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Inside the Numbers: Houston capitalized on struggles by Texas

The back end of the defense is thin and the Cougars took advantage.

NCAA Football: Texas at Houston Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but the then-No. 8 Texas Longhorns went on the road, survived a hostile environment, and kept themselves in control of their destiny in the race for the Big 12 Championship game.

Houston Cougars head coach Dana Holgorsen, one of the better offensive minds in the country, found a matchup in the Texas defense he liked, going back to the same concepts and racking up yards and points against the Texas defense. For the second game in a row, the Longhorns’ were unable to adjust to what the opponent was doing offensively and it nearly cost them against the Cougars at TDECU Stadium.

Total defense: 65 plays, 392 yards (378 passing, 14 rushing)

Generally speaking, Pete Kwiatkowski’s defense exists to make a team one-dimensional.

Houston managed just 14 yards on the ground, the lowest rushing total since minus-5 against USC in 2018 and the third double-digit rushing game of the year. The mindset is if we take away one aspect of the game, it becomes easier to defend the other, however, the Cougars took advantage of a banged-up Texas secondary to great success despite being one-dimensional.

Houston quarterback Donovan Smith, who was electric against Texas a year ago when he was at Texas Tech, repeatedly found the soft spaces underneath the Texas zone and moved the ball freely to set up the Houston comeback. All three of his touchdown passes came during a stretch in which he went 16-of-19 passing for 186 yards, with 10 of those passes going for first downs or touchdowns for the Cougars. His two favorite targets, Matthew Golden and Jake Manjack IV, both saw their fair share of work in that stretch, each with four of their eight receptions and a score in that stretch.

This marks the second time this year that Texas has allowed more than 300 yards through the air, joining the blowout win over Baylor for that distinction, just one shy of last year’s total with five games still on the calendar.

Houston Cougars: 3 sacks, 8 tackles for loss

After finishing their last three games with three sacks, including being kept off of the sheet a week ago against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Cougars created havoc in the Longhorns backfield and brought down quarterback Quinn Ewers three times.

Houston capitalized on that pressure in key situations, with two of those three sacks coming in the second quarter as the Texas offense sputtered and Houston surged, both ending Texas's scoring chances. The first came on a third and short, forcing a three and out, setting up the first of Houston’s second-quarter touchdowns. The second came with 26 seconds left in the first half, as Texas tried to put together a last-second scoring drive, which ended up running out the clock.

This marks the fourth consecutive game in which Texas has given up multiple sacks, allowing 10 in the last three contests – five against Oklahoma and two against Kansas.

A year ago, Texas allowed just 19 sacks all year and had just five games with multiple sacks allowed.

Jonathon Brooks: 150 total yards (99 rushing, 51 receiving), 5.36 ypa

Brooks saw his streak of 100-yard games snapped, falling one yard shy of the mark but still had a big impact on the offense.

With the game on the line, following a big return from Keilan Robinson, Brooks toted the rock for four of the next five Texas snaps for 29 of his 99 yards, setting up the 16-yard, go-ahead touchdown run from freshman CJ Baxter. Perhaps most impressive is the ability of Brooks to create positive yardage regardless of the situation, with just one of his 20 carries going for no gain.

This was his biggest impact in the passing game, setting a career-high in receptions thanks to Ewers’s early choices to check down to him and keep plays alive rather than take a sack or force a pass downfield. In another favorable comparison to Bijan Robinson, who became known for his abilities as a pass catcher out of the backfield, Robinson had just one game with as many receptions in his career and just four of his 31 career appearances bested that career number.

With uncertainty around the health of Ewers heading into the final five games of the regular season, the Longhorns will likely rely heavily on Brooks, especially as they head home to take on the BYU Cougars, who lead the all-time series with Texas 4-1, including a pair of massive blowouts to end the end the Mack Brown era and usher in the Charlie Strong era.