Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire
The Texas Longhorns have been scoring touchdowns consistently in the redzone this season. The West Virginia Mountaineers have been scoring touchdowns consistently in the redzone this season. Which defense can step up and get those critical stops?
To the extent that the Longhorns can limit the long touchdown plays by West Virginia -- the presence of dynamite receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey on the Mountaineer side suggests that two or three are possible with the current state of the Texas defense -- the game on Saturday night could come down to which team gets more stops in the redzone.
It will be difficult for both defenses.
For the visiting Mountaineers, the touchdown conversion rate could barely be better this season -- 16 touchdowns on 17 trips into the redzone. Only Buffalo has a higher percentage in the FBSf, though with fewer opportunities (only nine trips).
The Longhorns aren't too far behind the visitors, finding the endzone on 18 of 22 trips, a number that has improved from right around 50% last year.
Defensively, Texas has only allowed nine trips inside their 20 this season, tied for 11th in the country. More importantly, the Longhorns have only given up three touchdowns on those trips, keeping Oklahoma State out of the endzone on three of five trips to help save the game in Stillwater. No easy feat, as the Pokes entered the game having scored on 18 of 20 redzone opportunities.
The Mountaineer unit has allowed twice as many sojourns into the final fifth of the field, giving up touchdowns on two-thirds of those forays. Again, twice as often as Texas.
In the battle of the West Virginia offense against the Texas defense, the X-factor could be senior running back Shawne Alston, a 5-11, 235-pound bowling bowl whose physique is reminiscent of Baylor Terrance Ganaway, who gashed and his defense last December. Alston suffered a deep thigh bruise that kept him out of the Baylor game and is listed as questionable for the game this weekend. With his size, he could be a big difference in the redzone running game for Dana Holgorsen's team.
For the Texas offense against the West Virginia defense, the lack of success for the Mountaineers suggests that if Bryan Harsin's offense can continue operating at a clip like they have been, there's a clear advantage there. Against Baylor, the center of the Mountaineer defense struggled mightily with the strong interior offensive line for the Bears, as the defensive tackles and linebackers failed to win any individuals battles and were mostly overwhelmed under Baylor running back Jared Salubi went out of the game for some time with an injured shoulder.
In a game that doesn't have the feel of featuring many turnovers with Geno Smith and David Ash having only combined for one interception this season, which team can force the other to kick field goals in the redzone could be the deciding factor.