This game was tough to walk away from because Texas had many chances to win it. They are a talented team but they are making mistakes that are very uncharacteristic of Texas teams in the past and should not be happening with the talent that is on this team, especially on defense. Though I knew the outcome of the game, as I re-watched it I still cringed at the mistakes made and even found myself yelling at the TV from time to time because this team can be very, very good, but they need to put it all together.
- David Ash: What was once a mystery before the season started, the quarterback position is now a strength of the Longhorn team. Ash didnâ€™t put up ridiculous numbers this week (passing for 269 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions), but he didnâ€™t do anything that cost Texas the game or put them in bad situations (the botched shotgun snap at the end of the game wasnâ€™t his fault. The snap came too early. And Mack should have called a timeout with the clock running down that low at that point in the game). Nevertheless, he made the completions when he needed to, led the Longhorns on another late drive, and managed the offense well.Â I like the touch on most of his passes, though he can still improve his accuracy. But he is coming into his own and developing into the leader and playmaker the Longhorns need at the quarterback position.
- Offensive Line: This offensive line is a funny unit. Funny not in a comical sense but in the fact that they are a very strange group to define and understand. They do well in pass protection, for the most part, but they still are very inconsistent in run blocking and often get little to no push against opposing defensive lines. And statistically it showed. Yardage wise, Jonathan Gray was the leading rusher with 87 yards. Second to him, Joe Bergeron ended the day with just 45 yards on the ground (though he had 4 goal line touchdowns as well). But because holes were either non-existent or more of creases in the line, the bigger Bergeron had a harder time getting into the second level, while Gray was able to slip through some of the creases and get up field. Itâ€™s frustrating to watch because not only does the lack of run blocking take away from the talent of the running backs, but it also hinders the offense from being able to open up the playbook more and keep the opposing defense guessing. And on top of that, it put Texas in many 3rd and longs, which is never a good thing. This needs to be improved upon but the problem is Iâ€™m not sure this group can improve upon thisâ€¦
- Defensive Line: Like the offensive line, this group also had its ups and downs. I loved all the pressure and containment that the defensive line had on passing plays all night. They sacked Geno Smith multiple times, caused big time turnovers, and were getting past the offensive linemen in passing situations. But as good as they were on passing plays, they were terrible on running plays. The team thought to be inferior in the running game actually dominated on the ground all evening. West Virginiaâ€™s Andrew Buie rushed 31 times for 207 yards and 2 touchdowns. And for the second straight week, an opposing running back had a big day (recall last week when OSUâ€™s Joseph Randle rushed 25 times for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns). Worse damage comes when teams run the ball out of the shotgun. For whatever reason, when the ball is run out of the shotgun and the defensive line is a bit more spread out, they do a terrible job of shedding their blocks and getting to the running back as he makes his way through the running lane. They do, however, seem to play better when the ball is run out of a more pro style attack. Traditionally, Texas is very good against the run so hopefully Mack and his staff can figure out exactly what is going on and make the changes before the big game this Saturday in Dallas.
- Secondary: A lot was riding on the secondary this past weekend if Texas wanted to win, and they simply didnâ€™t get it done. Give credit to the Mountaineersâ€™ receivers, especially Bailey and Austin. But the Longhorns are better than this, and this subpar play is already getting old real fast. As far as coverage goes, Quandre Diggs is currently the best Texas has, and I like what Iâ€™ve seen out of him for the most part. I noticed WVU seemed to avoid throwing to his side much. I also liked Mykkele Thompsonâ€™s play. He was physical and if he wasnâ€™t making the tackle he was close by. He also did well in coverage, especially for starting his first game. But Iâ€™ve been really disappointed with Adrian Phillips, Carrington Byndom, and even Kenny Vaccaro. I may be nit picking with Vaccaro some, but he isnâ€™t playing at an All-American level. Iâ€™m not high on his coverage ability, and he could even improve his tackling. I do like that Diaz has him playing close to the line. Thatâ€™s where he plays the best. As for Byndom, his coverage ability this year has seemed to digress some. But the worst part of his play has been the pursuit angles he is taking when he is going to tackle someone. I can think of a handful of plays where he is getting into position to make a tackle but then over-pursues or takes a bad angle and misses the chance to even tackle the player.Â Last year he played very well so I know he is capable of being better, but, like much of the secondary, his play has digressed this season so far, largely due to a lack of discipline. And for Phillipsâ€¦ he gets his own thought.
- Adrian Phillips: Iâ€™ll be the first to admit I was very high on Phillips at the end of last season. I thought he would really be an impact player at the back end of the defense and be an exciting player to watch this fallâ€¦ Right now I canâ€™t stand seeing him on the field. He continues to make bad play after bad play. He looks lost. He has terrible tackling technique. His coverage ability has really been subpar. And he has turned into a liability in the secondary. Unless he makes some big improvements in his play, Mykkele Thompson should have no trouble remaining the starter above Phillips for the rest of the season. Phillips has just been disappointing, like much of the secondaryâ€¦
- Emerging Defensive Playmakers: As frustrating as the defense was, two guys really stood out to me: sophomore middle linebacker Steve Edmond and freshman nose tackle Malcolm Brown. With Hicks out, Edmond was forced to take over much of the leadership on defense and did very well with it. He and Malcolm both played well at their positions, made tackles, applied pressure, and looked like they will be very, very good players for UT.
- 5/5: On fourth downs, West Virginia was five for five. Giving up a stat like that alone can lose you games; just ask Oklahoma State who Texas had success on fourth down plays against.Â Failing to stop these conversions was a large reason Texas lost Saturday night. Ironically, the Longhorns were great on third downs, as WVU was just 3 of 12. But 5 chances to get WVU off the field were blown by the Longhornsâ€™ inability to stop the Mountaineers on fourth down, and that cannot happen in Dallas this next Saturday.
- Special Teams: First, the kick coverage was terrible to start the game, and it forced Texas to kick sky balls and squib kicks the rest of the night. Iâ€™m fed up with the inability to tackle across the entire team. Texas is too talented of a team to be missing tackles this frequently and consistently. The special teams unit was successful at blocking another field goal and punt, and itâ€™s great to see that aspect back as a strength for UT.
- Anthony Fera: We finally got to see Fera play this season after he had been out with a groin injury. He was 6 of 6 on extra points, but was 1 of 2 on field goals; his only made field goal was from 38 yards and looked good. Thereâ€™s no denying his kick at the end of the game was a key mistake, as it would have tied up the game, but that kick alone did not lose the game for Texas and thatâ€™s very important to remember. Hopefully his confidence didnâ€™t take a huge hit because, once again, he will be called upon to kick well in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
- Missed Opportunities: There were two key drops by D.J. Grant and Joe Bergeron, a botched snap, a missed field goal, and a turnover that all halted drives, cost the Longhornâ€™s points, and/or gave the ball back to the Mountaineers. The most frustrating aspect of this game is that Texas had a legitimate chance to walk away with a win, but they just couldnâ€™t put it all together when it counted, especially late in the fourth quarter.
West Virginia has a great offense, led by Heisman candidate Geno Smith. They are fast, they are explosive, and they donâ€™t make many mistakes. But the Mountaineers are beatable, and thatâ€™s what is most frustrating about this loss. Texas had a chance to get the â€œWâ€, but they simply made too many mistakes at the end of the game that cost them the win. But I still feel good about this team, and you shouldnâ€™t count them out or lose hope after this loss. This is still a young group and many of the players are continuing to emerge and develop. Many of the playmakers on offense like Ash, Brown, Bergeron, Johnson, Gray, and Shipley are all sophomores or freshman. And there are players all across the defense, like Diggs, Edmond, Brown, and Thompson, to name a few, who are also still young as well. Even though there is still much this team can improve on, they are headed in the right direction and are much more improved at this point this year than they were last year. It was a tough loss, but the fact that Texas has a chance to win is something to walk away with.