The No. 7 Texas Longhorns escaped 33-30 in overtime against the Kansas State Wildcats after blowing a 27-7 lead. While fans rejoice in the fact that playoff hopes are still alive, there is also a dire need for the return of Quinn Ewers at quarterback as well as possible change in play-calling approaches. This weekend, Texas heads to Fort Worth for their final Big 12 matchup with the TCU Horned Frogs. Last year’s game between the two was interesting to say the least as Texas gave TCU their most difficult game offensively but struggled to produce any points of their own either in the 17-10 loss.
Texas continued to struggle with third- and fourth-down conversions against Kansas State. They currently rank 82nd in the nation at 37.19 percent and it has shown to be a real difference maker. There is a massive reliability on the Longhorns to score from outside the red zone as mentioned in previous weeks. Their success rate drops significantly once crossing the 20-yard line.
Below I have plotted every third-down attempt from the season based on the EPA. EPA is expected points added and is measured off of how much better or worse the average player would have performed given the down, distance to go, and yard line circumstances. It is safe to assume that plays with a positive EPA resulted in the first down, while a negative metric means a failed conversion. There are anomalies to this, for example, where third and long wasn’t necessarily converted but the offense gained yardage that made the difference to put them in field goal range. But this has only happened once so far for the Longhorns. I am also really fascinated by the use of Savion Red in the Wildcat formation, so I have distinctly labeled those data points in a tasteful red to show his plays.
Texas clearly has many failed third-down attempts, but the worrying factor is that they are getting worse at them. Apart from the BYU game, the average EPA generated on a third down has been on the decline since Week Five. Utah, Texas, and Kansas State are the top three defenses in the nation when it comes to opponent third-down conversion rate. Oklahoma comes in at eighth and luckily no other Big 12 teams rank that high. But TCU and Iowa State are still in the top half and could provide another scare, especially in games on the road, and winning rights on the line for the foreseeable future.
There is a consensus that Sarkisian should just take the field goal when up a couple scores instead of attempting to build momentum with another touchdown. Below I have constructed the same graph but for fourth downs, including the Savion Red plays again.
The Longhorns had three incredibly momentous fourth-down plays last weekend:
- fake tush push pitch to CJ Baxter that resulted in a 54-yard touchdown
- fumbled snap from Savion Red on the opposing 12-yard line
- 16-yard pass from Murphy to JT Sanders on opposing 37-yard line
Now given the circumstances and impact of the fourth down, the EPA gained/lost is going to be more contentious than that of third downs. Sarkisian has defended his aggressive play calling even after the three failed attempts vs BYU, but I would like to see us save the trickery for when we really need it. The extra attempts in the Wildcat formation have just given opponents more film to watch and possibly even understand how to stop it.
TCU’s defense is smaller up front with a 3-3-5 base package. They currently rank 76th in the nation in rush yards allowed per game. Nose tackle Damonic Williams is their best threat up front in stopping the run, followed by edge Caleb Fox. Sam linebacker Namdi Obiazor is a top tier run stopper in the conference. However, linebackers Johnny Hodges and Jamoi Hodge (I know right, what are the odds?) rank about average in the conference. Williams is also the most prominent pass rushing threat, tallying 29 tackles and two sacks on the season. Hodge is sent the most often from the linebackers, racking up 51 tackles and 2.5 sacks, but Obiazor leads the team with four sacks.
TCU currently ranks 81st in the nation in pass coverage allowing 7.14 yards per attempt. Their notable players are Obiazor and cornerback Josh Newton, who has had three pass breakups and an interception so far. Texas has weapons at every position to take advantage of this developing defense. Xavier Worthy and AD Mitchell can beat most Horned Frog defensive backs in man granted they are given catchable balls. Furthermore, Texas fans will look back to Jonathon Brooks yet again to establish the energy of the game early on against a struggling run defense. Hopefully we get to see a Doak Walker moment from him that we have been eagerly awaiting (possibly a 250 yard game???).
On the recurring topic of red zone conversion, the update for this game is that Texas ranks 98th in the nation in red-zone conversions. Luckily, TCU ranks 68th in red-zone defense with only Houston and Cincinnati having worse rates in the Big 12.
Kansas State figured out that there was no way of running the ball against the Texas defense, but in the second half, their subpar passing game appeared as though it was the foundation of their offense. Texas continues to leave large cushions for their corners as sort of a prevent/bail tactic. I understand the logic of wanting to keep everything in front of the secondary to prevent major plays but resorting to this scheme only allowed Kansas State to gather momentum by finding consecutive passes in the intermediate range. Below is a compiled list of all pass completions and attempts against Texas this season and what area of the field they appear in.
Looking further into this, PFF publishes pass coverage grades based on whether the player was in man or zone coverage as well. Below is a table of the defensive players, the number of snaps played in each scheme, the snaps played per pass targeted towards their assignment, and their PFF grade.
Some quick notes are Ryan Watts wants the smoke. He is a great corner in man coverage and opposing teams seem to know this as well, desperately trying to avoid him as he plays 17.5 snaps per pass targeted in his direction. Terrance Brooks also produces a better grade in man. As expected, the safeties do perform better when they get to play deep zone coverages rather than being in Cover 0 situations (with the interesting exception of Michael Taaffe). At the linebacker level, Anthony Hill Jr. seems to be the only one who is better rated in man, while Jaylan Ford and David Gbenda play better on snaps in zone coverage.
TCU had a massive amount of turnover after their stellar year in 2022. Quarterback Chandler Morris was deemed the starter at the beginning of that season until an injury that allowed Max Duggan to take the reins. Morris tallied 12 touchdowns, five interceptions, and 1,513 yards through the air during the first six weeks of the season.
Josh Hoover has been the replacement since Week Six against Iowa State and throws over the middle almost exclusively because TCU doesn’t quite feel comfortable allowing him to throw riskier passes. While Hoover is 28-of-43 passing over the middle in the 0-10 yard range, and 22-of-34 passing in the 10-20 yard range. He has also thrown six interceptions over the middle through four games. If for some reason TCU decides to start Morris, he is still interception-prone over the middle but has a better completion percentage and they will be more likely to allow him to throw the deep ball. Below are the PPA, usage, and box score metrics for the TCU offense.
Oklahoma State transfer John Paul Richardson lines up in the slot and is a very similar oversized threat the Texas defense should be familiar with now (see Manjack from UH and Sinnott from KSU). He is also the highest-graded receiver in the conference. Savion Williams isn’t dangerous with the ball in his hands but has great ability on 50/50 catches. Texas transfer Jared Wiley is a force to reckon with at tight end and will be a tough matchup for our linebackers. Lead back Emani Bailey has been a reliable factor in their games and the Horned Frogs currently boast a rushing success rate that ranks 12th in the nation. They will swap in the bulkier Trey Sanders for short-yardage or goal-line situations.
The Longhorns defense continues to display one of the best red-zone stop rates in the country (currently third behind Michigan and Duke). While TCU ranks very well by most efficiency standards, they have trouble finishing drives in a worse manner than Texas. The mismatch is further exacerbated by the fact that TCU’s red-zone score rate is 124th in the nation at 69.4 percent, scoring 19 touchdowns and six field goals on 36 visits.
Texas has the pieces necessary to create another blowout, similar to what we have seen against BYU, Kansas, and Baylor which would tremendously help our resume as we near the CFP Selection Day. The circumstances of the game do favor the Horned Frogs and they are always frothing at the chance to send the Longhorns home with their heads hanging. Texas outmatches TCU at almost every position, but an unnecessarily aggressive offense paired with a timidly conservative defense can come back to haunt us yet again. These momentum shifts are significant and I understand the reasoning behind the play calling, but it has resulted in two scares and a loss. Nevertheless, the stars of this Longhorns team should be able to carry this group for another weekend. Draft Kings currently has the spread at -11.5.