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Inside the Numbers: Key contributors finding their roles for Texas

As Texas enters the grind of conference play, vital pieces are solidifying.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns were in need of a “get right” game and managed to be in control from wire-to-wire against the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday in the 38-20 victory, both avoiding back-to-back losses and keeping themselves alive in the conference race.

From rediscovering a weapon on offense to continued consistency from two key pieces on defense, Texas needs to build upon this performance in the coming weeks and months if they are going to reach their goal of playing in Arlington at the end of the season.

Ja’Tavion Sanders: 5 rec, 78 yards, 2 TD

After having a big debut as a starting tight end against Louisiana-Monroe, the sophomore from Denton was relatively quiet, turning in 49 combined yards in the three games following. Both from scheme and quarterback play, Sanders played a big part in the win on Saturday and hopefully re-established himself as a receiving threat.

His two scores make him the first Texas tight end with two touchdown catches in a game since DJ Grant’s three against UCLA in 2011. Coincidentally, those two touchdown catches give him three on the year, marking the best season by a tight end since Grant and teammate Blaine Irby both finished with three in 2011.

Sanders now has 212 yards on the year, the second-best season by a tight end since Andrew Beck in 2018, needing just 70 more yards to surpass the current Denver Broncos tight end. Next up for Sanders would be Jermichael Finley's 373 yards in 2006, followed by Finley's 575 in 2007.

Barryn Sorrell: 3 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 QBH

For years, the issue for the Texas defense has been an inability to pressure the quarterback and create sacks. In the last three seasons, the Longhorns have finished in the bottom half of the conference in sacks. and while they currently sit tied for sixth, they are seeing progress. Perhaps more importantly for the Texas defense was the timing of the sacks, both first-down sacks, putting the WVU drive behind the chains and changing their plan for the drive.

Sorrell’s first sack came after a short WVU third-down conversion as the Mountaineers drove to try and arrest the first-half momentum for the Longhorns. Playing five yards behind the chains, WVU could not make up the ground and punted three plays later. Texas took the ball and went 87 yards in six plays to go up 28-0. His half sack came in the third quarter with Texas leading 35-7. The Mountaineers just picked up a 32-yard chunk play and were threatening to build some momentum when Sorrell and DeMarvion Overshown met at the quarterback and again put the Mountaineers behind the chains.

WVU quarterback JT Daniels missed his target on the following three plays and ended that threat.

Now, just five games into the season, his three sacks puts him not only on the top of the current year’s stat sheet but passes last year’s season leader, Ben Davis. Davis finished the 2021 campaign with 2.5 for the entire season, the lowest number in longer than a decade.

Jaylan Ford: 14 tackles

Third-year linebacker Jaylan Ford continues to be a tackle vacuum in the middle of the defense, which not only helps alleviate the missed tackle issues from previous years but having a steady presence in the middle should allow more flexibility from the coaching staff.

After not recording a tackle in the first game, Ford currently sits atop the conference, angling for one of the best seasons from a Texas linebacker in recent memory. If Ford hits his average of 10 tackles per game over the next seven games, he will finish the season 11 better than Malik Jefferson’s 2017 season and have a legitimate shot at leading the conference in tackles.

If you remove the zero from the equation, Ford is averaging 12.75 tackles per game, which would put him among the top 10 seasons in school history.

Now, Texas must get that same, or even greater, levels of productivity as they head to the Cotton Bowl to take on the Oklahoma Sooners. In spite of recent struggles north of the Red River, the Sooners will be ready to try and extend their win streak after last year’s come-from-behind victory.