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Five Thoughts: West Virginia

The Longhorns dropped another heartbreaker in Austin, but there is still room for optimism



Bethany Hocker, USA TODAY Sports

Once again, Texas took a game down to the wire primarily because of poor defensive play. With :16 left in the game, Texas did the one thing that they knew could not happen; they let a West Virginia get to the second level and burn them deep. At this point last year, Texas fans were begging for a competent offense. This year, those same fans are now begging Todd Orlando to make any type of adjustment to make his defense look like less of an embarrassment. That has not happened yet. Unfortunately for Tom Herman, if his offense does not play perfect, it appears the Longhorns will be playing from behind because of the defense’s lack of production. With that being said, here are some quick thoughts from the game:

Ehlinger continues to shine

One of the only bright spots from this game was Ehlinger’s play. Ehlinger finished the game 25/36 passing for 354 yards and 4 total touchdowns. Some other bright spots that certainly helped the sophomore quarterback were Tre Watson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Humphrey specifically made 2 fantastic catches near the end zone on a 50/50 ball. Watson provided a solid running attack against the No. 2 rated defense in the Big 12. Ultimately, Ehlinger continues to show just how big of a jump he’s made from his sophomore season. During the game today, Ehlinger set the Big 12 record for passes attempted without an interception. Ultimately, Ehlinger is only going to get better, and the Texas offense can’t do much more than what they did today. Constantly having to pick up your defense is not a recipe for success.

Lack of defensive adjustments

Todd Orlando has primarily been given the benefit of the doubt this season, but it’s time to make some criticisms about his personnel decisions. First and foremost, Orlando’s decision to continually roll with a defensive front that generates hardly any pressure on the quarterback is highly questionable. On top of that, Orlando appears to have much more trust in his seniors than their play would indicate. Names are not going to be named, but there are several seniors in different position groups that have not improved since they’ve come to the 40 Acres. This has become blatantly obvious this season, yet Orlando continues to play these seniors that are clearly a weakness that is constantly attacked by opposing offenses. If the Texas defense is going to improve, some of these changes have to be made. Otherwise, opposing offenses like Texas Tech and Iowa State will continue exposing those weaknesses and putting pressure on the Texas offense.

Pass rush and injuries

If you are unable to generate a pass rush on Will Grier, good luck. Unfortunately for Texas, there was little to no pressure generated on Grier all afternoon. A large portion of the lack of pressure could be attributed to injuries on the Texas defensive line. Senior Breckyn Hager was ruled out for the game with a dislocated elbow, and second-string DE Marqez Bimage was ruled out with a dislocated shoulder. As a result, freshmen Keondre Coburn and Moro Ojomo were forced into action. Senior DE Charles Omenihu did not have a great night either, which led to plenty of time for Grier to pick apart the Texas secondary. Instead of trying to come up with different blitz schemes, Orlando appeared to stick with the rush of a three-man front, which was ineffective. BJ Foster, arguably the best blitzer on the Texas defense, was not seen much if at all today. These types of personnel decisions are hurting the Texas defense in a major way. Eventually, lack of execution has to come back to coaching. It’s getting close to the time to look at the coaching on defense.

Big 12 officials strike again

I hate being the person to criticize officiating when there are so many other factors, but this had to be one of the poorest officiated games I’ve seen. To be fair, both teams received considerable breaks from the referees. For example Texas gained a huge advantage when Yodny Cajuste, starting LT for the Mountaineers, was disqualified for what the referees thought was a punch thrown. It ended up being a shove, and WVU was without its best offensive lineman for the rest of the game. On the contrary, West Virginia received some very favorable calls that ultimately ended up costing Texas. One of them came on a 4th and 1 attempt deep in West Virginia territory in which Sam Ehlinger appeared to convert on the keeper. After a review, the officials made a very questionable call that Ehlinger was short of the line to gain because his helmet came off, ruling the ball dead. The next questionable call came on another Ehlinger keeper in WVU territory. This time, Ehlinger appeared to have gotten the yardage for the first down by extending the ball past the line to gain when his knee was down. The play was not reviewed. As a result, Texas elected to kick the field goal and went up by 7 instead of potentially going up by 11.

It may seem silly to say this, but the Big 12’s refusal to address its officiating problem could be a large reason why Texas ultimately elects to leave the conference. This officiating problem gets worse by the week, and other Big 12 teams have been just as negatively impacted by it as Texas has. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on as conference realignment inches closer.

The chance to finish strong remains

Texas has now lost consecutive games by three points or less. The Longhorns are certainly in a much better place than they were a season ago, and the credit for that must go to Tom Herman. However, the Longhorns are still showing the lack of ability to finish games. With that being said, Texas is in dangerous territory. The Longhorns finish the season with a game in Lubbock against Texas Tech, a home game against Iowa State, and an away game against Kansas. The next two games will ultimately determine if Texas can go 9-3 or 7-5. If Tom Herman’s squad dwells on the past couple of losses, they could easily show up flat in Lubbock and pay the price. Iowa State has a ver solid team this year, and Texas is in no place to look past the Cyclones. A 9-3 season would still exceed expectations for a team that opened the season with a loss to Maryland. Now is the time for this program to show how much they’ve progressed mentally under Tom Herman. Nothing will exhibit that more than how Texas performs in the final games of the season.

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Harrison is a proud alumnus of The University of Texas at Austin and a second-year law student at Texas Tech University School of Law, where he plans to get his J.D. and Masters in Sports Management. He hales from Baytown, TX, but will always consider Austin home. In his spare time Harrison enjoys hunting, sports and any activity pertaining to his dog.

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