showing suddenness off the snap to defeat press coverage, as well as good build-up speed to challenge over the top. As his size suggests, Johnson – currently the 7th receiver on NFLDraftScout.com’s 2020 board - is at his best on short and intermediate routes, keeping his massive frame between he and the defender to effectively bully cornerbacks to win contested throws.
While Johnson’s exciting physical traits are enough to earn him NFL attention on their own, where the junior most helped his cause Saturday was in demonstrating impressive body control and awareness of the ball in the air, repeatedly leaping over and around Oklahoma’s defensive backs to either make tough grabs or force officials to throw the flag.
After previously teasing with his undeniable raw talent, Johnson has emerged as one of this year’s breakout stars for the Longhorns. He now has four touchdowns on the season – just one less than his previous two seasons combined – and has played well in Texas’ big wins over Southern California, Kansas State and especially TCU.
NFL teams looking for a speedster, on the other hand, had plenty to see with Oklahoma’s Brown, whose flashy play and hometown of Hollywood, FL have earned him the glitzy nickname.
Listed at just 5-11, 168 pounds, Brown is Johnson’s polar opposite, winning with elusiveness and elite straight-line speed – traits he showed on the scintillating 77-yard catch and run posted below.
What is perhaps most remarkable about Brown's play is that he has to wait for Murray's pass, allowing the defender to close, and yet still has the instant acceleration to score.
Brown caught nine passes for 131 yards and two touchdowns overall in this contest, matching his scoring production from all of last year over just the first six games of the season.
While lacking the bulk scouts would prefer, Brown’s big play ability should earn him a similar NFL grade as former “undersized” OU wideouts Sterling Shephard (5-10, 194) and Dede Westbrook (5-11, 178), Day Two picks in 2016 and 2017 by the New York Giants and Jacksonville Jaguars, respectively.