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TWR: Texas needed that big win over Oklahoma

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The Longhorns were able to put all facets of their team together for an upset and win that was critical after a rough start to the season.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
After a win like like the one that Texas Longhorns notched against the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, where do you even start? But this is why I love college football. Games like this make it unlike any other sports atmosphere.
  • First off, wow. Head coach Charlie Strong and this entire team needed this win badly. And I definitely haven't seen Strong that happy since he first got the Texas job. Good for him. This was the signature win he needed. And I kept wondering when there would be a big upset in the Big 12...
  • I'll be the first to admit that coming into this game, I did not expect Texas to be the more physical team in the trenches. And it's not that I didn't think the players were capable of being physical. I just hadn't seen the effort or desire to play a complete game. But Saturday, the guys in the trenches stepped up and were the better units in that regard all game long.
  • On the note of physical play in the trenches, I heard that sophomore offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson needed stitches at half time for a gash above one of his eyes. And after the game, freshman right guard Patrick Vahe had a cut/welt on his right cheek. It looked like he got clocked on some play where his helmet got knocked off his head.
  • Heading into a bye week full of recruiting visits, this is a great win for the Texas coaching staff to talk to recruits about. This is one of the best, if not the best, rivalry game and atmosphere in all of college football.
  • Of course winning always helps. But this team clearly supports Strong.
  • This time last week, I was questioning the game plans defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and play caller Jay Norvell tried to implement against TCU. This week, I have to give both of those guys credit. Both stuck to their respective game plan for Oklahoma and played to the strengths of their units.
  • Texas is now 4-0 when it starts a redshirt freshman quarterback against OU. And Texas is also now 6-2 since 1989 when Oklahoma is ranked and they are not.
  • Finally, Texas was able to play a complete game that had all three parts of the team (offense, defense, special teams) playing well collectively. And it all paid off for a big win against Texas' number one rival, Oklahoma.

Offense

  • Against TCU, Norvell came out firing passes off to the sidelines. Against OU, he got back to what this offense does best, and that's run the ball and then run it some more.
  • The offensive line played well. And running the ball only helped. Knowing how suspect this offensive line is in pass protection is likely one main reason Norvell did decide to run it as much as he did. Running and going forward doesn't put the offensive line in a compromising position like when they have to drop back into pass protection.
  • This was senior running back Jojnathan Gray's most productive day on the ground from a running perspective, yet sophomore D'Onta Foreman is still the best running back on this team. Gray got 22 carries to Foreman's 9. And that ratio needs to at least be 50-50, though I'd go 60-40 Foreman to Gray.
  • Gray on offense is to what senior cornerback Duke Thomas is on defense for Texas. Neither are the best on the team at their respective positions. But both are seen as senior leaders that the coaching staff wants on the field for what they bring from a mental/leadership standpoint.
  • Remember last week when I said Norvell likes to run to the left with this offensive line? Yea, that didn't change.
  • Even though he only touched the ball four times, senior wide receiver Marcus Johnson performed well, especially with the absence of injured senior wide receiver Daje Johnson. I still can't believe Johnson stayed in bounds on his touchdown play, and I've re-watched that play about five or six times now. It did help that the Oklahoma defenders were trying to two-hand touch him on that play.
  • Good for sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Joe. He's gone from not being on the depth chart to playing quality minutes, playing well for many snaps, and seeing the ball come his way for a reception. He also blocked extremely well on the outside. And that alone will earn him more playing time after this bye week.
  • Used at the right time in the right situation, the Swoopesdozer package is a fantastic weapon for Texas to have. And it was only a matter of time before we saw a pass out of that package, and it couldn't have worked better.
  • For just the second time all season, freshman wide receiver John Burt did not record a catch for more than 35 yards. That's not a knock against him -- Texas only threw it 12 times. But he did cause a big pass-interference call.
  • With no Daje Johnson on the field, I would have thought freshman wide receiver Ryan Newsome would have touched the ball at least once. But Newsome is non-stop energy always pumping up the crowd.
  • As much as I still wonder what type of impact he would have on defense, junior tight end Caleb Bluiett is one heck of an athlete. He's made a smooth transition over to the offensive side of the ball by blocking well, especially for someone that used to play defense. And he was finally rewarded with a touchdown pass out of the Swoopesdozer package. Now I want to see what he looks like running actual routes in a game.
  • Alright, let's talk redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, who had a great game. A great game for Heard is 1) one where he does not turn the ball over, 2) he does not make many mistakes that move his offense in the wrong direction via too many self-imposed sacks, 3) he makes plays with his legs, and 4) he completes most of his passe,s even if he only passes a handful of times. Against OU, Heard averaged 5.5 yards per carry while rushing for 115 yards. He completed 8 of his 11 passes. He did not turn the ball over, he limited his own mistakes (though he did have a few plays where he held onto the ball too long and got sacked), and he also made big plays when Texas had to have them. He was exactly what the Horns needed Saturday.
  • Jerrod Heard may be a redshirt freshman that is currently limited in the passing game, but he runs with the football like a seasoned vet. He does a good job of avoiding big hits by getting to the sideline or sliding down. When he runs, he's doing a better job of being aware of what yard line he needs to reach for a first down. And he is also incredibly fast. Like really, really fast with a burst and acceleration not often seen at the quarterback position.

Defense

  • When I think back to this game, I can't help but think of Coach Yates from Remember the Titans saying "I don't want them to gain another yard. You blitz all night!" Though Oklahoma did gain positive yards. It felt like Texas blitzed the entire game. And that's exactly what the Longhorns needed to do. Against TCU, they couldn't get to quarterback Trevone Boykin. And he picked apart the defense and secondary. Against Oklahoma, however, Texas was getting to Mayfield before he could set his feet and scan through his options.
  • For Texas to have success on defense in most of their Big 12 games, they will need to have a consistent pass rush. The current starting safeties and most of the linebackers can't cover well enough right now for it to make sense for Texas to drop most of its defense into coverage. Sure, there will be situations when Texas has to do that. And yes, the secondary and linebackers did make some big plays Saturday, but the defense is at its best when it can bite the head off of the opposing offense by getting to the quarterback instead of having to rely on pass-coverage the entire game.
  • If Duke Thomas is going to play, he needs to stay at nickel. That is his natural position in the secondary. And he was fantastic blitzing off the edge. I get nervous when he moves outside.
  • The outside starting corners need to be freshman Holton Hill on one side with freshman Kris Boyd or freshman Davante Davis on the other side. I'd lean Hill/Boyd at this point.
  • Redshirt freshman John Bonney is another defensive back that makes me nervous. And opposing offenses are taking note of where he is when he's in the game, and then they pick on him. I'll be shocked if he's in the starting lineup after this bye week.
  • This may have been due to the pass-rush Texas was able to generate, but I was somewhat surprised Oklahoma didn't take more shots downfield and attack Texas' safeties more. Junior Dylan Haines and sophomore Jason Hall still are liabilities in coverage on the back end of the secondary. I have to imagine that it's only a matter of time before freshman DeShon Elliott gets on the field at safety. His athleticism alone is at a level Haines simply doesn't possess. That's just a reality.
  • Freshman Malik Jefferson is tenacious coming off the edge on blitzes. I'll talk more about this over the bye week, but look for him to eventually move to senior Peter Jinkens' spot at strong side linebacker next season when Texas can find someone (likely Breckyn Hager) to man the middle linebacker position.
  • Speaking of Peter Jinkens, he really has settled in nicely. He's always around the football and played well in coverage on Saturday.
  • The defense brought energy nearly the entire game, especially up front. And they benefited greatly from that energy. Moving forward, bring that energy every game is the next challenge. This is especially true for Texas' next game against the always physical and tough Kansas State Wildcats.

Special Teams

  • Well look at that. There weren't any muffed punts, flubbed kicks, or poor kicks shanked out of bounds. And Texas did a solid job in kick/punt coverage and on kick returns (Texas did not have a single punt return).
  • Texas didn't score any touchdowns on special teams. But the special teams also didn't shoot themselves in the foot or make the game harder for Texas. And that's never a bad day for the special teams unit.

This is why they play the games. And this is why a rivalry game like this is always a toss-up. After getting decimated by TCU, it's fair to say that most were just hoping Texas would keep this game competitive going into the fourth quarter. Instead, Texas came out with great energy from the beginning, put the first points on the board via an athletic play by Marcus Johnson, and never looked back after that. It was one of the best football games I've ever been to. And it was the signature win Charlie Strong and this team needed.

The question of whether or not Charlie Strong will be back for the 2016 season needs to go to bed. And really, the question never should have been seriously considered. The powers that be (Fenves/Perrin) had already voiced their support for Strong even after the TCU loss. But after a big win like this, and as long as this team continues to fight (which they showed they have it in them to do) Strong will be back in 2016.