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Inside the Numbers: Defense led Longhorns while Maalik Murphy found his footing

The new quarterback struggled early in the game, but found his improved throughout the game as the defense suffocated the Cougars.

NCAA Football: Brigham Young at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

In spite of missing quarterback Quinn Ewers, the No. 7 Texas Longhorns took care of business at home in a 35-6 win over the BYU Cougars on Saturday and moved to 7-1 on the year, their best start since the 2009 season.

It looked a bit dicey early, with backup quarterback Maalik Murphy turning the ball over twice as he adjusted to the speed of the game and got his feet underneath him. Thankfully for Longhorn fans, the Texas defense was up to the task of shutting down BYU while Murphy settled in and closed the game better than he started.

Turnovers: BYU 2 INT, 1 Fumble. Texas 1 INT, 1 Fumble.

Early in his first start, Maalik Murphy struggled with things many quarterbacks do in their first start, slow reads, late throws, and making a bad play worse while trying to do too much. For his trouble, BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis showed why he’s on his third team in as many years, chipping in three turnovers, two interceptions and the aforementioned fumble to essentially end the day for the Cougars.

The difference between the two teams, and ultimately the game, is how each team responded to turnovers.

After each of Murphy’s turnovers, the Texas defense responded to the quick change admirably, forcing a turnover of its own after the first and holding the Cougars to a short-field field goal after the second. Conversely, Texas responded to all three BYU turnovers with touchdowns on just nine total plays.

More often than not this season, the Longhorns have done a decent job of taking care of the football and sit +4 on the year in turnover margin. Texas has been on the wrong side of the turnover margin just twice this year, the 38-6 win over Baylor and the loss to OU. The difference between the two games is once again how the defense responded.

Against Oklahoma, Texas allowed an easy touchdown on the fist of the Sooners’ extra possessions, while against the Bears, similar to BYU, they held to a short-field field goal and a failed fourth down conversion.

Maalik Murphy: 16-25 (64 percent), 170 yards, 2 TD, INT

Speaking of Murphy, the quarterback likely didn’t love the way the game started, opening the game 3-7 for 24 yards and a touchdown, but Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian was committed to letting him find his rhythm and it paid off for Texas.

Following the bad start, Murphy rebounded well, completing seven of his next eight attempts, capped by a 30-yard dime to Adonai Mitchell to finish a 10-play, 75-yard drive to give Texas a 21-3 lead. Murphy finished the game strong after the disastrous start, completing 13 of his final 18 attempts for 146 yards and two touchdowns with a 13-yard laser to Mitchell serving as an exclamation point on his day.

It seemed like part of his struggle may have been forcing the ball to dynamic playmaker Xavier Worthy, who was the target on three of his first seven passes, including the first-quarter interception. On the day, that connection was not as strong as it could have been, with Worthy bringing in just four of his 10 targets for 27 yards.

Third downs: Texas 6/11, BYU 2/13

One of the biggest differentiators for the Longhorns against BYU was their ability to convert on 3rd Downs, an area that’s been downright bad for the Longhorns not just this year but throughout the Steve Sarkisian era.

This marks just the second time this year that the Texas offense has been better than 50 percent on the money down, joining the 9/15 performance against the Kansas Jayhawks for that distinction. Part of the advantage for Texas is that they regularly avoided putting themselves too far behind the chains and took advantage of the short distance.

The Longhorns averaged just 5.2 yards to gain on third downs and faced just two third downs longer than eight yards. More than half of their third down attempts were shorter than four yards – converting three of them and gaining an average of nine yards on all third down attempts. That number is floated by the 34-yard game-ending touchdown from Jaydon Blue, one of their four third-down conversions that came on the ground.

Conversely, the Texas defense was suffocating on third downs, with the 0/8 performance against those same Kansas Jayhawks as the only better performance. It was actually the second-worst performance from BYU this year, with a 2/4 outing against TCU earning that dubious honor. Texas put BYU behind the chains early and often, averaging 7.3 yards to go on third down, with nine of their 13 attempts coming from beyond five yards, going 0-9 on them.