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Texas vs. West Virginia: Advanced stats preview

The Longhorns struggled with their rushing PPA in last week’s loss to the Red Raiders.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Virginia Tech Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Texas Longhorns fell to the Texas Tech Red Raiders on the road in overtime, 34-37. Texas led 31-17 in the third quarter before allowing Tech to mount a comeback to make the game 31-34. Texas was able to make a solid drive in the last twenty seconds of regulation to get Bert Auburn within range for a 48-yard game-tying field goal. Unfortunately, on the first play of overtime, Texas running back Bijan Robinson fumbled the ball, opening the door for Tech to win with any score.

This week, Texas hosts West Virginia back at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, with kickoff set at 7:30 p.m. Central on Saturday on FS1. Texas was believed to be in the clear after their close game with Alabama as they followed up with a dominant second half performance against UTSA. Anomalies aside, it seems like the Longhorns were not present on both sides of the ball during the back half of the game against the Red Raiders. It is becoming concerning whether Texas can gather themselves, with or without Quinn Ewers, to muster a solid Big 12 record and fight for a spot in the championship game.

Offense

While the Wildcat formation seemed to flourish in the UTSA game, it blew up multiple times this past weekend due to poor reads and execution. Texas seemed to be moving the ball well through the first half. Quarterback Hudson Card was wheeling and dealing with touchdown passes to running back Keilan Robinson and wide receiver Xavier Worthy. Card finished the game going 20-of-30 passing for 277 yards, and rushing for 24 yards on three carries. Bijan Robinson finished with 103 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. Below is the PPA and usage breakdown for the Texas offense in the Tech game.

A brief re-explanation of PPA — it is the predicted points added per play compared to the predicted value. Each down for a rushing or passing play has a predicted value based on field position and yards to go. PPA measures how well a player is meeting that expectation, playing above or below it. Running back Roschon Johnson’s PPA can be attributed to his 15 yards on nine carries and possibly poor play calling and blocking to get him holes to break through. Worthy saw limited snaps battling a leg injury early on in the game.

Based on individual player metrics, it seemed as though the Longhorns had a decent performance. However, the issues stem from the lack of production in crunch time. They were significantly slowed down in the third quarter, and they were unsuccessful in trying to chew the clock with the running game. In the last three drives before Auburn’s field goal, Texas had three, three, and five plays only able to use 1:29, 0:55, and 2:28 minutes of time on each of those drives respectively.

The West Virginia rushing defense is more forgiving than what Texas Tech have had on the season (-.048) and hopefully Roschon and Keilan can aid in mixing up the rushing attempts. Card does a good job at following Sark’s scheme and Texas is known to come out strong early. The worry is blown leads and if the playbook becomes exhausted too quickly.

Key Mountaineers on defense to watch out for are mostly in their front seven. They give an interesting look which has a defensive line that can rotate between playing the tackle and edge. This includes Dante Stills (nine tackles, two sacks), Taijh Alston (10 tackles, one sack), and Sean Martin (nine tackles, one sack). In their linebacker corps, Lee Kpogba (24, zero sacks) plays the Mike, while Jared Bartlett (9 tackles, 1.5 sack) and Lanell Carr (four tackles, zero sacks) play the Bandit. This Bandit position is impressive in passing coverage, but they are also rolled down to the line which causes offensive lines to constantly adjust. West Virginia’s secondary gives up 204.5 passing yards per game. However, their last two games against Towson and Virginia Tech have shown a more composed defensive back unit.

Defense

The Longhorns also fell victim to Tech’s Air Raid offense in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Donovan Smith was able to keep Texas on their toes, passing at a much higher level than weeks 1-3. He was 38-of-56 passing for 331 yards, two touchdowns, surprisingly no interceptions, plus 42 yards on the ground. Below is the usage and PPA for the Mountaineers offense this season.

West Virginia is pass heavy, passing on 55 percent of plays compared to Texas, which is about 48 percent. They have a very fast tempo offense which is the same reason the Red Raiders were able to tire out the Longhorns defense with 100 plays. Quarterback JT Daniels currently has a QBR of 75.0 on the season. Last week against Virginia Tech, he went 20-of-30 passing for 203 yards and a touchdown. One notable is that he is second to last in the Big 12 in completion percentage under pressure at 42 percent. In the last two games, Texas has created 75 pressures on the quarterback, but has only recorded one sack. Smith and Harris were much more mobile and their scrambling ability played a role in evading tackles for loss. Daniels is not as agile as the last two quarterbacks, but like Card he can move if he needs to move.

The Mountaineers’ receiving corps is built well at each position. Bryce Wheaton (27 rec, 319 yards, four TDs) is targeted the most often and is their proven deep threat, Kaden Prather (20 rec., 220 yards, one TD) is a strong and tall Y receiver who makes defenses have to worry about the other side of the field, and Sam James (13 catches, 219 yards, two TDs) fills his role in the slot. Although Tony Mathis might not be an elite running back, their offensive line is working better than the Longhorns, generating 3.3 line yards per rush. This balance can stretch the Texas defense and they will have to respect each receiver as well as the run game.

Big 12

I wanted to dive deeper into another metric that helps visualize how well teams are managing the ball and whether their schemes are as successful as they ought to be. The chart below squeezes a lot of information together. It measures the conversion rate for a first down dependent on what down an offense is currently on. The stacks of percentages do not total 100, nor the total conversion rate (because it is a weighted average). The stacks are to show the distribution of first downs a team gets, given they were previously on first, second, third or fourth. The percentages instead indicate how often a team gets a new set of downs on that given play/down. The chart below displays this for passing plays only.

To show an example of reading this, let’s start with Texas Tech, who leads the Big 12 in passing first downs. They have converted 31 percent of their passing first downs into about 27 new first downs. They converted 48 percent of their passing second downs into 32 new sets of downs. So on and so forth, 20 percent of their third downs into six first downs, and 67 percent of their fourth downs into six conversions. Collectively, their conversion rate when passing is 37 percent and they have tallied 72 passing first downs.

Furthermore, they are sorted first by their overall conversion rate, Kansas has the best at 49 percent. And if there is a tie, then it goes to their total downs. For instance, OU, OKST, and Texas are all at 40 percent, but OU has more total passing first downs.

The next chart displays the same logical information but with the rushing offense.

Stay tuned for next week’s preview — I will generate the same graphs for passing and rushing defenses across the Big 12.

Summary

West Virginia suffered an early loss to Kansas, but at this point we have zero clue what that means. They have a talented offense that can easily take advantage of any lackadaisical mentalities on defense. Maybe the loss to Tech has humbled Texas, and they will come in respecting what the Mountaineers are capable of accomplishing.

We continue to countdown the days until Quinn Ewers can return, but it can’t be an excuse for every underwhelming Big 12 performance while maintaining a desire to stay in the race for a conference championship. Oklahoma losing to Kansas State helped balance the emotions last week. Either Baylor or Oklahoma State will walk away with a loss this weekend as well. It’s up to Texas to seize the opportunity and get pack on path.

Texas is a 9.5-point favorite against West Virginia, according to DraftKings.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.