You know the old saying. "Everything is bigger in Texas." So naturally, SB Nation has two University of Texas Longhorns blogs, Burnt Orange Nation and Barking Carnival. We've reached out to both to get their impressions of the state of things around the Texas program and to preview this week's game. In Part I, we're joined by BON's Wescott Eberts. Let's get to it.
WVUIE97: How excited were you to see Andrew Buie not on our roster this year?
Wes: I think the reaction of most Texas fans was one of fear rather than excitement, because after what Buie did to Texas last year, what could Charles Sims and the other running backs who pushed Buie out of the way do to the Horns this year? Of course, seeing Buie on the field again could have triggered some serious PTSD, so maybe it's better that he's redshirting from that standpoint.
WVUIE97: Is the revamped defense more a product of the schedule or the addition of ...wait, I'm actually going to ask this, Greg Robinson?
Wes: The answer is both. Last season, Texas played seven teams that finished in the top 25 nationally in offensive S&P+, a murderous schedule that ranked No. 4 nationally in terms of toughness, as judged by FEI. The other three teams ahead of Texas? All Big 12 teams, of course.
This year, the strength of schedule for opponents the Horns have already played ranks No. 81 nationally, a huge difference and part of why it was so frustrating early in the season to see the defense struggle like it did -- where last season the results needed qualifications based on the quality of opponents faced, against Ole Miss and BYU, Texas was just plain bad.
Bringing in Greg Robinson has also had a significant impact on the defense, unquestionably. Seeing former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz persist in calling end-tackle twists and then watching running backs race through interior gaps on inside zone as Texas defensive ends futilely tried to jump inside was ridiculous -- those type of games with the line are what good defensive coordinators do in obvious passing situations, not obvious rushing situations with a defense that already has issues with gap control.
And I'm pretty sure that if you tapped the knee of Diaz, his leg wouldn't move, but he would call a Fire Zone blitz. Diaz was possibly the only coordinator in FBS football who thought that he could base part of his defense around those blitzes, which have costly install times and force players to understand a variety of different blitz lanes and hot drops in coverage, clearly overwhelming a young group of linebackers.
As bad as Robinson was at Syracuse and Michigan, he's brought sanity to the Texas defense -- as TCU head coach Gary Patterson said the other week, Robinson is allowing his athletes to be athletes. The defensive line is playing straight ahead and becoming a dominant unit because they aren't slanting and twisting, he's dialed up some effective zone blitzes, and the linebackers are slowly starting to show signs of competence, and competence is a massive improvement over where they were last year and early this year.
WVUIE97: Does the win over Oklahoma and the current win/loss record buy Mack Brown another year if he keeps it up? Or is he gone? How would a loss to WVU this weekend affect his situation?
Wes: Well, the early word on new athletic director Steve Patterson, who was quite the hatchet man at Arizona State making 100 staff changes in a year, changes the perception here.
After Ole Miss, I was solidly on record in multiple places saying that there was virtually nothing Mack Brown could do to save his job, in part because winning the Big 12 looked like a fool's dream. Now it doesn't, quite as much, although Baylor looms as the wrecking ball in those beliefs.
Before Patterson, my initial thoughts were morphing into the belief that Brown could potentially earn another season by winning the conference. With Patterson, and rumors swirling that he's ready to make the changes some of the big-time shot callers want, it's once again hard to see a scenario where Brown returns in 2014.
A loss to West Virginia would seriously ratchet up the pressure on Brown and would make his removal as the Texas head coach a virtual no-brainer at the end of the year, if it isn't already, and Patterson's hire pushes things firmly in that direction based on the early returns.
WVUIE97: How big were you on getting Oliver Luck? Any disappointment that they hired Patterson instead or are you satisfied with how the process went and with the results?
Wes: Hiring Luck wouldn't have been disappointing with his track record as a manager, history of working with the type of people who get things done in the state of Texas, and ties to the university, but Luck's sketchy ethical decisions were concerning, to say the least -- he seems like a guy who is willing to cut some corners to get things done and take care of the people with whom he associates. Patterson, on the other hand, doesn't carry that baggage, has the same experience getting things done in Texas and other places financing and building stadiums, and has deeper ties to the University of Texas since he got his undergraduate degree and his law degree from UT, not just his law degree.
WVUIE97: With Ash being ruled out for this weekend's game, does (or has) the game plan change(d) with McCoy playing? What does he bring to the table? What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Wes: The gameplan will be much as it has been in recent weeks -- run the ball, run the ball, then run the ball some more and try to hit a few passes down the field and stay in manageable down-and-distance situations.
McCoy is mostly known for his intangibles -- it's nearly impossible for anyone to talk about him without mentioning his moxie or his confidence. In the past, his confidence verged into cockiness and he made a lot of bad decisions. He appeared to fix that for a time this year, but has now thrown four interceptions in his last 32 passes.
His arm strength is not good and his mechanics are terrible, he's not a running threat, and his pocket presence is often poor. McCoy does throw a nice fade route and has had some success converting third downs in the intermediate ranges. However, there are parts of the field he can't reach, which is why opponents have been loading the box to stop the run and forcing Texas to hit big plays over the top, which McCoy did well against Oklahoma and TCU, and not so well against Kansas.
The problem with trying to win with McCoy is that it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the running game and a tremendous amount of pressure on McCoy to be virtually flawless and hit all his available opportunities downfield.
WVUIE97: What do the Longhorns have to do to earn their first victory over the Mountaineers?
Wes: With the current configuration of the offense, the nighmare scenario is getting behind early and having to throw the ball consistently to catch up. That scenario also includes the crowd becoming a factor in the game and presumably the defense reverting to previous form.
I think it's the same basic recipe for most teams to win on the road -- run the ball well, avoid turnovers, create some game-changing plays on offense, defense, and/or special teams, and then survive the Mountaineer run.
WVUIE97: Prediction time: How do you see the game playing out?
Wes: From the outside looking in, the Moutaineers seem like a much more dangerous team at home than on the road, as evidenced by the win over Oklahoma State. If West Virginia plays like they did against TCU, I think that's not good enough to beat Texas. Play like they did against Oklahoma State, though? Texas could have some trouble, especially with this game being played at night after West Virginia fans have had all day to, uh, get ready to make some noise.
Thanks to Wes for playing along. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, @SBN_Wescott, and be sure to check out Burnt Orange Nation for more on the Texas Longhorns.
We hope to have Part II with the Barking Carnival perspective on Thursday.