Obviously Longhorn Nation is breathing a sigh of relief today as the Texas Longhorns held serve in the money quarter yesterday against a resurgent Texas Tech Red Raider team closing strong by a final score of 31-22.
The win puts Texas squarely back in the conference title race, albeit with long odds as conference leader KSU would have to have some sort of meltdown against either TCU or Baylor on the road and OU would have to drop two of their final three but crazier things have happened. So I guess I'm saying there's still a chance.
The instructional takeaway from Lubbock was not the immaturity shown by the Texas Tech bench as Kendall Thompson lay suffering on the field after a vicious hit in the 4th quarter as we've come to expect that type of assery from the tortilla flingers.
No, the instructional takeaway was the impressive red zone performances by the Longhorn offense and defense. Both Texas Tech and Texas entered the game ranked abysmally in the defensive red zone at 118th and 121st respectively. The much maligned Texas defense had been giving up scores at a 94.29% clip. While on the surface those are egregious rankings, the teams were both riding on top of the statistical bell curve at around 60% of defensive RZ touchdowns allowed. Not bad but those numbers are worst in the Big 12. The talk of Texas Tech scoring defense in advance of the game missed on the one area of weakness which was that they were, on par, equally vulnerable in the red zone as Texas.
It appears the Longhorn coaching staff latched onto this and coached the team up in preparation of the game as the red zone execution was some of the best all year long.
I'll highlight a couple of plays that I felt epitomized the performance. First, the offense.
After the defense in successive weeks got off the field on the opening drive with an impressive three and out against the vaunted Texas Tech offense, the Texas offense took possession and marched down the field for an opening drive touchdown. One play deep in the Red Raider red zone on this drive epitomized the physicality the Horns brought with them in their duffel bags.
I have no earthly idea what this play is called but my money is "Hat On Everyone" as the 2nd down pitch sweep to D.J. Monroe was about as beautifully executed edge rush play I have seen the burnt orange run in some time, notwithstanding the Daje Johnson gasher on the opening play against Baylor. But this was a boundary play with man-up blocking assignments which pitted strength against strength as evidenced in the slow motion replay below.
Notice the blocking by Luke Poehlman to set the edge, the cut block by Brian Roberson (who later in the game got a big ‘ol pancake), and the delicious downfield blocking by Marquis Goodwin. At one point in the play there were only two defenders unblocked.
While the play did not result in a score it did prove important in two respects. One, it sent a message to the Red Raiders that Texas came to play and were going to leave everything on the field. Second, it was strong red zone result which was an area of concern entering the contest.
Defensively, the Longhorns mustered just enough to keep the potent Seth Doege touchdown scoring machine to season lows in the red zone.
Texas Tech came out of half with a renewed sense of purpose and took their first possession right down the field. Doege was an impressive 4 of 6 including the back breaking 24 yard toss on 4th down pushing the Longhorns back against their end zone.
After a nice pick up of 4 yards on first down, the Red Raider offensive coordinator took the ball away from his hot handed quarterback and went back to his star back Williams out of the pistol formation. Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs is playing tight man coverage on the LOS, sniffs the play, rushes from the edge to not only blow up the hole but also make the tackle.
The negative play on second down resulted in a loss of 3 yards and put the Red Raiders in an obvious passing situation. Not sure what the Longhorns defensive coordinator saw in film but the key to success against Doege was pressure and that's what he got on third down when 7 Texas defenders, aligned along the LOS, rushed and forced a quick slant to Doege's number one go-to receiver Eric Ward. Carrington Byndom easily recognized the option and made a great pass breakup.
While the Longhorns defensively surrendered 9 unanswered points after this stop, the play was no less a confidence booster to the team to continue to fight through adversity. The bend but don't break Longhorns defense weathered a possible momentum shift on this drive which no doubt carried through to the end of the game.
The next three games will determine the Longhorns post season plans. Plays like above will go a long way toward gussying up the travel gnome.