There is still a path to the playoffs should the No. 7 Texas Longhorns choose to accept the challenge. The remaining schedule consists of unranked teams, all in which they need to demonstrate their top-10 status ahead of a possible rematch with the Oklahoma Sooners in the Big 12 championship. This past weekend, Texas looked unsteady, among some other top-10 teams, in their narrow victory against the Houston Cougars due to few crucial calls going their way. The Longhorns will have to buckle down and fix some issues before hosting another set of Cougars from BYU this Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
Creating space for running back Johnathon Brooks proved to be difficult in both the Oklahoma and Houston games. As he was recently named as First-Team Midseason All American, we have been blessed with another amazing running back. An early exit from center Jake Majors against OU seemed to be a crucial factor in creating even more opportunities, especially in goal line situations. And it basically took UH defensive tackle Jamaree Caldwell leaving the game due to injury to allow CJ Baxter to get to the next level for another momentum shifting run. Below are the run blocking grades for the Horns this season as well as how they performed in recent games.
As already discussed by Gerald Goodridge and Jacob Neidig, red zone issues have grown apparent for this Texas offense. Like the red-zone defensive stop chart I made prior to Kansas, below is how each red-zone attempt has broken down for the Horns on offense. I have included all Big 12 teams plus consensus top-15 teams in the nation for comparison. To add context to the total number of red-zone attempts, I have added the number of games played next to each team. The percentage at the right end represents the red-zone attempts resulting in no score.
It should be immediately alarming that the Texas conversion rate is so low and do not seek comfort in the fact that Ohio State, Oregon, and Washington are floating nearby. Texas ranks the lowest among the AP top 15 in touchdown rate in the red zone at just 50 percent, often having to settle for the field goal. This number also ranks 11th in the Big 12, with only Baylor, Cincinnati, and TCU having worse red-zone touchdown rates. Again, we can continue to make the argument that Oklahoma’s stats are influenced heavily by their strength of schedule prior to Week Six, but frankly Texas is not closing the gap as conference play continues.
This week, Maalik Murphy will be taking over as quarterback while Quinn Ewers is sidelined. We haven’t him seen throw the ball too much this season when he’s been able to play, but you must give the man props for patiently waiting for his opportunities in such a talented quarterback room. He completed 3-of-5 passes for 40 yards against Rice, missed his only attempt against Baylor, and was 1-of-2 for seven yards against Houston. While it would be amazing to see him come out guns blazing, as well as utilize his massive and athletic frame, the Horns should continue to lean on Brooks to push the ball downfield. BYU gives up 4.31 yards per rush, 79th in the country.
Furthermore, defensive tackle Jackson Cravens (9 tackles, 0 sacks), edge Blake Mangelson (14, 0.5), and strong linebacker AJ Vongphachanh (46, 0) rank in the top 10 at their position in the conference in run stopping while the rest of the team is average or below. Mangelson, along with interior lineman John Nelson (6, 0) and edge Tyler Batty (34, 3.5) are the only members ranking highly in the pass rush. Overall, the Cougars rank better in their passing defense, allowing 6.82 yards per attempt. They frequent interceptions and pass breakups and this performance centers around corners Eddie Heckard (4 pass breakups, 3 interceptions), Jakob Robinson (3, 4), Kamden Garrett (2, 1), and free safety Crew Wakley (2, 0).
Before OU, I gave a shoutout to the tremendous job the defensive front has been doing especially the stellar combo of T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy. In fact, the run stopping ability has shown through and not played down to the level of the opponent. Below is a chart showcasing the line yard averages the Longhorn D allows through each game. Line yards are those gained within five yards of the line of scrimmage, second-level yards are in the 5–10 yard range, and open-field yards are any gained after that.
However, the lack of havoc events recently has come as a surprise, but I believe this front seven has the capacity to compete as they did against Alabama. Below are the havoc rates for the front seven vs the secondary over the course of the season. A havoc event occurs when a defensive play results in a sack, forced fumble, tackle-for-loss, pass breakup, or interception.
From the eye test alone, we have seen some blown coverages or flat-footed safeties lose the deep pass over the middle. While the defense still ranks highly in the nation, some concerns do need highlighting. Below is a table displaying how each player performs in pass coverage on the season and the colors are graded to the percentiles of the entire FBS. Reception percentage and missed tackle rate are supplemented with average depth of target (ADOT) as positional differences require covering different levels of the field.
For reference, the average reception rate across the league for players who have played a minimum of 20 percent of defensive snaps is 68.5 percentage, and the average missed tackle rate is 12.5 percentage. Will linebacker David Gbenda has definitely come up on big plays, but his reception rate and missed tackle rate are both quite high. Safety Jerrin Thompson has struggled with missed tackles as well. Terrance Brooks has been phenomenal in pass coverage so far and Jalen Catalon has shown the force he brings in tackling.
BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis wants to throw the deep ball but isn’t really good at it. At the 20+ yard range, he is 6-of-18 on the left, 4-of-13 over the middle, and 2-of-12 on the right, tallying three touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite spots are over the middle completing 36-of-49 at the 0-10 yard range, and 12-of-25 at the 10-20 yard range. A big plus for Texas is that he is a pocket passer unlike the threat of mobile quarterbacks most opponents have had. Without the worry of contain, Texas may be able to be more aggressive in their play calling. Below are the PPA and usage metrics for BYU’s offensive players.
BYU is 120th in the nation in rush yards per attempt which makes their offense very one-dimensional, and I don’t anticipate them even attempting to put the ball on the ground often considering Texas’ run defense. Incumbent back Aidan Robbins suffered an injury earlier this season and didn’t really look back to 100 percent last week against Texas Tech. LJ Martin has been a sufficient replacement, but his numbers are influenced highly by the infrequent explosive run.
Kody Epps had the most experience at receiver coming into the season but has been continuing to rehab an injury as well. Chase Roberts is the deep threat but doesn’t catch many passes down there primarily due to Slovis’ inaccuracy. Darius Lassiter lines up on the other side of the field but has only reeled in 59 percent of his targets. Isaac Rex is very similar to Houston’s Manjack from last week, who really can just be described as an oversized slot receiver with his route-running ability.
Texas will definitely need to create space for Brooks and Baxter up front to feel in control on offense. It will be exciting to see the edge Murphy can bring once he gets comfortable but the Cougars are ballhawks which can be dangerous for such a fresh quarterback. The Longhorns can easily reduce the options BYU has to score but the issue we’ve seen previously is allowing big passing plays even when we know they’re coming. Riddled with injured starters, the way in which the Horns play this week to recover will be a solid indicator if they have the grit to win out. The current spread is -17.5, according to DraftKings.