“We still got a lot of games to win.”
I cannot stop thinking about Quinn Ewers’ interview after Saturday’s win by the Texas Longhorns over the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fresh haircut aside, all the talk about Ewers maturing and his leadership of this team showed in that succinct response along with his composed performance on Saturday. My voice was gone by halftime, and a slow third quarter had me worried that this was the Texas team we begrudgingly knew. However, as I descended the stands row by row in the fourth quarter replacing Bama fans who had exited early, each step brought me more confidence Sarkisian and company finally made the awaited culture shift.
This game was won in the trenches. After a worrying two sacks allowed in the season opener against Rice, I was dialing back my expectations. This offensive line came to play and more importantly, their ability to handle this rush helped Ewers read his progressions, analyze shifting matchups, get in his groove, and just launch some beautiful passes. Below is how each passing down ended for the Longhorn offense.
Ewers also regained his confidence in throwing the deep ball. He was 5 for 8 in the 10-to-20 yard range, four of those being in the middle of the field. In the 20-plus yard range, he went 1-for-1 in the outside left, and 0-for-1 on the outside right. But middle of the field at that range, he went 2-for-3, both leading to touchdown passes with his gorgeous rainbows to Xavier Worthy and Adonai Mitchell. There were a couple of passes to Worthy and Whittington that could have been potential scores or third-down conversions. These were either due to the scary choice to throw into double coverage or high targets designed to prevent the turnover that the receivers could just not hang on to.
Wyoming possesses a strong run defense with their front line being led by defensive tackle Jordan Bertagnole (13 tackles, one sack), nose tackles Cole Godbout (four, 1.5) and Gavin Meyer (four, zero), and edges Sabastian Harsh (seven, zero) and DeVonne Harris (six, one). However, when it comes to pass rushing, Bertagnole and Godbout are the more legitimate concerns. The star of their defense is middle linebacker Easton Gibbs (14, zeo) who was named first team All-Mountain West last year. He is equally and alarmingly present in both run and passing defenses with two pass breakups on the season as well.
In the secondary, their three highest graded players in coverage this year are cornerback Tyrecus Davis (three pass breakups, zeo interceptions), free safety Wyett Ekeler (one, one), and strong safety Isaac White (two, zero). The Cowboys averaged 6.8 yards allowed per pass attempt last season and it is also what they gave up against Portland State. They allowed 7.2 yards per attempt against Texas Tech which might be a better indicator of how they match up to Power Five offenses.
Texas could easily find ways to torch their secondary, but this game could be another useful test for the offensive line and establishing the run game before heading into conference play.
One point I have been making for some time is turning pressures into true havoc events. A “havoc” play is when the defense forces a fumble, tackle for loss, sack, pass breakup, or interception. This really is the difference make in last weekend’s win as well as having true contention moving forward. Below is how each passing down shaped out for Alabama’s offense.
To circle back to the offensive side for a moment, it finally felt like Texas ran the ball the right amount. Sarkisian was aggressive in the play calling, electing to pass in unusual circumstances. Most of the rushing attempts and success were through the left A gap between center Jake Majors and left guard Hayden Conner. For further clarification, the A gap is between the center and the guard and the B gap is between the guard and tackle. The C gap is off tackle, sometimes between the tackle and tight end depending on the formation, and the D gap is off the tight end. I plotted a graph below that should be a little bit easier to visualize the gaps if you note that the center is in between both A gaps. The vertical axis measures the total yards gained through these run schemes and the number above each bar indicates the number of attempts.
Going into this game, the consensus was that we needed to force quarterback Jalen Milroe to use his arm as that wasn’t his strength. The Longhorns gave up several 10-plus yard runs either through running back Jase McClellan straight up the middle or Milroe’s scrambles before locking it down in the second half. When looking at the success rate breakdown per quarter in rushing, the Longhorn D made a clear impact in slowing down the run. A reminder that success rate is either 50-percent yards gained on first down, 70-percent on second down or a third- or fourth-down conversion.
The Horns will continue to exhibit their unrelenting pass rush and composed coverage going into this weekend. Below are the current leaders in Wyoming’s offense. PPA measures the estimated points added above average when each player has the ball. I have also added their box score statistics so far this season in their 35-33 double overtime upset against Texas Tech and 31-17 win against Portland State.
The Cowboys have a run-heavy offense but lost their starting running back Dawaiian McNeely due to an ACL injury during training camp. Their backs have been working their way to make up for his loss and will be aided by Northern Illinois transfer Harrison Waylee, who will make his debut this Saturday. Jamari Ferrell and DQ James are more agile backs while Sam Scott (who is astounding 6’2 and 230 pounds) is used for short downs and goal line situations. Waylee will supposedly see opportunities in both situations as an all-around talent tallying 899 yards on the ground last year on 165 carries.
Quarterback Jared Peasley only completed 52 percent of his passes last year with 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He frequently relies on his legs to get out of situations. Similar to last week’s matchup against Milroe, Texas just needs to contain and force him to pass to keep this offense from gaining momentum. However, do not underestimate his willingness to run into dangerous defenders like former Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen.
Tight ends Treyton Welch and John Michael Gyllenborg are bigger threats as receivers than as run blockers. The tight ends and wide receiver Wyatt Wieland receive the most targets as when Peasley does to decide to pass, it is usually over the middle of the field. Slot receiver Ayir Asante’s biggest strength is his quickness after the catch.
I was in sixth grade watching Colt McCoy walking off the field, clutching his shoulder in the BCS Championship Game. And when we witnessed Ewers go out early last year, we all had the same flashback. This weekend we got to witness what this Texas team can do when at 100 percent and no numbers can explain what Longhorns felt nationwide. The Longhorns will host Wyoming at DKR with kickoff at 7 p.m. Central on Saturday. The current spread is -28.5 points.