We've missed plenty of opportunities and let plenty of games get away from us this year, but I think Kansas State is first time I've ever seen us hit stupid mistake bingo in the first half. If you haven't checked out Jake Lantz' most recent "What I Think" piece, give it a read - it hits on a lot of the things most of us are probably thinking right now. Basically, watching us lose is frustrating, watching us lose by stumbling listlessly from one self-inflicted wound to the next is even worse, watching the same people making those same mistakes game after game after game is more frustrating still, and in light of the above, the most frustrating thing of all is the lack of changes along the way. Just 10 games of beating our collective head against a wall and hoping we don't get a headache.
I'm down bad right now, gang. We're down bad. In a million years I never thought we'd have to win our last two just to make a bowl. The situation feels unthinkable, yet here we are. Perhaps both the best and worst thing about it is that we have nobody to blame but ourselves. It's a bummer that the we've let this year go so far off the rails, but it's still strangely comforting to me to know that the few times we've gotten out of our own way we've actually looked like a half decent football team. And in the context of this weekend, it's strangely comforting to know that Texas is just as broken as we are.
Date: November 20th, 2021
Kickoff: 12:00PM EST
Where: Mountaineer Field - Morgantown, WV
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid cable subscription
Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later. Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
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Spread: WVU -2.5
Kind of crazy to be a favorite coming off of that performance. Do yourselves a favor and stay away from us.
Mostly cloudy - high 51/34 low - 0%
The forecast is calling for it to be chilly, but at least it looks like there should be some sunshine about. You could do a heck of a lot worse than this for a football game in mid-November.
Where are they from? Austin, TX, home of the University of Austin.
All-time series record: 5-5. The Longhorns have taken the last two from us and I would very much like to send them to the SEC with a losing record.
Last game: Texas beat us 17-13 last year in a completely forgettable game.
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (1st season, 4-6). Sark is one of the most renowned play callers in college football, and even with this season's disappointment you figure it's only a matter of time before he harnesses the Longhorns' potential and produces a winner.
2021 record: 4-6. It doesn't feel that long ago that Texas was 4-1 and up big on Oklahoma in the first half of the Red River Shootout. Losing that game seems to have broken their spirit a bit, as they've gone on to lose their next 4 games including last weekend's 57-56 defeat against Kansas.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
86.2 - Texas' pass blocking efficiency, which ranks 9th in the Big 12 and 96th nationally per PFF. PBE measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting towards sacks allowed.
8 - Turnover worthy plays for Texas QB Casey Thompson on 82 dropbacks under pressure this year. That's the 4th highest total in P5, and that 8.8% TWP rate is 5th worst. It would sure be nice to oblige him with some takeaways if he serves up a few opportunities on Saturday.
66% - The percentage of Thompson's passes that have targeted the center of the field this year. 150 out of 224 passes between the hashes. For context, that's a full 12 points higher than Doege. Our backers and safeties have struggled a bit against seams and deep crossing routes this year so this definitely something to keep an eye on Saturday.
22 - Missed tackles forced by Texas running back Roschon Johnson on just 50 attempts this year. Johnson also averages 4.4 yards after contact and his 179.8 elusive rating ranks 4th nationally per PFF. He’s not quite as much of a dude as Bijan Robinson, but he’s a very serviceable replacement.
68% - The completion percentage for Texas' opponents this year. Doege should have some windows this weekend if we can give him time to throw.
KEYS TO THE GAME
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
It's the 11th game of the season, gang. If you've watched us and/or followed this website this year you already know at a high-level what the keys to our success are. We have to protect our delicate flower of a quarterback lest he wilt and submarine our offense, and we have to create havoc on early downs and get teams into the obvious passing situations that allow our defensive line to pin their ears back and shine. When we do these things, we're somewhere in that second standard deviation of the bell curve and are capable of beating all but maybe 15 teams in America. When we don't, we can lose to just about anybody. It’s really not complicated.
Regarding the former, there's cause for optimism. The Longhorns don’t have a premier pass rusher (nobody has more than 13 pressures, we have 5 guys with at least 14) and most of their pass rush metrics - 4.5% sack rate (111th), 1.6 sacks per game (105th), and 64.9 PFF pass rush grade (118th) - are comfortably in the bottom third of the country. I think this generally bodes well for our chances to keep Doege clean and move the ball on Saturday.
There's more uncertainty around the latter. The Longhorns have done a pretty good job using the run to stay on schedule this year (44% success rate ranks 41st nationally), but a lot of that success was obviously produced by Bijan Robinson. As good Roschon Johnson is, he's not arguably the best back in America like Bijan, so I have to think that tips the scales in our favor a bit. If we can create a few negative plays early downs then guys like Stills, Mesidor, Alston, and Bartlett should have a field day getting after Thompson.
LIMIT THE BIG PLAYS
Our defense has made something of a habit this year of playing really well until they don't. For example, our 8.8% explosive play rate allowed (just 30 10+ yard runs and 26 20+ yard passes allowed in 640 snaps) is borderline elite, but 8 of those 56 have gone for 50+. That ranks 119th in FBS. Opponents will go three-and-out on three straight drives and then hit a home run on a missed assignment or miscommunication. It's backbreaking.
For their part Texas hasn’t been consistently explosive this year (their 12.4% explosive play rate is below average) but they have explosive players and when they’ve been good that’s played a big role in it. If our defense is successful at bottling up the Longhorn running game then those types of plays are their only path to success. We have to keep everything in front of us, tackle, and make them snap it again. Texas is the mother of all underdogs and we don't need to throw them any busted play bones.
LIMIT THE SELF-INFLICTED BULLSHIT
Let's state this for the record just in case it wasn't already clear - Neal Brown and his staff have to be better if they're going to build a winner here. However, there is a certain extent to which his "if we just executed better..." argument holds water. I would challenge even the most zealously "Fire Neal" reader (I can't believe these people exist) to objectively consider some of this season's most egregious missed opportunities and tell me what he should've done differently. Neal Brown didn't miss Bryce Ford-Wheaton wide open in the back of the end zone against Oklahoma. He didn't miss Leddie wide open in the end zone against Texas Tech. He didn't coach Winston to drop that ball on Saturday and he certainly didn't tell Cowan to headbutt Skylar Thompson. There are plenty of things for which Neal Brown and his staff can and should rightfully shoulder the blame, but they can't literally go on the field and do it for these guys. We have to eliminate those kinds of mental mistakes if we're going to do this thing and get to a bowl. Our margin for error is simply too thin.
PLAY THE YOUNG GUYS
Neal Brown is fond of discussing practice and preparation. "Football is a practice sport." “This guy prepares well.” “That guy had a great week of practice.” I can generally buy what he’s selling there, and there’s certainly an amount of consideration that needs to be given to how somebody prepares during the week, but at some point it has to translate to the field. Football has to be a meritocracy. It just does. The players know as well as anybody who should and shouldn't be playing, and if the coach consistently plays or doesn't play certain players it can erode the trust that those players have in the coach.
Offensively, the obvious one isn't worth discussing anymore - Doege is the starter and we just have to accept that - but guys like Tony Mathis, Kaden Prather, and Reese Smith all seem deserving of more playing time than they've been getting. They all just bring something a bit different to the table - Mathis has some side-to-side explosiveness to him that Leddie doesn't, Prather has talent oozing out of his ears, and Smith has much more Daikiel Shorts in him than either Winston Wright or Sam James. And this is not at all meant to be an indictment of those guys or an argument that we flip a switch and bench anybody, but at the same time I don't think any of those guys have lit the world on fire to the point that they deserve 100% of the snaps. Let's see what these kids can do with a little burn.
Defensively, rotation feels more like a necessity, but it's not as if we're playing for a conference championship. Might as well see what we have right? At some point the lack of depth over there becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - you can't play guys if they're not ready, but it's hard for guys to improve if they don’t play.
HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?
Rinse and repeat here - this is certainly a team that we can and probably should beat, but considering the inconsistency we've displayed to this point anything less than a 7/10 would be naive.
So look, the helmets will still have horns on the side and the players will still be talented, but these guys are in as much of a shambles as we are right now.
I think the fact that they're not very well-suited to take advantage of our biggest weakness (Doege v Pressure) is a good sign for the good guys, I think the fact that their NFL running back is going to miss the game is a good sign for the good guys, and I think the fact that their offense's biggest weakness (pass blocking) aligns with our defense's biggest strength (the front 4) is a good sign for the good guys. On paper it really just seems like a good matchup for us.
And to the 40-45,000 fans who were there for Iowa State - it's up to us again, gang. See y'all in the Blue Lot. HFD. LFG.
West Virginia 31-20 Texas