The Longhorns’ loss on Saturday against West Virginia at home in Austin wasn’t the type of loss where the defense got torched all day like we’d seen earlier this season.
Instead, it was the offense that ultimately struggled to find the end zone enough against the Mountaineers’ 3-3-5 defense.
— After re-watching this game, this loss is still frustrating, in case anyone is wondering.
The key moments that ultimately told the story for the ‘Horns loss were...
1) Having to settle for a field goal the opening drive after having a 1st & 10 on the WVU 11-yard-line. (Texas would lead 3-0, then be tied 3-3 after each team’s first two drives)
2) Having to settle for a field goal on the goal line instead of a touchdown to close the half after advancing down the field on a 21-play, 6:55-minute drive. (Texas would end the half trailing 17-13 after converting the field goal.)
3) Failing to capitalize on an interception by having the following field goal attempt blocked just after the second half got underway. (Texas would stay down 17-13 here then go on to give up WVU’s eventual game-winning touchdown the following drive to get behind 24-13).
4) I don’t enjoy calling him out, but Collin Johnson has to run that fourth down route on Texas’ second to last drive past the sticks. He did a great job of that earlier in the game on a similar play but made his cut about a yard short on this drive-ending play.
— This was the first game all season that Texas failed to score three touchdowns.
— Before we go further, I will say it’s a good sign to see this team continuing to fight in these games like it is. The “want to” is there.
— Texas and Coach Strong, uncharacteristically, elected to receive the ball the first half after winning the toss.
As we noted above, after marching down the field into the red zone on the opening drive, the Longhorns offense stalled at the 10-yard-line and was forced to settle for a field goal.
I wonder if we’ll see Strong go back to differing to the second half if he wins the toss moving forward.
— Shane Buechele may have finally eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark for the first time as a Longhorn but he did it on a night where he completed a lot of short passes and attempted his career high for a game.
Previously, the most passes he had attempted in a game was 40, which happened last week against Texas Tech. He attempted 48 against West Virginia.
— The lack of deep shots down the field was puzzling. On the night, Buechele completed just three passes that were over 20 yards, including just one over 30 yards - that went for 32 yards, to be exact.
This isn’t a knock on Buechele. Instead, it’s a question for Sterlin Gilbert on why he didn’t take more shots down the field in the middle of the game. It felt like he was more conservative than normal against WVU.
Maybe Gilbert would tell us he didn’t see any good opportunities to throw deep or that it was something the defense was showing, I’m not sure...
I also don’t remember Buechele throwing over the middle, though a lack of passes over the middle is nothing new for the Texas offense this season.
— On the other hand, credit WVU’s defensive coordinator Tony Gibson for creating some issues for Texas throughout the game. Going into this game, we thought his 3-3-5 could cause Gilbert’s offense fits, and it ultimately did.
— What a great read/run by Buechele for the score. He’s no VY but that play had to make VY smile.
— D’Onta Foreman finished with 167 yards, a 4.8 average, and he did about all he could in this game to help Texas win except for getting into the end zone.
This was just the second time this season he didn’t reach pay-dirt in the nine games he’s played in so far.
The one knock on Foreman at the moment, though, has to be fumbling. He started the season going four games without a fumble, but including his fumble against West Virginia, he’s now lost a fumble in four of his last six games.
— On the note of Foreman not getting into the end zone, I know hindsight is 20-20, but I wonder if Texas would have approached that 4th & 1 differently on WVU’s 2-yard-line had the offense had more time to work with instead of the 9 or so seconds (and no timeouts) it had for that play before deciding to kick the field goal...
— Speaking of the end of the first half, I found that whole final three minutes of the first half to be odd, especially the final 1:13 when Texas had a 1st & 10 on WVU’s 23-yard-line.
The ‘Horns offense was not operating with any urgency to that point, then it looked frantic like it was surprised the clock had run down to under a minute left.
The drive being almost a full seven minutes isn’t the issue. The issue is the place Gilbert put the offense in during those final three or four plays of that drive.
Some may say I’m nit-picking here but having more time, even 30 or so seconds, over the course of those final plays could have given Texas a better chance of finding plays to get into the end zone.
— Dorian Leonard, the former 3-star receiver out of Longview, notched his career highs for receiving yards and receptions in a game on a 7 rec, 135-yard night.
It was his first 100-yard receiving effort in a game as a Longhorn. The 135-yard total crushed his previous high of 55 yards, which came against Oklahoma State. And oddly enough, he recorded just 3 receptions for 12 yards against Tech and didn’t record a single reception against Baylor.
Before this season, Leonard had caught just one pass for seven yards in his first two seasons at Texas. What a difference a quarterback (and coordinator) makes from season to season.
-- Strong and the Texas defense will get caught lining up Hughes/Roach/Hager on a slot receiver one of these days. I assume Strong wants these “fox ends” to be versatile enough to do that, but pass coverage is not something that looks natural for any of those guys.
— The play below may have been the most frustrating defensive play to watch.
Texas got caught with its pants down on a blitz as it brought up its safeties (I guess that was by design?), ultimately leaving man-coverage on the three receivers with no help over the top anywhere.
The play before this, it looked like Strong called the same defensive play.
That time, on second and six, it worked against a run play as Texas stuffed the run for a loss of three.
But why call this same play again on 3rd & 9? I’d love to get an explanation from Strong on this play.
In coverage, Boyd made the mistake of letting the receiver get inside of him. But I almost don’t even blame him that much because of the position he was put in on the play to begin with.
Boyd has made improvements but he isn’t a lock-down corner yet by any means. This failed play was ultimately on Strong.
— To follow that play, Texas kept its nickel defense on the field, which includes just two defensive tackles (Ford, Boyette), when it lined up for this play on its own 3-yard-line.
I assume the thinking here was to keep the nickel defense on the field since WVU was still in a 3-wide set.
WVU did also get this play off relatively quick so maybe they caught Texas in a situation where Strong couldn’t rotate other players in. Maybe?
But as we see, the nickel package gets pushed around after the ball is snapped.
Omenihu takes a step up field and gets sealed off by the right tackle while the other four WVU offensive linemen just have to push the two Texas defensive tackles out of the way to open the lane to pay dirt.
It also didn’t help that both linebackers, the Fox (Wheeler, McCulloch, & Hager) as well as both safeties (Hall & Haines) drift to their right on the play away from where the lane is opening up.
— The Texas kick/punt return units probably won’t get much better until better blockers/athletes get in on special teams, and that will take another offseason to correct.
— Keep feeding Collin Johnson. That freshman is an absolute beast.
By the end of it, the ‘Horns tried to regain the lead at various points in the game after going up 3-0 early, but they just could never get back over the hump.
Strong’s team continues to fight, but it was another game that ended poorly for Texas once the Longhorns fell behind on the scoreboard.