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Texas vs. West Virginia: 3 positives from the Longhorns' loss

Progress? What progress? Surprisingly enough, there were signs of it in Morgantown.

Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns found a new way to lose on the road on Saturday against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

In previous road games, "here we go again" moments early in the contest that created early deficits sunk a team deficient of mental toughness, but in Morgantown, the offense moved the ball and the defense played adequately for the most part, with the five turnovers ultimately defining the losing effort.

However, in going back and looking at the performance, there were some positives.

"We were moving the football and they weren't stopping us, and we were only stopping ourselves," head coach Charlie Strong said after the game.

"When that happens you feel like you were in control of the game because we were controlling the game. It was just the mistakes that we were making."

Overall, the inability to avoid mistakes is a sign of a bad football team and just aren't good at football right now. Even so, ignoring the clear signs of progress should remain the provenance of those who remain willfully ignorant of those positives because they've already decided that Strong needs to go.

So here are three things that Texas did well in the game.

Moved the football against a good defense

Against a tough schedule, the West Virginia defense has given up some yards and given up some points, but once adjusting for the opponents, it's a group that ranks no lower than No. 12 nationally in every defensive S&P+ metric. As mentioned earlier in the week, this is an elite group in passing S&P+, rushing S&P+, passing down S&P+, and success rate+.

The match up between that experienced Mountaineers defense against the Longhorns offense would seem to favor the home team by a tremendous margin. Instead, Texas ended up definitively winning that match up throughout the game with the exception of the four offensive turnovers.

While removing the turnovers removes hugely important game context, it's still just instructive to look at the bigger picture because the four turnovers don't tell the whole tale of what happened offensively.

The 439 total yards offensively was the third-best performance this season, after Cal and Kansas. Those defenses currently rank No. 79 and No. 120 in the country in defensive S&P+, respectively. Considering those factors, it's not difficult to argue that this was the most productive 2015 offensive performance in that area.

Five plays of 22 or more yards, including the 65-yard touchown run by sophomore D'Onta Foreman, provided evidence of the offense's ability to produce chunk plays, an area where the Longhorns truly struggled last season.

That's progress.

The passing game is improving by small steps

The passing game is steadly getting better as redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard was able to hit several corner routes and work the seams downfield, as on the 36-yard pass to senior wide receiver Daje Johnson. To illustrated the continued need for improvement, two interceptions by Heard marred his overall performance and he still doesn't always know when to throw the ball away.

However, one of the interceptions was simply a fantastic play by West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski and the other was a fourth-down pass into the end zone that was the right decision, just executed poorly, as Heard didn't take advantage of separation from sophomore wide receiver Armanti Foreman.

Going 11-of-18 passing for 169 yards (9.0 yards per attempt) and throwing a touchdown pass is an improvement from where Heard's passing game was several weeks ago, when he completed only six passes for 29 yards and an interception against Iowa State, a much less accomplished defense than that of West Virginia.

Without quibbling with the offensive gameplans through play caller Jay Norvell's tenure, it's worth pointing out that Heard still hasn't received a lot of in-game reps in that area -- he's started every game since the opener, but has thrown only 152 passes on the season. Forty-two players nationally have attempted 300 or more passes this year, five have attempted 400 or more, and Washington State quarterback Luke Falk has thrown the ball an astounding 556 times in 2015.

The only way for Heard to learn and improve on the job is to throw the football in game situations and he simply hasn't had that many opportunities, yet he's still making strides, a credit to Heard, Norvell, and quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson.

The offensive line played a strong game

As with the overall performance, multiple holding penalties hurt the offense tremendously, taking four points off the board and stalling several drives. A false start penalty on junior offensive tackle Kent Perkins took a 3rd and 1 to a 3rd and 6.

Caveats aside, the group played together, limiting the mental mistakes that have consistently plagued the group this year, and played a physically aggressive brand of football that lasted right up to the whistle. Freshman left tackle Connor Williams and Perkins were especially good and even seniors Taylor Doyle and Sedrick Flowers managed to remain on the same page in the running game and the passing game.

Creating a huge seam for sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman on his 65-yard run was largely the result of good blocking by the entire offensive line and another chalkboard play for a group that is producing them at a more consistent rate now.

Offensive line coach Joe Wickline has taken some criticism this year and may not even return in 2016 with his contract expiring. Still, he deserves credit for the clear and demonstrable improvement of his line, even though it includes two true freshmen.