"Proud of the Horns. Woulda been nice if UCLA had one less possession though." -- HornsNation recognizing that possession matters, like kind of a lot.
Possessing the football is really important. Like, really really really important. An extra possession for Texas and one fewer possession for UCLA translates to (on average) a 3.5 point swing in favor of Texas. Think about the implications of spotting your opponent a field goal head start in a game decided by three points. That's pretty much exactly what we did by giving UCLA the ball to start both halves. Rage.
Combining the coin toss fiasco with Shawn Watson's inexplicable desire to run a hurry up offense with a 4 point lead and 4 minutes remaining, I am pinning this loss on poor game theory. I feel that the players mostly played well above expectation, and this was a winnable game that was lost because of a few strategic errors. I suppose that is encouraging.
Sigh. Onwards to the pretty pictures.
Big plays and Bad plays.
In the chart above, "big gains" are 20+ yard passes or 10+ yard rushes. Medium gains are 10-20 yard passes and 5-10 yard rushes. Short gains are 0-10 yard passes or 0-5 yard rushes. Mouseover the bars to see run/pass splits.
In a continuing trend, the Texas defense was fairly excellent at stopping the running game behind the line. In fact we're #8 in the country in tackles for loss, #4 in sacks, and of UCLA's 47 rushing plays, we held 31 of them to less than five yards. Well done.
The big story here, though, is that Texas ran only 61 plays to UCLA's 81, which means for the second straight week we're staring at a 20 play deficit. Fewer three and outs (and more big plays) please, offense.
Left, middle, and right.
Above are the rushing and passing distributions over the left, middle, and right thirds of the field. Mouseover the bars to see per-play information.
The Texas passing offense struggled again, registering only 5.8 yards per attempt, while the rushing game was better than past weeks at 4.8 yards per rush. Swoopes, like last week, looked to the left third of the field a lot (John Harris), but was most successful per attempt over the middle. In any case, our passing and rushing offenses are currently ranked 102nd and 100th in the country, which has to improve.
Probability of Texas winning the game
The above chart shows the probability of Texas winning the game throughout the entire game. Mouse over the plays to see what they are. This is to see how much impact individual plays had on the outcome.
This was a gut-wrenching game to watch from minute 54 onwards. First, Swoopes throws a beautiful ball to John Harris for a touchdown, followed by a timely Boyett fumble recovery. I really thought we had it locked up. Then, inexplicably, Texas fails to fully run down the play clock on its next 3-and-out sequence, and UCLA responds with a 45 yard punt return followed by a 1-play TD drive that takes the probability of a Texas win from close to 95% down to 5%. Brutal.
Running down the clock when you have a four point lead late in the game is critically important, and it boggles my mind that we didn't seem to be trying to. It's possible Watson was attempting to leave time on the clock for a late-game Texas drive in the event of a UCLA TD, but I really don't see this offense pulling something like that off. Besides the clock management, a 5 yard loss on a Malcolm Brown run up the middle and a 5 yard penalty really killed what should been a bleed-the-clock/grind-it-out drive. We just lack the consistency in our running game to be able to put games like this away. Also kicking off in both halves didn't help.
Frankly, I felt every point of that plummet from 95% to 5%, and as much as I know that we overachieved by beating the 8 point spread, I am disappointed we didn't win. We were so. damn. close. and you don't need that chart up there to know it.
Crucial to Texas' future success is going to be holding onto the ball. The last two games we've run 40 fewer plays than our opponents, and it is costing us both in terms of defensive exhaustion and field position. There are shades of the 2010 Texas offense in this year's unit, and it is disconcerting.
The summary of Texas so far is that we are a strong defense that is ritually overexerted because our offense can't stay on the field. Our passing game is lacking in big plays, and our rushing game cannot rush effectively up the middle. While we don't turn the ball over much, we also don't create many first downs (119th nationally), and our special teams are doing us few favors in the field position battle. This combination of few possessions, few big plays, and poor field position means that our defense will routinely face an uphill battle, but they appear to be talented enough to depend on, at least most of the time.