Do you know how many humans have ever been struck by Thunder? Zero. If you are old enough to have played Pokemon, you probably saw Pikachu use “Thundershock.” If you’re old enough to remember Lawrence Funderburke, you probably saw some guys get “Funderstruck.” But despite AC/DC’s best efforts, no one has ever been “Thunderstuck” (you’re looking for lighting… lightning-struck).
Per the National Weather service: Thunder is created when lightning passes through the air. The lightning discharge heats the air rapidly and causes it to expand. The temperature of the air in the lightning channel may reach as high as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit (five times hotter than the surface of the sun). Immediately after the flash, the air cools and contracts quickly. This rapid expansion and contraction creates the sound wave that we hear as thunder.
So maybe Texas athletics director A/CDC was on to something, as the fourth-quarter light and drone show (at Texas? Yea, Texas) utilized the classic rock anthem to create a sound and an energy that lifted the team. Immediately following the spectacle? Two solid runs and then the play of the game as Xavier Worthy struck as fast as lightning.
Now to the good, bad, and the ugly from Saturday’s 31-10 win by the Texas Longhorns over the Wyoming Cowboys.
The atmosphere was truly electric! I’ve been to far too many UT games to count and never had a gameday experience quite like that one. Del Conte deserves credit for revamping everything around the experience, taking Mack’s exhortation of when to arrive, how to sound, when to leave, and what color to wear and turning the amp up to 11. I think the lights, the smoke, and the drones will be a cherished tradition for years to come.
The Texas defense continues to be the bright spot on the team through three games. They are efficient and opportunistic. Though they gave up an opening drive 62-yard touchdown on a well-designed zone play with split flow that involved some poor fills and a speedy running back, they held the Cowboys to 2.5 yards per carry the remainder of the game. They scored only four points less than they allowed after a late-game pick six once the offense finally played complementary football and got Wyoming off their preferred game script. They held Wyoming to 4-of-14 on third down, but that was in large part to the best player on the field Saturday:
Nickel back Jahdae Barron was head and shoulders above the field with nine tackles (six solo) and one pass breakup in 34 snaps, earning a remarkable 90.7 PFF grade and a spot on their national team of the week. He had four solo, open-field, third-down stops that would be exactly what is taught in football equivalent of a Tom Emanski instructional video. They seemed to scheme at him on money downs, thinking he wouldn’t win a two-on-one, much less a one-on-one… and I simply don’t know what tape they watched to come up with that. Barron is currently the best player on the team and playing like a sure-fire All-American.
I never tire of saying it — “The special teams were special” with Will Stone booming kickoffs — the Wyoming kick return unit brought the ball out once and were tackled inside the 15 – and Ryan Sanborn booming punts: 48.3 average and a pin inside the five-yard line that was performed like a ballet by the Texas gunners. Keilan Robinson was solid on kickoff return, but the standout of the unit for me was Xavier Worthy, who had four punt returns for 59 yards, including a thrilling 32-yard run that had fans holding their breath, thinking it might be a house call (a missed block was the difference in a special teams touchdown).
Worthy looked like he knew he was the best athlete on the field and constantly wanted to attack. In addition to the return prowess, he had four receptions for 56 yards, including the game-changing, 44-yard touchdown that accounted for 34 percent of the passing offense (and the final pass attempt of the day).
It took a few quarters for the line and play caller to notice it, but the true star of the offense when finally leaned on was Jonathon Brooks, who attacked a light box and three high safety look to the tune of 21 carries for 164 yards. Brooks not only posted an 83.7 PFF grade, but also led all running backs in the country with 10 missed tackles forced. With no Cedric Baxter, he was decisive, quick with a first cut, and always looking to finish runs.
After a dominant performance against Alabama (made slightly less impressive once replicated by USF), the Texas offensive line looked second best through three quarters. It was the team in urine and brown who was imposing their will at the line of scrimmage in the run game early on. Though they only allowed three pressure on Ewers, there was a sack on a clearly blown assignment (against a 4-man rush) and a back foot throw that honestly should’ve been an interception in the red zone.
Speaking of turnovers, Texas was rolling in the fourth quarter and seemed to have all the momentum, scoring 21 straight including a Jerrin Thompson pick-six (Bugg has three interceptions in his last four games, going back to the Alamo Bowl against current Heisman favorite Michael Penix Jr. He had one in his previous 34 games). Every fan in the stadium was looking for a fourth consecutive touchdown and to end the second consecutive game with a “impose your will” four-minute offense to ice it. Though he got the first down on the run, Jaydon Blue’s fumble cost the Longhorns a chance at the narratively pleasing (and spread covering) 38-10 win and forced the defense back on the field (a commendable bend-don’t-break from the second unit). It also represented the first Texas turnover of the season, allowing Oregon and Penn State to claim the honor of the only teams with no turnovers through three games.
Offensive consistency… Texas managed 28 yards in the second quarter and 55 in the third, a net 63 yards total after accounting for penalties in the middle quarters. With only two negative plays on the day, the offense averaged 6.1 ypp — but 4.1 outside of the Worthy and Brooks explosive plays. Texas went 0-of-6 on third-down conversions in the first half, punted on four of their first six drives (they only had nine in the entire game due to Wyoming’s ball control), and lacked focus (I classify overthrows and drops as focus plays). They leave this game 89th in the nation in third-down conversions (17-of-45 for just under 38 percent), including 1-of-9 on third-and-long situations.
After the post-Bama praise, it’s only fair to summarize Quinn Ewers performance as ugly. He completed 11-of-21 passes for 131 yards and delivered two touchdowns (to Worthy and Byron Murphy, obviously). It’s worth noting that even in the midst of the game’s challenges, Ewers managed to extend his impressive streak of 205 pass attempts without an interception, (second-longest in program history)… but not for a lack of trying! Dropped interception aside, Ewers was 10-of-20 passing for 82 yards if you take out the Worthy yards after catch play and 2-of-9 on pass attempts longer than 10 yards. There were drops, but he threw half a dozen bad balls, threw into double coverage at least twice, and the best placed ball of the night was into double coverage on Gunnar Helm… when JT Sanders was wide open on a seam route less than 10 yards away. There were two separate drives where he threw for incompletions on first, second, and third downs: a threw-and-out, if you will. If you want a silver lining here, Quinn was 4-of-5 passing in the second half for 76 yards, so let’s hope that momentum carries into conference play.
With a 3-0 start for the first time since 2012, there’s plenty of reason for optimism, but there’s also work to be done to continue the success through conference play where Texas will be an easy chance for an opposing coach to score points with his fanbase (and the commish), as everyone wants to own the “scoreboard” over Texas on the way out.
This is an imperfect college football field, as evidenced by Texas moving up to No. 3 and receiving three first-place votes AFTER this game. The Texas non-conference strength of schedule is currently 11th in the nation and they are the only team 3-0 with all three wins against bowl teams last season. No conference opponent should be more talented than Texas, but that has been the case for 90% of their games the past decade.
If they want to keep the thunder rolling, they will need to balance the lightning strikes with being consistently efficient.