Strange things happen when you play in Lubbock.
That statement will forever ring true for me and while yesterday’s matchup wasn’t the weirdest Lubbock game I’ve watched it will still qualify. Maybe it was the fact that after the Texas Longhorns offense executed a flawless one minute drill offense to send the game to overtime, they watched their All-American running back put the ball on turf to set up the Texas Tech Red Raiders to win the game.
Bijan Robinson isn’t one that is known for poor ball security. In fact I had to go searching game logs to see when he last put one on the turf (Iowa State last year). That one will be magnified given the timing and the situation it occurred.
While that play will get the most air time, I’m more focused on the plays that led up to the overtime sequence — Robinson is hardly the sole reason this game ended up in the loss column.
There is a lot to discuss, but I am going to do my best to condense it done to my usual five observations.
This was a winnable game in several ways. The Texas coaching staff and the players will likely what-if themselves a bunch in the coming week.
The defense struggled to get off the field
Coming into this matchup it was known that Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski had a good track record defending the Air Raid offense during his time at Washington when he would face off regularly against Mike Leach’s Washington State squads. While I had a feeling Texas Tech quarterback Donovan Smith would present some issues for the Texas defense due to his size and mobility, I had hope that they would hold a tactical advantage given PK’s previous success.
While the defense wasn’t blowing coverages left and right in Lubbock, they did struggle to consistently to get pressure on Smith, inflict turnovers, and get off the field when the opportunities presented themselves. The Texas defense was credited with only two sacks on 56 (!!!) drop backs, didn’t force a turnover despite him entering the matchup with five interceptions on stat sheet, and they allowed Tech to convert on 6-of-8 fourth-down attempts. Given that the Red Raiders were 7-of-20 on third-down attempts during the game, that is incredibly frustrating and illustrates just how many chances the Longhorn defense had to end drives and were unsuccessful in doing so.
On top of consistently allowing Tech to convert on their own merit, the Longhorns assisted them with untimely penalties that led to free plays for the Red Raiders that would ultimately result in first downs. The most egregious being a 3rd and 26 that the Longhorns were flagged for offsides and a pass interference because the defensive back panicked and grabbed the receiver.
That is recipe for how you end up on the field for 100 snaps despite the opposing offense only averaging 4.8 yard per play during the contest. This will get you beat more times than none and it absolutely bit Texas in Lubbock yesterday.
Offensive play calling was less than stellar in the second half
I am going to start this portion off by acknowledging the fact that wide receiver Xavier Worthy missed a portion of the game and certainly changed how Steve Sarkisian called the game and how Texas Tech defended the Texas offense.
With that said I have to say that some of the play calling in the second half a lot to be desired and some instances was very uncreative and predictable. I said it on Twitter during the game, but the RoCat (Wildcat) package needs to be scrapped completely until further notice. The interior offensive line is not getting consistent push in the run game and any time Texas goes to that personnel it’s almost always an inside run. Defenses have seen this and have adjusted accordingly and without any kind of wrinkles you are running yourself into a negative play. I want to say Sark went to this package three times yesterday and the most damning one for me was on 4th and 2 in the third quarter after Tech had turned it over on downs.
You have the entire playbook open in that scenario and you have a chance to really put Tech on the ropes early in the half. The RoCat package comes out and Tech is all over it. You give the ball right back and any chance of momentum is gone. While we are at it, I think the sprint out calls in “gotta have it” situations need to go as well. I am not a fan of cutting off half the field for the defense and putting the quarterback in a low-percentage situation. Sarkisian is a good play caller, but I really think he outsmarted himself with those calls.
On top of that, I would like to stand on the table for my targets for Jordan Whittington. Whittington appeared to be able to get open early and often and was proving to be a reliable target as usual. When Worthy went out I figured we would see in uptick in targets, but instead Whittington ended the game with only four catches for 53 yards. On the opposite sideline, Joey McGuire had Smith force feed Myles Price to the tune 13 catches on 17 targets. Not sure if Sark got gun shy once Worthy left the game, but I think he should have put a smidge more trust in his quarterback at certain points.
Hudson Card was good enough to win this game
That is now two starts in a row where to my eye Card has played winning football. Despite still hobbling at times Card still made plays with both his arm and feet in some key situations, including a 22-yard scamper to move the sticks. It is encouraging for me that Card is starting to use his athleticism to his advantage when he is able to process that his options are covered and he has green grass to work with.
The biggest negative on the day was of course the interception where he didn’t look off the safety who was sitting in the middle of the field and also didn’t make a quality throw. He also self sacked himself against a three-man rush early in the game, but he bounced back from both miscues.
Card still isn’t 100-percent healthy and he was down his number one target for a portion of the game, yet he still turned in a performance that could have won the game for the Longhorns. You can win games with him under center, but the staff needs to continue to protect him and not put him in tough situations.
This team still struggles to finish opponents
Knowing how to put your foot on your opponent’s throat and apply pressure until they go to sleep is something good footballs know how to do. Last year we saw this Texas team establish leads only for them to fade in the second halves of games and never recover.
Yesterday’s performance wasn’t exactly like we saw in 2021 from the Longhorn football program, but it was close enough given that they lead by double digits in the second half and only managed to the find the end zone once after doing so three times in the first half.
When you have your opponent staggered and on the ropes you have to be able to deliver the haymaker that puts them on the mat for the good and this Texas team still hasn’t reached that point. Between the the offenses failing to sustain drives at times to the defense not finding ways to get off the field, it is team wide issue and has carried over from the previous season.
The head man has been tasked with fixing this issue since his arrival and if it does not corrected it is going to be tough sledding.
More love for Bert Auburn and the field goal team
I want to end this on a positive note, so I am going to highlight my guy Sideshow Bert before closing this one out. At the start of the season, I was a bit concerned with the direction the field-goal kicking situation was heading and those concerns were highlighted further after a couple of shaky operations against ULM and Alabama.
Since the Alabama game Auburn has been money. He has not missed a kick or PAT and in yesterday’s ball game he hit kicks from 40 and 48 yards out, with the 48 yarder coming with the time in regulation expiring. The Longhorn offense managed to get into field goal range in under 21 seconds and Auburn split the uprights to send the game into overtime.
The field goal team had to work out some the kinks early on, but Auburn has without question exceeded expectations and he has placed a firm grasp on the field goal kicking duties.
As usual, fire away in the comments!