The No. 23 Texas Longhorns were able to bounce back last week with a pounding 55-14 win against the Kansas Jayhawks. Even with quarterback Jalon Daniels back, Kansas couldn’t seem to move the ball effectively in the first half, allowing Bijan Robinson to put the team on his back and get the Longhorns out to a 31-0 lead.
On Friday, Texas hosts Baylor for their final game of the regular season. Ironically, we are now wishing the best for the Jayhawks. If they beat Kansas State this Saturday, along with a Texas win, Texas will be set to play TCU again in the Big 12 Conference Championship.
Robinson had a night to remember with 243 yards rushing on 25 carries, leading to four touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Jonathon Brooks also got to showcase his talent late in the game with 108 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns. Quarterback Quinn Ewers and the passing game helped move the needle forward as well as he finished with 107 yards and one touchdown, producing a QBR of 63.1.
Ewers has seemed to come back to Earth since the Oklahoma game and it may be a limiting factor in this week’s game against Baylor, which has the fourth best defense in the conference. Granted, first and second are Iowa State and Kansas State who Texas have been able to handle with one-score victories. I believe this game may come down to a few clutch plays on the defensive side of the ball again as they may struggle in the second half.
Below is a table showcasing the PPA and usage for the Longhorns last weekend. PPA is the expected points above average per play each player produces. The expectation is determined by the down, distance-to-go, and field position. These metrics typically filter out garbage time as well, so that is why Brooks’ performance is not seen.
Baylor runs a 3-4 defense with the Jack linebacker that can be rolled down and the strengths are their run defense and passing coverage. Their front seven is comprised of nose tackle Siaki Ika (23 tackles, 0 sacks), edge rusher Cole Maxwell (10, 0), defensive tackle Gabe Hall (29, 3.5), Jack linebackers Garmon Randolph (35, 4.5), Jackie Marshall (20, 0), and middle linebacker Dillon Doyle (69, 0) who is possibly one of the best run-stopping linebackers in the league.
Their cornerbacks are not too great in the run game. but their starting safeties Devin Lemear (45, 0, 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions) and Al Walcott (70, 1, 5, 1) rank in the top ten percent at their position. Their DB unit is has also ranked decently well in passing defense, allowing 236 yards through the air each game, and coming up with 13 interceptions on the season. Where the Bears fall short is their pass rushing, with their front seven only producing a havoc rate of just 9 percent, which ranks last in the conference. If the Texas run game struggles, Ewers will have to be patient in the pocket and against good coverage.
Texas did a phenomenal job slowing down Kansas. While the Jayhawks were able to move the ball downfield on a couple of drives, the Longhorns were able to come up with big plays forcing turnovers or missed field goals. Baylor is the fourth best defense in the conference currently, with TCU, a healthy Oklahoma, and Texas Tech ahead of them. In the TCU and Tech games, the Longhorns defense were able to reduce the opponent’s production significantly, but it wasn’t enough relative to our scoring ability. Below are the PPA and usage metrics for the Baylor offense this season.
Blake Shapen has a QBR of 61.2 on the season which ranks second to last in the conference. He is second in the league with interceptions at nine and has also taken 17 sacks. He doesn’t like throwing deep and is easily flustered with pressure, which the Texas front seven has been great at providing this season. However, as with most new-age quarterbacks, he has a serious ability to run either in a scrambling fashion or designed read options.
Hal Presley is the most targeted receiver but only catches 60 percent of his targets with many of these missed connections coming from attempted deep balls. Monaray Baldwin is a more useful receiver with the ball in his hands, opting for quick slants, outs, or screens. Slot receiver Gavin Holmes has been battling with a knee injury for a few games and but has been deemed likely to play in this week’s matchup.
Their offensive line ranks decently well in the run blocking game and excels at wide running schemes. Freshman Richard Reese shows a lot of potential as a short speedy back, but he is still developing his game and learning to find the gaps. Craig Williams also possesses some great speed if he can find open space. The Bears will have to be able to put the ball on the ground enough times for them to find their explosive and impactful big runs.
This week, I turned to the FEI (Fremeau Efficiency Index), which calculates offensive and defensive efficiencies adjusted based on strength of schedule and opponent performance as well. I plotted the teams from the Big 12 along with the top programs in the nation currently in the chart below.
The advanced metrics seem to love Texas, and by these numbers alone would argue that they are possibly the best team in the conference. More surprisingly, from an efficiency standpoint, this shows that Texas is within arm’s reach from becoming a playoff contender based on the likes of Alabama, LSU, and Tennessee this year. But as always, it becomes increasingly frustrating when Texas gives up losses to teams like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State which are not visualized as real threats here.
Focusing on other teams, I think Michigan is better than as presented on this graph, but their weak schedule (especially out-of-conference games) weighs down their metrics. A safe bet would be that the winner of this week’s Michigan and Ohio State game will play in the finals against Georgia.
In other news, two Longhorns have been announced as semifinalists in the set of college football awards. Robinson made the list for Doak Walker Award which is presented to the best running back and Ja’Tavion Sanders was selected for the John Mackey Award in search of the best tight end. Below is a compilation of standard and advanced statistics for the other semifinalists they are competing against.
If Bijan does not win the award, I would expect it to go to Blake Corum considering how much of Michigan’s offensive success has run through him or Zach Charbonnet based on the advanced metric advantage. For the tight end group, Brock Bowers has been the favorite all season long and I don’t expect that to change in the next couple of weeks as Georgia continues its championship run.
Texas is an 8.5-point favorite against Baylor, according to DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.