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Big 12 Football

Texas Defense bends, doesn’t break—rescues Offense again against Mountaineers

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We knew from the opening kick that this was gonna be a weird one—most fans found themselves scrambling to find “ESPN News” as ABC cut to coverage of the the breaking announcement of Joe Biden as our nation’s 46th president. The Texas Longhorns have a #46 Joe of their own, and though Joseph Ossai came back to earth (a *mere* 3 tackles, 1 TFL, and a few QB hurries) mainly because WVU gameplanned to avoid him at all costs, the rest of the defense stepped up.

That’s really the story of this one, the defense winning the game when the offense faltered. The Longhorns won their 3rd-consecutive Big-12 game; their third consecutive game where the defense unequivocally outplayed the offense. The Longhorns have actually been outgained in 4 of their past 5 matchups and there are two possible explanations:

  • the defense is giving up too much
  • the offense is providing too little

With the confidence of a cable news election analyst zooming in on counties no one has ever heard of, I predict Texas finds itself heading into the bye week with a focus on fixing the latter.

PointDif Opp UT Net
L TCU -2 458 388 -70
L OU -8 469 428 -41
W Baylor 11 316 429 113
W OSU 7 530 287 -243
W WVU 4 363 360 -3
Av: 427 Av: 378 -244

How has Texas been able to win when Sam Ehlinger has thrown for less than 200 yards in the past two games (something he had only done three times in his career when finishing a game uninjured after being the sole-starter at QB )? How have they “won” only 8 of their last 20 quarters and still found themselves in each game? How has Texas been able to win three-in-a-row (and be two late-game plays from winning the last 5) while being outgained in all but one?

The answer to all of these questions is the much-maligned University of Texas defense! Yes the same one that is giving up an average 427 yards SINCE they fixed things against Tech. Please refer back to my article last week for an explainer on scheme and defense in the Big 12 requiring an evolution of thinking.

Texas Gets the “W” in Stillwater, but the “A” Remains Elusive

“Some people around the country are going to be surprised that we won a game 17-13,” said the ever-quotable Ta’Quon Graham.

How did they do it against the West Virginia Mountaineers specifically? It wasn’t by creating constant turnovers like weeks past (they are 11-1 under Herman when forcing 3), but by employing some of the most effective bend-don’t-break defense I’ve ever seen. The Horns channeled every bit of Norm Parker’s cover-2 Iowa Hawkeye defense of the 2000s or Bill Belichick’s preferred scheme that he most famously was a Philly-Special away from riding to a Super Bowl trophy in 2017. (A quick aside on that team: picking two from a litany of universally BAD defensive stats—they were 29th in total yards per game and 32nd in yards per drive. Yet despite being dead last in yards per drive, New England ranked 6th!!! in points per drive! That’s actual sorcery)

While I’m not ready to call Chris Ash ‘Bellichickean’, West Virginia was able to muster just 13 points despite 5 trips to the red zone! 

Texas protected a one-score lead for the last 17 minutes and 31 seconds, and by the absolute thinnest of margins. It required a scrambling, nick of time, play-the-receiver-with-my-back-to-the-ball 4th down pass break-up from B.J. Foster and a 4th down Chris Brown PBU that probably would’ve been called for pass interference with last week’s Big 12 officials.

There was also a DeMarvion Overshown sack and a T’Vondre Sweat pass deflection on third down to set up field goals in the red zone.

Texas has actually been great in the defensive red zone all season: of teams with at least 4 games played, Texas ranks 22nd in Red Zone touchdown rate at 58% (remember: in the Big 12, allowing RZ FGs is a win). And there is some infamy in this stat…but because they have allowed many red zone trips for opposing offenses, they are second in the nation in defensive red zone trips without a TD allowed through last week with 13. Add 4 more to that tally after this game!

After the opening TD drive, Texas allowed 22 yards on the next 15 plays (then a XFL-ish turnover on downs, and ultimately zero additional points) and surely stared in disbelief as it felt like a blowout everywhere but the scoreboard as they headed to the locker room for half time.

Facing their second consecutive Top-10 rusher, Texas clearly set out to take the run game away as they did to Oklahoma State last week. Wisely, WVU made a half-time adjustment after rushing for 21 yards on 15 carries in the first half. The result was an incredibly effective mid-range passing game that got the ball out of Jarret Doege’s hands before the impressive Longhorn DL could do their damage and approximated a run game. In the second half, Doege went 19/27—including 1 throw away, 1 endzone drop, and the aforementioned 4th down plays and LoS bat down. That’s only 3 of 22 that he attempted to throw outside the endzone that fell incomplete! Though the Mountaineers racked up 233 yards and almost 6 yards per play in the half, the going got significantly tougher in the money zone.

If there is a Webster’s equivalent of college football, this is the definition of both bending (a lot) and not breaking (for 54 minutes).

I’ll break down the offense and how fit it all together tomorrow, but for my initial thoughts the defense comes first (just like their performance).

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