DALLAS — Charlie Strong put that gold cowboy hat on his head and flashed a huge smile filled with relief, joy and vindication.
If last week's rout at TCU was rock bottom for Strong at Texas, his first win against rival Oklahoma might be what changes the trajectory of his program. Or maybe it was just a temporary respite for the beleaguered Longhorns and their coach.
Regardless, the 24-17 outcome against the 10th-ranked Sooners on Saturday was no ordinary victory for Texas.
"We heard all week how the pride has been lost. How we don't play hard," Strong said. "And I don't have an answer for last week (TCU 50, Texas 7), we go out and we kind of just lay an egg, and this week we came out and we wanted to impose our will."
The Longhorns worked over OU's defense with 313 yards rushing. UT's defense went to work on quarterback Baker Mayfield and the Sooners' offensive line, blitzing and stunting their way to six sacks. Defensive end Naashon Hughes and tackle Poona Ford buried Mayfield for a 17-yard loss on a third and 14 deep in Oklahoma territory late in the fourth on what turned out to be a fitting last offensive play for the Sooners.
When Jerrod Heard and the Longhorns offense got the ball with 3:33 left and Texas leading 24-17, they never gave it back. The Longhorns churned out three first downs, took a knee, then stormed the field as if they won championship trophy.
"We needed this," Strong said.
The linemen lifted the former Gators assistant up during the celebration and tossed him in the air before he got to raise the Golden Hat Trophy that goes to the winner of the Red River Rivalry.
Strong doffed the cowboy hat, then passed it to his players.
"I think they said they didn't want to see me get fired so they were going to step up and play for me," Strong said with a laugh.
The Longhorns came to Dallas in the midst of the program's worst start in 59 years and as 17-point underdogs to OU. It has been nothing but turmoil and excruciating losses for UT. After getting drubbed by the Horned Frogs last week, the Longhorns made matters worse by sniping at each other on social media. Eighteen games into Strong's tenure and his future in Austin was already being questioned.
"Watching ESPN and seeing everything in the media about coach, everybody attacking him, picking on him and stuff, a bunch of guys were like, 'This isn't fair. We're not playing hard, and it's affecting him and his status,' " guard Sedrick Flowers said.
"They had been in some tight, tough games, and we knew what they were capable of," OU coach Bob Stoops said.
Heard led a scaled-down offense that threw only 12 passes. The quarterback ran for 115 yards on 21 carries. D'Onta Foreman made the biggest offensive play, a tackle-breaking 81-yard run that set up backup QB Tyrone Swoopes' jump-pass touchdown to Caleb Bluiett that made it 24-10 with 13:52 left in the fourth. The 244-pound Swoopes played the role of closer for the Longhorns, with a 3-yard TD run.
"I definitely don't think it was a lack of focus, and we definitely did not underestimate them at all," OU offensive linemen Ty Darlington said. "They were a much more talented and capable team than the record."