Only one of BON's writers predicted the unlikely Texas Longhorns win over the West Virginia Mountaineers (shout out to Anthony), but the writers are much more unanimously optimistic about the chances against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on Friday evening.
There's reason for excitement surrounding the team — Connor Williams' return appeared crucial to helping the offense gel, and the 'Horns seem to be holding down the fort defensively despite losing Holton Hill for the year due to suspension.
BON writers weigh in on potential bowl games, MVPs, and favorite Thanksgiving side dishes in the conversation below.
How much of the Texas win do you think was due to the absence of Will Grier? Or did we witness a turning point for the ‘Horns?
Cody Daniel, Editor: Even with Grier, I think Texas' defense would have kept the 'Horns in the game, but I think they'd still be fighting for bowl eligibility had Grier not gotten hurt.
Wes Crochet, contributor: Facing a WVU without Will Grier obviously helped Texas' chances of winning that game. At the same time, though, Texas played a pretty complete game all around. The return of Connor Williams obviously helped as well. And the defense played well as it has most of the season. Consider this progress, even if it's not as much as fans would still like.
Gerald Goodridge, contributor: You can't completely ignore Grier's absence, but Texas forced West Virginia to be one-dimensional and capitalized in passing situations. The Texas offense prioritized the run to win the time of possession and field position battles, which would have been differentiators with or without Grier.
Anthony Rizzo, contributor: I think Texas would have won that game either way. The offense had a significant amount of success running the ball in the wet weather conditions. It was a rather dominant performance on the road to get this team heading in the right direction, at last.
Was Connor Williams’ return the main reason for Texas’ offensive competence against WVU, or did you see other separate signs of improvement as well?
Cody: To me, it's Connor Williams. It provides Texas with an anchor on the line and his play seems to lift the other four guys up, as well. But of course, it also helped that West Virginia's defensive front wasn't full of future NFL players, too.
Wes: See above. I'd say it was a big factor. Though to think it was the only factor wouldn't be entirely accurate either. Texas has finally started leaning on running backs that produce, like freshman Daniel Young.
Gerald: I think Williams's influence on the line, as much as his play, got that unit moving in the right direction. He came out determined to play physical and you saw the offensive line play up to his standard. After struggling without him, that unit gave up fewer sacks and tackles for loss than they did In any contest during his absence.
Anthony: Williams made a major impact in the run game, as well as in pass protection. But, having Ehlinger back to full strength helped a lot. He sparked the offense and played efficient football outside of the pick-six.
It’s official — Texas will be going bowling. What do you think is the ‘Horns most likely bowl and bowl opponent right now?
Cody: Obviously, people want to see Texas and Texas A&M, but I doubt that will actually happen. I think Texas-Missouri in the Texas bowl is the most-likely scenario.
Wes: I'm no expert on this. At the moment, though, I'll lean Camping World Bowl against Virginia Tech. Don't forget your flashlight and toilet paper!
Gerald: As much as I would love to say Texas A&M in the Texas Bowl, the likelihood of that happening resides somewhere between slim and none. Due to that, I think the Alamo Bowl is the likeliest candidate, playing Mike Leach and the Washington State Cougars.
Anthony: From what I've read, it seems like the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida is the most likely destination if Texas beats Texas Tech. If that's the case, I hope the opponent is Virginia Tech or Notre Dame. A bowl game against Texas A&M would be the dream scenario.
With one game to go, who is your pick for these Longhorn team awards: Offensive MVP, Defensive MVP, Most improved, Freshman of the year
Offensive MVP — Connor Williams (I know he hasn't played much, but his absence revealed just how valuable he is).
Defensive MVP — Malik Jefferson
Most Improved — Holton Hill
Freshman of the Year — Sam Ehlinger
Offensive MVP: Connor Williams (he's the most valuable, and that's been evident with his absence)
Defensive MVP: DeShon Elliott (This one was tough. Honorable mention to Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill, and Poona Ford)
Most improved: Kris Boyd (From where he started this season to now, that's improvement)
Freshman of the year: Sam Ehlinger, though Daniel Young would be right there if he got more playing time earlier.
Offensive MVP — Sam Ehlinger leads the team in yards and scoring, so it is hard to say anyone else.
Defensive MVP — Poona Ford has quietly been the most dominant defensive player on the field all year.
Most improved — Malik Jefferson has turned all of his doubters from 2016 into believers.
Freshman of the year — Ehlinger again.
Offensive MVP: QB Sam Ehlinger
Defensive MVP: LB Malik Jefferson
Most Improved: CB Holton Hill / S DeShon Elliott
Freshman of the Year: If I had to pick someone other than Sam, it'd be the RBs Daniel Young and Toneil Carter.
This is a Tech team that hasn’t been as offensively potent as in reason years, yet still has hung in there against some solid teams. What’s going to be the main key for the ‘Horns in taking a victory this week?
Cody: If Texas loses, it will be because it gave up big plays in the passing game. If the defensive backs can keep everything in front of them and the offense can at least look respectable, which I expect to be the case against the Red Raiders defense, than Texas wins.
Wes: The secondary can't have lapses in coverage. If they can keep it all in front of them and let the rest of the defense get Tech offense out of sorts, Texas will win this game.
Gerald: Generating a pass rush and putting Shimonek in bad situations will be huge, and allow the secondary an extra second or two to adjust. Texas Tech is giving up an average of two sacks per game, so the Texas pass rush should be able to get to him.
Anthony: Keep Tech from getting into a rhythm offensively and limit the explosive plays.
What’s one reason you are worried about this match up and one reason you are optimistic the ‘Horns will get the W?
Cody: Although Texas Tech isn't as explosive as it has been in recent years, the offense can still put plenty of points up. If Texas' offense struggles, I could see Texas Tech stealing a win. On the other hand, Texas is trending in the right direction, while Texas Tech has lost five of its last six, and I think the defense comes to play on Senior Day.
Wes: I still don't like going into this game without Holton Hill. I feel better about this game because Todd Orlando will be on the sidelines and Connor Williams will be blocking on the offensive line.
Gerald: Wide receiver Keke Coutee is a bona fide NFL talent and without Holton Hill, I am not sure who draws that matchup to slow him down. On the plus-side, Texas Tech's defense is awful and the Texas offense is finding its identity and rhythm.
Anthony: Keke Coutee, TJ Vasher and the rest of the Tech receivers could give the Texas secondary fits. Also, the 'Horns have struggled in the traditional Thanksgiving week home game in recent years. But, this team matches up pretty well against Tech and has all the momentum going their way. I'm confident in our defense to slow down an air-raid offense like Texas Tech, just like they did against Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
What’s your prediction for the game against the Red Raiders?
Cody: Texas 38, Texas Tech 24
Wes: Texas 42, Texas Tech 21
Gerald: The Texas run game controls things and Texas wins 28-21.
Anthony: Texas 33, Texas Tech 20.
BONUS: What were your Thanksgiving plans and what’s your go to turkey day side dish?
Cody: Ate, slept, and watched sports. Mac and cheese is always the go-to side dish.
Wes: Lounging with the family in Austin watching football, drinking various beverages, and enjoying all the great food. And my go-to side dish is green-bean casserole.
Gerald: Family dinner and several naps. For sides, it's a tie between stuffing and mac and cheese (not the boxed stuff).
Anthony: Some family time on vacation in the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee. Watched my Detroit Lions in their annual Thanksgiving Day game and then some Texas basketball at night. My go-to turkey side dish would most definitely be cranberries.