Before the 2022 Texas Longhorns football season kicks off, I thought we would look at a few advanced metrics evaluating the Sarkisian scheme from last year and predict how Texas will perform. There are some variables which we can’t necessarily estimate the quantitative effect they will have yet. These include Quinn Ewers being named QB1, losing wide receiver Isaiah Neyor and guard Junior Angilau, as well as how Texas’ toughest matchups are spread out quite well over the season. Nonetheless, we are all thrilled for Texas football to start up again and the picture will become clearer after the first couple of games.
Sark’s offense hinges on establishing the run and we know Bijan Robinson is the cornerstone. Looking at last year’s data, Bijan averaged 19.5 touches a game on 5.8 yards per attempt. Texas ran the ball about 55 percent of the time, which isn’t quite high in the nation, ranking only 49th, but they did produce an average 5.3 yards per rush attempt which ranked 11th. Considering the Heisman odds for Bijan are the highest for any running back this season, and how crucial he plays a role in the offense, we can hope to see his carries shoot up to the 20-30 range per game. Sarkisian amplified this by also investing a youthfully talented offensive line consisting of tackle Kelvin Banks, guard DJ Campbell, and guard Cole Hutson, two of whom will start on Sunday — Banks and Hutson.
In the past decade, teams that have more explosiveness (also measured by Points per Play) have gone on to win their matchups 86 percent of the time. The adjusted PPP not only accounts for yards per play but considers where on the field the play occurs. For the most part, the metric only fails to accurately predict a winner when the teams’ difference in PPP is less than .05. Case in point, Texas’ offensive PPP was 1.414 through the first five games last season, and their last seven averaged a 1.022 as they went on their six-game losing streak. Below is a table outlining the explosive metric from the 2021 season. At the top, I have included the top finishing teams from last year, and underneath is the full slate of opponents for the 2022 season (again, these numbers are averages of last year’s performances, they are not projections).
Generally, with the trends we see in college football today, it is more likely to generate an explosive play on a 20-yard plus passing play rather than a big run. Therefore, we see better rates for most passing downs. Texas did pretty well in this category with Worthy and Whittington contributing the most. The table below uses EPA (Expected Points Added) to look at the contribution of each players. EPA is a metric to see on average, how much a player makes an impact on each play. It takes into account the down, yards gained, and field position to determine how well each player is setting their team up to score.
Neyor would have become another deep threat along with Worthy to squeeze defenses into tough decisions in coverage. Without him, Worthy, Whittington, and now Tarique Milton will have to be able to produce similar results. Furthermore, Sarkisian noted slotting in Bijan into receiver roles, further making use of his wide skill set. This along with a talented new quarterback behind center, could unlock some further development.
While the Longhorns may have generated 5.3 yards per run, this could have been achieved on impactless downs. Their PPP on rushing plays was only 0.92 for the season. This implies plays like Texas gaining 10 yards on a 2nd and 15 but failing to convert a 3rd and short. This could be contributed to other factors such as play calling and work of the offensive line, but if Bijan is leading Texas to more wins this year, this metric will have to improve.
EPA isn’t the end-all-be-all advanced metric for measuring individual performance — it is also influenced by the talent surrounding the player as well. For instance, last year Alabama’s Brian Robinson Jr was used 56 percent of the time on rushing last year and delivered an EPA of .146. Alabama managed to grab an amazing transfer from Georgia Tech, Jamhyr Gibbs, where he was used 34 percent in rushing but only produced .005. Clearly, the scheme and offensive line Gibbs will have this year will allow him to drastically increase that number.
We can, however, compare players playing in the same scheme on this metric which may provide useful in the future when analyzing which offensive stars Texas needs to prioritize. Nevertheless, Texas needs to feed Bijan the ball more if they wish to get the most out of him. He racked up 1,127 rushing yards on 195 attempts last year which ranked 35th in the nation — 20 of the 34 backs ahead of him had over 240 attempts on the season.
I plan diving further into the run game next week ahead of the Alabama game, going into success rate, stuff rate, and line yards per rush.
PFF released their Preseason All-Big 12 teams and while Texas has an abundance of stars flooding the offensive selections, they fall short in defense. Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown made the first team and defensive tackle Moro Ojomo and cornerback Ryan Watts made the third team. In 2021, Overshown finished with 2 sacks, 74 tackles, two sacks, and two fumble recoveries, while Ojomo had 29 tackles with three TFLs but no sacks. Watts is a former four-star recruit who transferred from Ohio State in January and can hopefully rejuvenate a relatively weak defensive back unit. Other notable contributors to the defense from last year include linebacker Jaylan Ford, cornerback D’Shawn Jamison, and safety Anthony Cook.
The first metric to evaluate the Texas defense is Havoc rate, which is the percentage of plays ending in a tackle for loss, forced fumble, interception or pass break-p. This can be further split up into whether the defensive play was caused by the front seven or the secondary. Texas fell short in both categories, not only compared to the top teams from last year, but for a good portion of Big 12 teams as well.
Looking at the bigger picture, the table also shows the same range of teams alongside Texas for reference with two rates: the percentage of drives where the defense gave up a touchdown and the percentage of opponent drives where they were able to move the chains at least once. Texas only having better rates than UL, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, TCU, and Kansas is incredibly worrying, especially when they lost to two of those teams. Other teams like Ohio State and Michigan State can make the argument for having a tougher schedule with their matchups in the Big 10 and Alabama and Georgia are in a league of their own with championship-caliber defenses.
Even if Texas can reliably score four to six touchdowns a game with a fully-powered offense, it is banking on the defense showing out and not having a repeat of games against OU and KU from last year.
Texas kicks off against Louisiana-Monroe at 7 p.m. Central on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. It is expected to be an easy blowout, but it is also an opportunity for the offense to experiment with new talent and depth to fill key positions. A quick overview of Monroe’s key players includes their quarterback Chandler Rogers, who went 112-of-170 passing last year, tallying 1,311 yards through the air and 367 on the ground. Their backfield consists of a more traditional running back in Andrew Henry who racked up 485 yards and four touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry, as well as their dual threat Malik Jackson who is planned to be utilized in the slot. Jackson had 451 yards and three touchdowns on 5.6 yards per carry. He only had 10 receptions last year, but in 2020, he had 23 receptions, 189 yards and four receiving touchdowns. Slot receiver Boogie Knight finished with 45 receptions for 588 yards. Their other wide outs, Will Derrick and Zach Jackson, both had 25 receptions for 300-plus yards each.
For their defense, linebacker Zack Woodard had 89 tackles and 3.5 sacks last season along with three pass breakups and an interception, evidently being a well-rounded defensive leader for the team. Safety Jabari Johnson had 57 tackles and an interception and linebacker Quae Drake had 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. They lost some of their defensive back talent in the transfer portal this summer, giving Texas some playing ground to test out new deep threats to pair with Worthy. Returning for Monroe up front are defensive tackles Sir’Darrius Ellis and Caleb Thomas. They each had 2.5 sacks last season combining for a total loss of 33 yards. Their experience will provide a decent challenge for the young Longhorns in the offensive line and again hopefully allow ample practice for Bijan and possibly Keilan Robinson before the Alabama game next week.
Texas hasn’t quite returned yet. Injured key players and a defense that seems underdeveloped compared to the work done on the offensive side could ultimately lead to another underwhelming season. Along with Alabama, Texas will have difficult matchups against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Baylor, who are all ranked in the preseason AP Top 25. Throw in Kansas State as another wildcard matchup and losses against these opponents could drive Texas into a spiral similar to last year. While the floor is ideally no lower than 6-6, big wins against Oklahoma are also great upturns for the season (referencing 2018’s 48-45 showdown that led to a 10-4 finish with a Sugar Bowl victory). If Texas shows out through the first half of the season, then 9-3 seems plausible. While it may not be a playoff-bound year, it is exciting to see how Sarkisian improves in the second year and set up the team for the arrival of Arch Manning and an absolutely stacked 2023 class of recruits.