Saturday night's contest against top 10 West Virginia was a game I had pegged as Texas's sole loss in this season defining 3-game stretch. But I'll be damned, this team made me believe for a little bit Saturday night. It was an odd loss because there were a few areas we figured Texas would need to win, and for the most part it did, but a few surprises popped up and knocked the Horns right between the eyes. Let's take a look inside the numbers to figure out the deciding factors in Texas's 48-45 loss to West Virginia.
101,851: attendance at DKR Texas Memorial
That was a special crowd. Without re-watching the game, I wouldn't know if you could tell televised, but that was easily the best Texas home crowd in my 7 years of attendance. It was an all around effort that made DKR special that night. The fans came out in a record setting 101,851 strong, and maintained a good energy level all night. The stadium media folks stepped up their game, and the periodic "Jump Around" moments, especially following the 2nd quarter defensive touchdown, ratcheted the intensity to another level. The Texas bench created energy, leading the "Jump Around" charge. And the student section led a spirited and prolonged "Texas Fight" in the second half. DKR gets knocked for being a poor crowd in terms of noise, but Saturday night was different. Sure would be nice to get that consistently.
25 - 35, 268, 4: West Virginia QB Geno Smith completions - attempts, passing yards, passing TDs
Going against a QB that is ranked nationally 1st in passer rating, 1st in completion percentage, and 3rd in yards per game, I think the Texas defense played winning football against the pass. Maybe Smith could have had a monster game if the game plan necessitated such performance (we'll get to the game plan in a minute), but the damage he dealt was limited.
Aside from the huge 4 TDs, Texas did a good job of limiting the explosive West Virginia duo. The pair combined for 27 catches - 518 yards - 7 TDs the week before, so the reduction in performance was noticeable. The longest reception between the two was an Austin 40 yard TD. Against an offense of this caliber, you don't shut down this duo. Again, maybe the game plan prevented them from accumulating massive numbers, and their TD catches were tough to overcome, winning football was played here for the most part.
7, 4, 2, 1: Texas defense QB hits, sacks, forced fumbles, defensive TDs
One of the hopes the Texas defense maintained heading into this game was that Geno Smith would not be using the college basketball 35-second shot clock find an open receiver that he did against Baylor. On the 35 pass attempts, the Texas pass rush was able to create some problems. Behind a monster performance from senior DE Alex Okafor (2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 QB hits), the Texas defense was able to create some big negative plays. The strip sack that resulted in a defensive touchdown in the 2nd quarter was a huge momentum creating play that brought the home crowd to a roar. The second strip sack in the 4th quarter was timely and could (should) have been a difference maker in the game. The pass rush worked, but the run defense didn't....
31 - 207 - 2: West Virginia RB Andrew Buie carries - rushing yards - rushing TDs
With West Virginia missing its number 1 running back, and relying on silly numbers from QB Geno Smith, nobody (at least that I could see) expected the Mountaineers to come out and gash the Texas defense on the ground. But Andrew Buie took advantage of a broken Texas rush defense all night. A week after Joseph Randle of OSU trucked Texas for 25 carries - 199 yards - 2 TDs, Buie rolled out 31 carries - 207 yards - 2 TDs. The Air Raid is difficult enough to stop on its own, but when its paired with a ground game that gets whatever it wants...trouble. Absent a re-watch, I couldn't say if it was continued awful play from the linebackers, or poor angles from the secondary, or just a game plan that gambled to take away the passing game, but whatever the cause may be the results gave Texas minimal hope of escaping with a win. Dana Holgorsen clearly recognized a deficiency in the Texas run defense, game planned against it, and executed with lethal efficiency.
3 - 12: West Virginia third down conversions - attempts
One of the keys to the game was stopping a West Virginia offense ranked 1st in 3rd down conversions heading into the game. Limiting WVU to 3 of 12 conversions is quite a success in that department, and moves the Texas defense to 21st in the country in preventing 3rd down conversions. But the 3rd down successes were pretty much wiped out by something WVU did exceedingly well on the night.
5 - 5: West Virginia fourth down conversions - attempts
Being good on 3rd down does nothing if you give up 5 fourth down conversions. If Buie's 200 yard rushing performance broke Texas's back, then the 4th down conversions were the repeated stabbings that bled the defense to death. The 5 conversions all led to TD scores. WVU's third drive featured two 4th down success: a 4th and 2 successful rush followed by a 40 yard TD pass to Tavon Austin on 4th and 4. The fourth drive featured a 4th and 9 conversion from the Texas 30 that led to a Buie TD run. And on what is likely the most devastating drive, the fourth quarter drive that had WVU take the lead from Texas for good, a 4th and 6 conversion from the Texas 40 was followed by a 4th and 1 from the Texas 20 ended in a Stedman Bauley TD reception. The occasional 4th down conversion that extends a drive is tough. But 5 conversions that ended with 3 TDs are demoralizing, killer and completely insurmountable. Succeed on any one of those conversions, and maybe the game comes out definitely.
22 - 29, 269, 1: David Ash completions - attempts, passing yards, passing TDs
David Ash followed his comeback performance in Stillwater with another solid effort against West Virginia. On the season, Ash is 107 - 138 (77.5%) with 11 TDs and 1 INT, and a QB rating of 180.06. The QB rating is good for 3rd in the country, the completion percentage is 2nd in the country, and the 9.2 yards per attempt is tied for 9th in the country. If anything, I would have liked to see Ash be given a bigger opportunity to go out and win the game. Twice, second half red zone possessions had Texas adopting an awfully conservative plan in the red zone that featured runs going for minimal gains and poorly executed screens. The first such occurrence, the long drive to open the second half, Texas came out with 2 yard run, 3 yard rush loss, 3 yard screen loss that left an Anthony Fera FG. Then following the defense's huge strip sack that set Texas up at the 12 yard line, Texas went 3 yard rush, 1 yard rush, and the disastrous 16 yard loss on the bad snap before Fera missed the 41 yard FG. All this to say I think David Ash has shown enough this season that we can reasonably expect him to come out and succeed if we give him the shot. Especially on a night the Texas rush attack continued to struggle.
39 - 135 - 4, 3.5: Texas rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, yards per rush
I'll be offering burnt orange sacrifices to Bevo all week long hoping for a healthy Malcolm Brown. Since leaving against OSU, Texas has 81 carries for 271 yards, a sorry 3.35 yards per carry. Joe Bergeron has particularly struggled. Despite a career high 4 rushing TDs, the most for a Texas player since Vince Young in the 2005 Rose Bowl, Bergeron had 17 carries for 45 yards (2.6 ypc). Bergeron after losing Brown: 32 carries for 94 yards (2.94 ypc). Quite frankly, we're not getting the offensive line play Bergeron needs to succeed, and Brown's vision and shiftiness in traffic is sorely needed right now. Johnathan Gray made the most of his opportunities, getting 87 yards on 14 carries (6.2 ypc). Over the same stretch since Malcolm Brown went down, Gray is 26 carries for 155 yards (5.96 ypc). More John Gray? Yeah, I think so.
8 - 14: Texas 3rd down conversions - attempts
Not much to add here, other than to highlight Texas's continued success on third down this season, which now moves the team to 2nd in the country in third down conversions.
77 - 460 - 5.97 vs. 68 - 404 - 5.94: West Virginia plays - total yards - yards per play vs. Texas plays - total yards - yards per play
West Virginia's tempo led to a few more plays, but the Texas offense played to a near stalemate in the yards per play category. After giving up 8.6 yards per play against Oklahoma State, its fair to say the Texas defense improved a bit over the two-week stretch.
7 - 7 (5 and 2) vs. 6 - 7 (5 and 1): West Virginia red zone scores - attempts (TDs and FGs) vs. Texas red zone scores - attempts (TDs and FGs)
There was near symmetry in the red zone from the Texas and West Virginia offenses. If the offense manages to not implode in the red zone (for the first time this season, really) after the big fumble, this game could be a different story. Coincidentally, playing even in the red zone would have led to playing even on the scoreboard. If the Texas offense, now 7th in the country at scoring TDs in the red zone, managed to turn those two second half FG opportunities into TDs, the outcome may have been different. But Texas played -3 in the red zone and -3 on the scoreboard. Another one of the many missed opportunities for Texas on the night.
That's about all that sticks out to me. The 5 - 5 4th down conversions for WVU and the 200 yards rushing for Andrew Buie were the most decisive factors to me. The red zone represented huge missed opportunities to steal the game. Now Texas heads into Dallas to face the Oklahoma Sooners in a match up of two flawed teams. I have to say, don't sell on this team just yet. Oklahoma is very beatable, and if we get through the first half of this season with a 5-1 record, then this team's goals for 2012 are still ahead of them. A 10 win season, Big 12 title contention, and BCS bowl bid are still possibilities.
And oh yeah, beat the leaving hell out of OU.