Buy: Texas Pass Defense
Now, I wouldn't normally recommend a Buy right before something is about to take its toughest test of the year, but it's worth owning stock in the pass defense if it comes through against Baylor. I could rattle off a list of what the Baylor passing game brings: 7th nationally in yards per attempt and passing TDs, 4th in passing yards per game, all rolled into the top scoring offense in the country.
Fortunately, segment earnings for the Texas pass defense have been solid through the first third of the season: 7th nationally in yards per attempt allowed, 8th in passing yards per game, 8th in sacks per game, and tied for 1st in interceptions per game.
Much will be asked of the pass defense as it faces the multiple Baylor offense. Art Briles' wide splits will force Strong's defense to make choices in defensive alignments, either to let corners Duke Thomas, Quandre Diggs, and Mykkele Thompson take the Baylor WRs in man coverage with little help, or trust a light box to control the Baylor OL and run game. Regardless of the choice, the corners will be tested.
But the biggest key will be the play of the young Texas safeties. True freshman Jason Hall was the first true freshman to start at safety for Texas since 2008, and he'll need to be ready and not get manipulated by Heisman hopeful Bryce Petty. Sophomores Adrian Colbert and Dylan Haines will also need to play mistake free, with experienced option Josh Turner being an unreliable option at this point. With the youth at safety, we're buying in early and riding whatever storm may come.
Hold: Texas Passing Game
The Texas passing game is a combination of a bunch of high beta pieces: developing OL, young but promising QB with tangible qualities, and experienced and talented WRs. The strength of the Texas offense is certainly in the WR group, where John Harris and Jaxon Shipley are the most consistent performers on that side side of the ball, Marcus Johnson provides an experienced third option, and young upstarts like Lorenzo Joe and Armanti Foreman provide a solid change of pace.
The constraint on those assets is the development of a young QB and ability of a remade offensive line. Last week, offensive coordinator Shawn Watson continued to put more on sophomore Tyrone Swoopes' plate to mixed results. He connected on a deep ball to Shipley on the run, missed a number of open deep receivers, continued displays of arm strength and accuracy outside the hashes, and showed just enough that the performance wasn't a concern.
The deep balls were there, and he had the time to find it, mostly. But the two best defensive fronts on the schedule are up next, and they will test Swoopes' internal clock. If the line (and any TEs and RBs that can hang back) can buy him time, he'll need to connect on those shots.
We're waiting to see the payoff for these WR assets. If the passing game can get through the next couple weeks and show us something, we could see this moving to a solid Buy.
Sell: Texas Run Game
Several years of mismanagement and questionable investments have led our new management team to significantly mark down impaired assets on the offensive line. Injuries, dismissals, transfers, and suspensions (and lions and tigers and bears oh my) have left the Horns with few options and fewer positive results. Johnathan Gray, who I'm not convinced is altogether recovered from last year's blown Achilles, has put up a solid yet unspectacular 50 carries for 222 yards (4.4 per carry), with a long of 42 and no TDs. Malcolm Brown has cooled off from his strong finish to 2013 to contribute 53 carries for 191 yards (3.6 per carry) and 2 TDs on the ground.
Absent a sudden infusion of options, such as Darius James stepping onto the scene in a big way or Desmond Harrison getting his act together and stepping right into action, the chances of immediate improvement are slim. Contributors now are either out of position, not yet ready to carry the load, or simply nothing more than capable options. Revelations at ball carriers could help the situation, likely in the form of an electric talent like Daje Johnson (figure it out, Daje), Armanti Foreman, or the newly un-redshirted Roderick Bernard.
Until something changes,or maybe in a few weeks if we start seeing consistent results, we're going to advise selling your stock in the run game. In the meantime, we'll likely be heavily invested in other areas to carry us ahead in 2014.