Time: 12:00pm EST
Date: November 6th, 2020
Venue: DKR Memorial Stadium - Austin, TX
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio. We will also include the stream in our game thread, which will go live at 11:00 AM ET.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio will also be broadcasting the game on channel 81 on both Sirius and XM branded radios.
Streaming: ESPN app or WatchESPN.com
Spread: WVU +7
Texas vs. West Virginia— Texas Football (@TexasFootball) November 2, 2020
11 AM CT
KNOW THE ENEMY
2020 Record: (4-2). Texas has been gunslinging their way through 2020. They've held just one of their five conference opponents under 30 points and the other four games have all been decided by a touchdown or less.
Series History: (4-4). I doubt many Texas fans share this sentiment, but this is my favorite conference match up. This series has oddly been dominated by the road team, with both sides holding 3-1 records on the opposing team's home field.
Head Coach: Tom Herman. Herman is now in his 4th year in Austin after two extremely successful seasons at Houston. He's amassed a record of 29-17 to date, but his seat could get a little toasty heading into this spring depending on how the Longhorns finish out the season.
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Yurcich. Yurcich is in his first year in the role in Austin after spending the previous seven at the state universities of Ohio and Oklahoma. Yurcich is particularly renowned for his coordination of explosive passing games, though the improvements have been relatively modest so far in Austin.
Defensive Coordinator: Chris Ash. Ash joined Herman's staff after a couple of mostly unsuccessful years as the head coach at Rutgers. He's generally had more success as a defensive coordinator, but through 6 games the Longhorns have given up a bunch of points and yards in conference play.
BY THE NUMBERS
These are Sam Ehlinger's passing charts. A quick glance would appear to reveal that Sam has some very clear strengths and very clear weaknesses. Of particular note are the 28.5% points that his completion percentage suffers when he's pressured compared to when he's not. It's imperative that we get to him early and force him to get rid of the ball before he wants to, though of course it's once you apply the pressure that the real fun begins (scrambling n'at).
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL
Key players: LB Joseph Ossai, DT Ta'Quon Graham, DT Keondre Coburn, S Chris Brown, S Caden Sterns
The Longhorns have transitioned their defense to a four-down front this year, with Joseph Ossai walking up to the line of scrimmage to play their Jack position (think our Bandit). Ossai has responded with a DPOY-caliber first half of the season, ranking 5th in the conference in tackles per game, 4th nationally in TFL, and most worryingly 1st nationally in forced fumbles with 3. The rest of the group has been disruptive, as well, and especially against the run, with tackles Ta’Quon Graham and Tvondre Sweat, nose Keondre Coburn, and edge Jacoby Jones all joining Ossai as 5 of PFF's top 8 run stoppers among Big 12 defensive linemen.
The linebackers have been somewhat pedestrian by comparison. Both DeMarvion Overshown and Juwan Mitchell are good players, but they're both limited in coverage and certainly aren't playmakers on the level of those they have up front and in the back.
The secondary is flush with NFL talent, though you wouldn't necessarily know it based on how many passing yards they allow. The three safeties - Caden Sterns, BJ Foster, and Chris Brown - are all good players who are as comfortable in the box as they are in coverage. The corners are ok, but have been susceptible to the big play due to how aggressively they play.
Overall, they're a big and talented bunch and will likely present the stiffest test we've faced since Oklahoma State.
What to watch: Can we avoid negative plays, especially on early downs?
Texas has given up more than their share of yards and points this year (7th and 8th in the Big 12, respectively), but I'm taking those numbers with a grain of salt - they’ve made a conscious decision to play aggressively with the understanding that doing so will leave vulnerabilities on the back end. And to their credit, they've been successful at it. Despite their less-than-stellar standing in some of those traditional defensive statistics, the Longhorns are actually right up there with us, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State as one of the better teams in the country at creating negative plays, leading the Big 12 in TFL, passes defended, and fumbles forced.
Anybody who's watched us this year knows that we can be a bit of a rollercoaster offensively, with peaks and valleys often coinciding with our early down success rate. To put it simply, we're not a team that's built to play from behind the sticks. Avoiding negative plays on early downs is always important to our success, but figures to be even more so this weekend considering the opponent. If we're able to mitigate that badness and consistently get ourselves into 2nd and 3rd and manageable then there should be plenty of room for activities in the passing game - the Longhorns are in the bottom third of the country in explosive pass plays allowed.
WHEN THEY HAVE IT
Key players: QB Sam Ehlinger, RB Keaontay Ingram, WR Brennan Eagles, WR Joshua Moore
The biggest thing Texas has going for them offensively is that they have Sam Ehlinger at QB, and when one of your best players plays your most important position, good things usually happen. Ehlinger is now is his in his fourth year as Texas' starter, and as such we mostly know what to expect from him - he's an absolute bull in the QB power game, he's a good scrambler, and he's a good decision maker in the passing game. It should go without saying that they play well when he plays well.
The backfield has been operating as a committee this year, with Keaontay Ingram, Roschon Johnson, and Bijan Robinson all averaging 8-10 touches per game and about 5.5 yards per touch. It seems that Ingram might miss out on tomorrow with an injury, but there's really not much that separates him from the other two in terms of ability or play style.
Out wide the receivers have a nice mix of skillsets, with Joshua Moore operating as the primary target and doing a little bit of everything while Brennan Eagles takes the lid off as their big play guy. They also rotate a trio of solid tight ends that provide versatility and give them formational flexibility.
Up front the offensive line is as big as usual and has featured the same five starters in every game. Continuity is generally a good indicator of success, so it'll be interesting to see what our own defensive front makes of them. Neither the Stills bros nor Jeff Pooler played particularly well against Texas last year, so here's to their shot at redemption.
What to watch: Can we stop the QB run?
There's no two ways about it - the Longhorns' most dangerous offensive weapons are Sam Ehlinger's legs. He's ranked 6th nationally in rushing yards among non-RBs and 4th nationally in scrambling yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry (excluding sacks). And not only do his legs gain yards and extend drives in their own right, they also open up the middle of the field for the RPO and play-action passing game.
Neal Brown has repeatedly stated that rushing defense has been perhaps the single biggest indicator of our success this year, and the internet confirms that we're surrending just 1.7 yards per carry in our 4 wins compared to 4.8ypc in our 2 losses. Shutting Texas down in that regard this week means shutting down Ehlinger, and if we're able to do so we obviously have a much better chance of leaving Austin with a win.
The Longhorns haven't graded out particularly well in special teams, but they do have some of the better specialists in the conference. Cameron Dicker is back handling place kicking and kickoff duties, leading the conference with 38 touchbacks in the latter. Punter Ryan Bujcevski is also back and is again among the conference leaders in average punt distance, though he does allow returns on nearly half of his kicks. The area that worries me the most though is their kickoff return game - D'Shawn Jamison is extremely dangerous and took one to the house last weekend, and we're breaking in a new starter in Casey Legg.
It's hard to know what to make of Texas, gang. On the one hand, they're objectively more talented than anybody we've played outside of (and possibly including) Oklahoma State. On the other, they haven't really run away from anybody and have been outgained by everybody they've played in conference besides Baylor. Take their win against the aforementioned Cowboys last weekend - they were outgained 540-287 and needed overtime to win a game where they were +4 in turnovers, scored 18 points off those turnovers, and scored a special teams touchdown. It was a nice win to be sure, and one I'd have loved to have had, but I'm not sure that it tells us much about them.
And this is not to say that we beat Kansas State and became some juggernaut - our flaws have been well-documented in my previews this year and we're more than capable of losing any of the rest of the games on our schedule. But this Texas team is as beatable as ever. It'll likely be won or lost in the margins, but if we can come anywhere close to replicating last weekend's 0-drop, 5-penalty performance then I really like our chances.