Gang, there are very few things in this world that make me feel the way that dominating a rival in their own damn house makes me feel. You want to talk about rolling into a weekend with a little pep in your step, there's no better catalyst than dumping the Hokies in Lane by 3 scores. The jury's still out on exactly how good that win actually is (cuz let's be honest - Tech was bad), but there's no question that it has enhanced program vibes as we head into the meat of our conference slate. And as far as signature wins go, you could do a hell of a lot worse than night games at Lane and DKR back-to-back.
Date: October 1st, 2022
Kickoff: 7:30PM EST
Where: DKR Memorial Stadium - Austin, TX
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: FoxSports app with a valid cable subscription
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.
Spread: WVU +9.5 on FanDuel (-104)
ML: WVU +290, Texas -375
Over/Under: 61.5 both -115
I have no idea where that +9.5 comes from. I guess it's because Texas took Alabama's absolute worst shot and still lost at home? Seriously, how much mileage are they going to get out of that loss? Whitewash the names and do a blind resume test - this should be home team -1.5ish. I'm all over WVU and those points. Over looks juicy to me, as well, considering that both teams are better on offense than defense.
Clear - 79 degrees at kickoff - Wind 4 mph
Actually, a pretty nice little Saturday in Austin. A high of 87 means it could get a little hot during the day, but it should be a very pleasant evening for watching and playing a football game.
Where are they from? Austin, TX. The part of this series that I'm going to miss the most. I've had an awesome time traveling down there for games. 6th Street (and especially the Blind Pig), Scholz Beer Garden, the BBQ - lots of fond memories in ATX.
All-time Series: 6-5. And 3-2 in Austin during the Big 12 era. A win would secure the series lead for the foreseeable future as this is likely the last time we play as conference foes.
The Last Time We Played: West Virginia 31-23 Texas. One of the cleaner, more complete games we played last year. We outgained them by over 100 yards, out possessed them by more than 17 minutes, had zero turnovers, and committed just three penalties. It should be noted that Bijan didn't play, but it should also be noted that Doege did. Sooooo.
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (2nd season, 7-9). Despite some predictably insane recruiting, Sark’s seat is on the verge of warming up rather quickly. His teams have blown five halftime leads in less than two seasons, which is a great way to not keep your job at a school like Texas. Saturday’s a big one for him.
2022 record: 2-2. Texas beat ULM, then they almost beat a D+ version of Alabama, then they beat UTSA, then they blew a two-score second half lead against Texas Tech. A loss would make them 3-9 in their last 12.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
120 - Pressures generated by the Texas defense through four games. That’s 23 against ULM, 22 against Bama, 31 against UTSA, and 44 (!!!) against Texas Tech, and if that total isn’t tops nationally then it’s damn close.
4.8% - The Longhorns’ sack rate this year, which ranks 83rd nationally. Lots of pressure, not that much payoff.
184 - Plays faced by the Texas defense over the last two weeks. 84 against UTSA two weeks back and 100 (!!!) against Texas Tech. That’s a lot.
5.5 - Points per Eckel allowed by our defense this year. That ranks 122nd nationally. FWIW, an eckel is a "quality possession" where a team gets a first down inside their opponent's 40. More on this in a moment.
53 - Missed tackles forced this year by Texas running backs Bijan Robinson (34) and Roschon Johnson (19) on just 97 attempts. Robinson’s 34 leads the country, and the combined MTF rate of 0.55 MTF/att by he and Johnson would be the best number in the PFF era if they’re able to sustain it. Arm tackles ain’t gonna cut it this weekend, gang.
43.4 - Average starting field position for Texas’ opponents this year. That’s unfathomably bad and is obviously the worst number in the country.
KEYS TO THE GAME
WHEN TEXAS HAS THE BALL - STRETCH THEM OUT AND SWARM
Texas has arguably the best backfield in America and features it in an outside zone running scheme. They’ll mix in a bit of gap and power stuff, as well, but in general they want to let Bijan attack one edge or the other and trust him to find and hit the crease when it appears. Considering that he’s the best running back in the country this strategy seems sound.
Now then, if you flip to the "how to stop outside zone" page in your copy of Football 101, what you'll find is that the key is to stretch the play out. The runner is looking for the first possible opportunity to get north-south, so the defense’s goal is to keep him moving east-west. The defensive line plays a huge role in this process, with the play-side defensive end and interior duo working in unison to occupy blockers and prevent creases while the usually unblocked backside defensive end pursues down the line to eliminate the cutback. The linebackers mirror the back and scrape inside-out, while the play-side safety maintains outside leverage to set the edge and prevent the back from getting around the corner.
There’s nobody in America better than Bijan at either finding those creases or bouncing it, but there are a couple of reasons for optimism here. First, if you were going to pinpoint THE strength of our defense this year, you would probably point to the defensive line, and in particular the interior duo of Dante Stills and Jordan Jefferson. Those guys have been eating this year, with Jefferson emerging as a bona-fide game wrecker against the run.
Conversely, if you were going to pinpoint THE weakness of the Texas offense, you’d point to their run blocking, and in particular the interior trio of center Jake Majors and guards Cole Hutson and Hayden Conner. The Longhorns are grading out as the 7th worst run blocking team in Power 5 according to PFF, and Hutson and Conner are grading out as the two worst guards in the Big 12.
We appear to have the pieces to win those interior matchups and dominate the line of scrimmage, but we’ll need a big day from our second and third level defenders to truly corral the Longhorns. Lee Kpogba, Exree Loe, Lance Dixon, Jasir Cox, Davis Mallinger, Hershey McLaurin, Aubrey Burks, Marcis Floyd - those guys have to play fast, fill the right gaps, and tackle well. They struggled with that against Kansas, but I’m cautiously optimistic that they can have more success against Texas because outside zone isn’t anywhere near as complicated to diagnose and defend as triple option. It still won’t be easy, but it’s encouraging to know that at the very least we have a good-on-bad advantage up front when it comes to stopping the main thing they want to do.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - MAKE THE BIG BOYS MOVE
Much like Virginia Tech last Thursday and Pittsburgh a few Thursdays before that, the strength of the Longhorns defense is up front. However, their beefiness and three-man front will present some different challenges (and possibly opportunities) than what we saw from the Hokies or Panthers, who both favor even looks and lighter, quicker defenders.
The Horns are anchored up there by 6’2 343lb nose tackle Keondre Coburn and 6’4 340lb defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat, but they have 4 of the top 9 graded interior defenders in the conference and two more that are grading out as above average according to PFF. Moro Ojomo is the only one of those six who weighs less than 295. That's a lot of ass for us to move out of the way, but it's also a lot of ass for them to haul around, a fact that Texas Tech used against them as much as possible last weekend. They got the ball out quick, made those big boys chase people in space, then hustled back to the line and did it again, which was especially effective if they picked up any sort of significant yardage. It's a strategy that makes sense for us to replicate. We already like to do a lot those same things offensively, and we've already seen it wear Texas out over the course of 4 quarters. Make those dudes move early and often and there's no reason to think they won't wilt down the stretch again.
X-FACTOR - 3's OR 6's
I mentioned a metric above called points per eckel. Points per eckel is a measure of an offense's ability to finish a quality possession or a defense's ability to stiffen up in the face of one. Our offense has been good in this area (Tech game excluded), putting up nearly 5 points per eckel themselves, but our defense has been among the worst in the country. When you consider that the 3.9 points that Texas is allowing per eckel ranks 89th nationally, it really puts into context just how bad our 5.5 is. I see these scenarios as the X-factor in the game Saturday. If we can hold them to field goals instead of touchdowns I'd be shocked if we're not walking out of there with a W.
HOW CONCERNED SHOULD WE BE?
7 out of 10. I thought there might be a slim chance that we catch them looking ahead to Oklahoma, but that probably went out the window following the loss last weekend. They need this win every bit as much as we do.
I’m perplexed by the lack of respect we’re getting in this game. We've gone into Austin three times in the last ten years and won games. They may have a flashier set of skill players, but we hold the advantage at quarterback and in the trenches. If you had pick between those two, you’d choose the latter, right?
As I just mentioned, I think this one comes down to which team finishes their drives, especially early in the game. I have no doubt that both offenses are going to move the ball, but we can’t settle for field goals like we did against Tech because these dudes have the firepower to actually punch back. However, if we can put some tuddies on the board early and put them under some pressure, I think there's a chance they might crack. Wouldn't be the first time. Horns down, LFG.