The No. 3 Texas Longhorns are coming off a victory against the Wyoming Cowboys that had us all holding our breath before a dominant fourth-quarter stretch. If there is a bright side, Sarkisian’s teams have transformed themselves from strong first half teams last year to great closers this season. However, moving forward, the Longhorns will have to find ways to demonstrate why they are a top five team, no matter the opponent, no matter the quarter. This week, Texas heads to the toilet bowl one last time as part of the Big 12.
To better grasp the unnecessary nail biter, the win probability chart for the game against Wyoming is displayed below.
Texas had a slow start, partially due to a struggling offensive line. However, the passing game failed to take off as well. After seeing some beautiful long balls against Alabama, quarterback Quinn Ewers was forced to look towards short and medium middle-of-the-field passes. He completed 4-of-6 passes in the 0-10 yard range which barely includes his rollout pass to the big man Byron Murphy. He completed just 1-of-4 passes in the 10-20 yard range, and missed both attempts in the 20+-yard range. Below is a table indicating the success rate by quarter and type of play for the Texas offense this past weekend.
Establishing the run helped allow Texas to continue to drive at least halfway down the field with most attempts either running between the center (Jake Majors) and left guard (Hayden Conner) or the left guard and left tackle (Kelvin Banks). Savion Red’s two gutsy conversions on direct snaps were successfully coordinated on wide right runs.
Before heading into conference play (although some Big 12 teams have already started), I wanted to quickly assess the quarterback debate within the conference. Below I have included box score statistics through the first three games of the season. For a frame of reference, I have included:
- the strength of schedule rating according to powerrankingsguru.com. A higher SOS rating means their schedule was easier.
- the average passing yards allowed by their opponents in their respective games. This is not passing yards per game for each Big 12 team but what their opponents averaged in allowed so far this season. The color code correlates similarly to SOS better indicating which quarterbacks have taken advantage of weak coverages versus who has been truly tested.
Together, these should paint a better picture as which quarterbacks have simply taken advantage of weak defenses and who has been truly tested so far.
On last weekend’s performance, Sarkisian said that there were some schemes that Texas just wasn’t prepared for. The Horns will have to face a similar circumstance as Baylor’s pass rush is their best asset and thrives on constantly changing which four or five to send at the quarterback. Their interior linemen Cooper Lanz (8 tackles, 0 sacks) and Gabe Hall (5, 1) don’t rate highly, but their edges Byron Vaughns (6, 2), TJ Franklin (7, 2), and Kyler Jordan (7, 0) along with linebackers Mike Smith Jr (15, 0) and Matt Jones (17, 0) have been effective.
However, that is where Baylor’s strengths end for the moment. They struggle to stop the run with Vaughn and Smith Jr. the only two to rank in the top 50 percent in run stopping at their position. Baylor’s passing coverage has been weakened by injuries and they currently give up 8.1 yards per pass attempt. In the secondary, their highest graded players are cornerbacks Carl Williams IV (one interception) and Caden Jenkins (two pass breakups). Strong safety Devyn Bobby is their highest-graded run stopper by a wide margin.
The Longhorn defense has grown to be elite and after a large run allowed on the first drive, they were able to effectively slow down the run game. A similar story shows in the success rate they allowed on passing downs as well, tightening up in the second half. I can’t iterate enough how different this trend is compared to last year where we consistently saw a third quarter drop-off in production on both sides of the ball. Regardless, of the difficulties in the first half, I believe this is proof that half-time adjustments by coaches and players are becoming much more impactful.
QB Blake Shapen left the first game against Texas State with an apparent MCL injury and Sawyer Robertson will continue in his place for the third week in a row against Texas. The transfer from Mississippi State has gotten off to a slow start. His three favorite spots on the field are as follows:
- Middle of the field, 0-10 yard range: 8/11, one interception
- Middle of the field, 10-20 yard range: 4/14, one interception
- Outside left, 20 plus yard range: 5/10
His last interception came off of his sole attempt down the middle of the field in the 20+-yard range.
If for some reason, Shapen makes a surprise appearance, he favors similar areas but with better success given his experience.
- Middle of the field, 0-10 yard range: 7/9
- Middle of the field, 10-20 yard range: 4/6, two touchdowns
- Outside right, 10-20 yard range: 3/4
Texas linebacker Jaylan Ford and nickel back Jahdae Barron have both shown their ability to read offenses, bait passes, and make game-changing plays. They will certainly aid in keeping the Bears offense one-dimensional. Below are the offensive statistics for the rest of the Baylor offense.
Arkansas transfer Ketron Jackson, along with Hal Presley, are two tall and lanky receivers targeted often down field. Texas cornerback Ryan Watts certainly has the speed to keep up with either of them. Slot receiver Jonah Burton is the middle of the field target, quick after the catch, but it seems that Robertson sometimes forces these passes into coverage if the first option to the X receiver is shut down.
Baylor runs the ball on the outside of the tackles, typically using the small and speedy Richard Reese for the wide runs. For runs up the middle, they turn towards Oklahoma State transfer Dominic Richardson. Richardson suffered a sprained ankle against Utah. He is still questionable going into this weekend, with Dawson Pendergrass being his most likely replacement in the rotation.
The Baylor offensive line has been struggling on the running front which will be a great opportunity for Texas to slow them down if they can seal the edge. Rolling down linebackers Anthony Hill and David Gbenda has proven to be incredibly useful in the pass rush, but they can contribute in keeping the Bears’ backs behind the line of scrimmage too.
Texas certainly cannot afford to walk into any more games this season with the same hangover. Despite Baylor’s weakness, they will be chippy at their last chance to take down Texas. The outside runs will be their chance to find explosive plays and their disguised pass rushes will hope to make Ewers uncomfortable. For the Longhorns, establishing the run early will build some confidence back into the offensive line, open up the playbook, and give ample opportunities to give Ewers his looks against a mediocre at best Bears secondary. The spread is currently -15, according to Draft Kings.