On paper, the Horns entered Saturday’s contest as considerable favorites, but despite the confidence coming out of Las Vegas, there were clouds of doubt and a growing sense of pressure on the Longhorns. With just a 2-2 record and after losing a very winnable matchup against Texas Tech, it was vital to reassure the Longhorn faithful that Texas not only win last night, but do so in a convincing fashion.
And like ESPN forcing a live-cut to an Aaron Judge at bat during a college football game, the Longhorns forced their will on the Mountaineers, defeating WVU by a score of 38-20. Texas built up a 28-point lead in the first half, dominating both sides of the ball before finishing off the game in the second half.
The win aside, there were a few other key things I noticed in yesterday’s game.
Finally, Texas played a complete game and closed out for a win
In the past week, much has been mentioned and lamented that under head coach Steve Sarkisian, the Longhorns haven’t had a problem getting out to leads — the issue has been putting these games away and holding off teams in the second half. Yesterday was a refreshing change from last week’s loss, where the Horns were able to not only build up a lead, but convincingly hold off the opposing team and run through the remaining 30 minutes with little to no stress or worry about the final outcome. The game was never in doubt, which may seem insignificant given how poor WVU looks this year. But this was much-needed given the recent struggles finishing games out on the Forty Acres.
Hudson Card is steadily getting better — but will that matter next week?
Quarterback Hudson Card got his third start of the season yesterday, and made the most with his third go at it this year with an impressive passing day, completing 21-of-27 pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns. It’s the best game of the season for Card this year, and according to Sarkisian, the team has noticed how much better he’s gotten week over week.
“I give Hudson a lot of credit... I think over the past few weeks, he’s earned a lot of respect,” Sarkisian said. “To me, and to the rest of the team, it doesn’t feel like we’re playing with a backup.”
Those words came during Sarkisian’s post-game press conference, and clearly shows how he and the team have faith in Card as their man under center. That sentiment may not mean much soon, however, with Quinn Ewers reportedly targeting his return to game action for this upcoming weekend’s game against Oklahoma.
Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers will reportedly miss Saturday’s game against West Virginia while preparing for a potential return next week in the Cotton Bowl. https://t.co/kT7Zs56Kaq— OU Sucks Nation (@BON_SBNation) October 1, 2022
Should Ewers miss his fourth consecutive game and Card get the start, the progress Card has made over the last month will pay dividends in a game that has recently hinged on which team gets better play out of their quarterback.
Xavier Worthy and Ja’Tavion Sanders elevate this offense from good to explosive
Going into the season, quarterback was an unknown for the Longhorns, but experts and pundits anticipated a reliable running game on the shoulders of running back Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson with standout wide receiver Xavier carrying the load in the passing game.
Now five games into the year, Texas’ offense has been outstanding to start the season. There’s been a steady reliance in the running game, and Bijan has (outside of a costly fumble in overtime last week) looked like one of the best skill position players in the country. But at times this year, defenses have been able to contain Worthy in the passing game and that’s limited the Texas offense’s creativity and ability to stretch the field with bug plays.
Yesterday was Worthy’s best statistical output of the young season, and the first where his presence was exerted throughout the game on the opposing defense. Worthy racked up seven catches for 119 yards through the air, and also caught two touchdowns and threw for a third in the contest. In doing so, he became the first Texas wide receiver since Lil’Jordan Humphrey in 2018 to throw for and catch a touchdown in the same game.
While Worthy led the way through the air for the Horns, tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders also had a great game, picking up five catches for 78 yards and also scoring twice through the air. For Sanders, he had really struggled garnering a rapport with Card, as he only accumulated nine catches for 49 yards in the last three games. But, as mentioned in the first and inaugural edition of the Armchair QB, tight end has played a pivotal role in Sarkisian’s offenses dating back to his time as an offensive coordinator at Alabama. It’s not a surprise to see Sanders put up a gaudy stat-line or to score twice in a game — it’s a surprise we haven’t seen more of him up to this point.
Continue to look for Texas to find ways to get the ball in the hands of their best playmakers on the perimeter. Getting Worthy and Sanders going and establishing a viable, big chunk play pass attack is the missing link for this offense to elevate itself from good or very good to explosive and dangerous.
The defense was much improved this week
One of the biggest disappointments from last week’s loss was the collapse of the Longhorns defense at the hands of Texas Tech’s backup quarterback and an offense that statistically wasn’t at the top of the conference or any kind of stat chart. This week was a different story, with the Horns setting the tone early and smothering the Mountaineer offense, holding a team that averaged 217.5 rushing yards per game to just 61 yards on Saturday.
Two major reasons for that success against the run was the dominant play up front at the line of scrimmage from defensive linemen Byron Murphy and Moro Ojomo. Murphy and Ojomo wreaked havoc on the West Virginia offensive line and disrupted the running game early, only later to provide or assist in applying pressure in the pocket during WVU passing attempts.
Ojomo and Murphy were backed up by linebackers Jaylan Ford and Demarvion Overshown, who were outstanding controlling the middle of the field yesterday against the Mountaineers. The four of those players all ranked within the top five for Pro Football Focus’ personal game grades yesterday.
Lastly, credit to defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski, who has struggled recently in play calling and coverage late in games but played yesterday rather well. After starting off Saturday’s game with tight coverage and mixing man with zone, Kwiatkowski relied pretty heavily on zone coverage and looser assignments to allow the Mountaineers to sustain long, game-killing drives without giving up any meaningful yardage. That may read as an obvious choice to make or something rather simple for a coordinator to call given a big lead to work with, but as its been mentioned ad nauseum, the issue at Texas hasn’t been playing to get a lead — it’s been playing to maintain a lead. For Kwiatkowski and his defense, this game was a much-needed improvement heading into the heart of the Big 12 schedule.