The No. 22 Texas Longhorns are coming off a 41-20 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners in Austin last weekend. After a worrying 17-7 start by the Roadrunners’ 1-2 combo of an onside kick followed by a double pass to score again, Texas came back in the second half and dominated. The Longhorns have scared us before with disappointing follow ups after their big non-conference matchups, but they showed some great consistency with their performance despite the slow start.
This Saturday, Texas will travel to Lubbock to play Texas Tech. In what might be another highly competitive year for the Big 12, this week we will be analyzing the matchup against the Red Raiders as well as how the Big 12 landscape looks before conference play kicks off.
There really isn’t much new to say about the Texas offense since last week. We saw the running game flourish over the weekend as running back Bijan Robinson rushed for 183 yards on 20 carries and finished with three touchdowns. Fellow running back Roschon Johnson rushed for 81 yards on 11 carries as well. Quarterback Hudson Card had a decent performance — 15-of-23 passing, 161 yards, and a touchdown, concluding with a QBR of 55.2. Nothing eye popping, but we know that Sarkisian is leaning on Bijan until Quinn Ewers is able to return.
The Texas Tech defense gave up 27 points in their loss to No. 12 NC State last week and 30 points in their overtime win against Houston the week prior. Standout players to look out for are linebackers Tyree Wilson, who has 2.5 sacks and 21 total tackles on the season, and Krishon Merriweather with 0.5 sacks and 19 tackles. Defensive linemen Philip Blidi has two sacks and 11 tackles, and Tony Bradford Jr. has one sack and five tackles. Their front seven has been able to create some serious pressure in their first three games and could cause some trouble for the young UT O-line that is continuing to learn and grow.
The Texas defense had difficulty containing Roadrunners quarterback Frank Harris in the beginning, and it became worse as the secondary couldn’t get a lock on Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus who both accumulated 80-plus yards receiving. However, Longhorn linebackers Jaylan Ford and DeMarvion Overshown delivered down the stretch. Ford finished with 10 solo tackles, and 15 total. Overshown came through big time on a crucial sack on third down, but he was ejected due to a controversial targeting call. The appeal was rejected by the NCAA so he will be missing the first half of the Texas Tech game.
Texas Tech’s starting quarterback Donovan Smith has a QBR of 30.6 on the season, which ranks lowest in the Big 12. He has thrown for seven touchdowns but has five interceptions and 10 sacks on the season. The Texas secondary can step up and hope to pick off any passes Smith tends to force into coverage. Listed below are the PPA and usage for the Tech offensive stars.
Running back Tahj Brooks was used heavily in the ground game against Houston with 17 carries for 78 yards, but struggled against NC State, producing only four yards on four attempts. Their receiving corps racked up stats against Houston and Murray State, but only Myles Price was able to contribute effectively in last week’s game, with four catches for 50 yards and a touchdown.
This week, I thought we would introduce some different metrics to compare. An Eckel is a productive drive in a game which is determined if an offense can get a first down within 40 yards of the end zone or has a big play leading to a touchdown. It is slightly better than the red-zone percentage because field goals can still be hit from this distance and it factors scoring from outside the red zone. The Eckel rate is then the rate of productive drives in a game. Success rate is derived from a successful play which is one where an offense achieves 50 percent of the yards needed on first down, 70 percent of the yards needed on second, or a full conversion on third or fourth. Below is a table detailing all three metrics.
Apart from the two-quarter long stalemate against Alabama, Texas has been able to march the ball downfield at a decent rate — Sarkisian might not have the explosive deep passes with Card under center, but the Longhorns have been able to generate points. The Texas defense has been able to hold teams like Alabama at a success rate of 41 percent, so they have the potential to keep Texas Tech to 20 or fewer points. Purely based off of the rankings, NC State has been Tech’s most difficult matchup thus far, but statistically, the Wolfpack isn’t as offensively strong as the Longhorns and their defense has put up equivalent numbers. If NC State was able to hold the Texas Tech to 14 points, I have an overly idealistic expectation for the Longhorns to the same, especially when the Red Raiders passing game is not strong.
Big 12 comparison
Below is a graph displaying the difference in PPA for a team’s offense and defense in the Big 12 for the 2022 season.
Oklahoma and Baylor seem to be the biggest threats in the conference for now, while Texas has demonstrated that their defense can be a real force. We can hope that their offensive PPA rises when Ewers returns and Sark can utilize the full playbook. For a more detailed look into PPA, I have compiled the statistics below.
The big qualifier here is the strength of schedule of the season so far. Texas has had the toughest matchup out of the Big 12 with their game against Bama. Besides Kansas beating West Virginia in an overtime thriller, we are relying on the non-conference games to draw these conclusions. The Longhorns’ PPA margin seems below average in comparison, but note that TCU has had a very easy slate so far, and even then, their offense is heavily carrying them.
The Big 12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 this week — No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Baylor, and No. 22 Texas.
It seems like Texas has gotten through the big game hangover with their win against UTSA. Since the departure of Mack Brown, there is a correlation with how Texas performs in their David vs. Goliath-type matchups and how that affects the rest of their season.
When UT has close games against their primetime non-conference matchup, win or lose, it tends to set the tone for the rest of the year. A close margin in that game is a significant contributor to the total wins for that season (p value of .041). However, the Red River Shootout against Oklahoma results in a harsher penalty. Regardless of margin, a loss against Oklahoma severely impacts the performance of the rest of the season judging on the data of the past decade.
Texas is currently a seven-point favorite against Texas Tech, according to Draft Kings*. I would hope that Texas can produce a bigger margin of victory just off of seeing the advantages it has at multiple positions. A big win would help ramp up their momentum heading into the Oklahoma game in a couple of weeks. Texas still has room for improvement on both sides of the ball, and with a healthy Ewers, Sarkisian’s vision of a Big 12 Championship will begin to materialize.
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.