5 Quick thoughts: Texas loses its composure

Sam Ehlinger (Will Gallagher/IT)

Sam Ehlinger (Will Gallagher/IT)

That was disappointing defeat, if for no other reason than the simple fact that it would have guaranteed Texas’ first winning season since 2013. That somehow unreached goal is still out there for Texas if they can win the bowl game. In the meantime they probably just helped Kliff Kingsbury secure another year as the head coach at Texas Tech.

Quick thought no. 1: Texas blew that game

Kris Boyd played like a maniac throughout that game, trying to will the Longhorns to victory. He had five pass break-ups, an INT, and several physical tackles including one just before the marker on a third down and another just before the end zone. He also held Tech WR Dylan Cantrell to two catches for 12 yards. The rest of the Longhorns really crumbled under the pressure of that game, which was frankly rather surprising given how many close games they’ve already played this season.

The Longhorns coast to victory without the four turnovers they committed. Calling a passing play on third and two was certainly curious, particularly in an area of the field where Texas had been going for it on fourth down throughout the night. Sam Ehlinger’s decision to throw across his body there was certainly poor, Texas’ scramble drill play has been weak all season but it was downright terrible tonight and it cost them dearly.

Ehlinger’s second interception was largely indicative of an area of much needed growth this offseason, his deep sideline throws. Texas Tech’s gameplan conceded single coverage on Collin Johnson and Ehlinger struggled to hit him throughout the night (4 catches for 30 yards, a penalty, and several misses). For the costly late interceptions in crunch time, there were plays left on the field earlier in the game that would have made a big difference in this game. It’s an area for obvious growth this offseason.

Texas also fumbled a punt on their own 31 and fumbled a run on the Texas Tech 32 yard line. DeShon Elliott fell down on a game-winning TD pass and Connor Williams committed a holding penalty on a key final drive. The Longhorns looked like a freshman team overcome by the moment tonight, which is disappointing because while they’ve made freshman errors throughout the season they’ve been stronger late in games.

Quick thought no. 2: Texas Tech’s linebackers controlled the Texas offense

Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks were running to the football and Tech was able to cover down outside on Texas’ wide receivers without much fear of being left undermanned in the box. Granted, Texas didn’t run the ball behind Connor Williams as much as any of us would have liked, but this was a major challenge for the Longhorns in this game.

The Raiders were able to deny some of Ehlinger’s scrambles with their LB speed, held Texas to 116 rushing yards at 3.5 yards per carry, and prevented the (ideally) run-centric offense from putting the game out of reach in the second half. Ehlinger ended up attempting 47 passes on the day and averaging 5.1 yards per attempt while throwing a sole TD and then of course the two fourth quarter picks.

Texas’ inability to run the ball in this game was jarring and they looked poorly prepared to attack the Red Raiders’ gameplan (lots of man coverage. Most of Ehlinger’s 10 carries came on scrambles and Texas didn’t do much to try and force the issue against the Raider fronts with option runs, instead trying to beat Tech with RPOs outside vs man coverage. Ehlinger was decent on those but he’s not there yet and beating man coverage with RPOs is a challenging task.

It would have made a lot of sense to come at Tech with more power-read or other run schemes involving the QB so that if Ehlinger had to carry the offense he could do so with his legs. Or conversely, the lead draw RPO that burned West Virginia in man coverage might have been a useful tool. The one new run they carried into the game was the Stitt sweep tosses to Jerrod Heard that were executed decently but frequently relied on successful stretch blocking to the right side that has been iffy all year.

Quick thought no. 3: Texas needs some work on goal line offense

Tom Herman this spring gonna be like…

Texas struggled to punch the ball in on straight hand-offs, Ehlinger misread a zone-read play that was bizarrely blocked to begin with, the goal line rub play failed for the umpteenth time, John Burt failed to hit Ehlinger when wide open on a WR reverse pass…it was an ugly, ugly day on the goal line.

Texas didn’t make great use of the double TE set here but instead motioned Reggie Hemphill-Mapps back and forth behind the line in a manner that was obviously setting up the perimeter rub route that has failed countless times this season and tended to end in disaster. The WR reverse pass to John Burt seemed to be aiming to give Burt the edge with wide open Ehlinger as an outlet…a quick pass and Texas gets six points there. Then they later ran a crack screen for Chris Warren that Ehlinger threw into the dirt, either because Warren was getting smothered at the line and the play had little hope or because the ball came out of his hand poorly.

Texas failed to build on what was effective on offense against West Virginia, particularly in the red zone.

Quick thought no. 4: Texas missed some of their veterans on defense

This loss isn’t on the defense, few of them have been. They completely shut down Tech’s run game (1.8 ypc), picked off two passes (maybe should have been two more), and held the Raider passing attack in check until late in the fourth quarter when the whole team seemed to be undergoing a steady collapse.

However, they weren’t as sharp in this game as in previous contests and it was easy enough to spot reasons for their struggles. Davante Davis had an INT and some other nice plays when being physical underneath with a safety over the top but he was picked on some in man coverage when he didn’t have the assist. Antwuan Davis played a solid game but he tends to drift some in zone rather than matching routes and Jason Hall struggled to have as much impact in the robber position. Texas mostly missed Holton Hill in this contest, which isn’t shocking given how he was playing this season and how well Tech tends to throw the ball, but we hadn’t really seen Texas be punished yet for failing to have the star junior out there.

Poona Ford also missed some snaps and Texas’ missed his penetration up front, Breckyn Hager made a lot of plays in the second half and would have also been useful in the first.

Malik Jefferson led the team in tackles, as he has all season, and finished with an eye-catching eight solo tackles in this one. Texas is going to miss him next season.

Quick thought no. 5: Another frustrating season is coming to a close

Texas ended up being very young this season and lacked the depth to survive the rash of injuries they had nor the identity on offense to build from week to week. They can go to a bowl game and salvage some of this season with a nice win that gives them that long looked for winning season, particularly if the win came against a noteworthy opponent. Still, this season had quite a few disappointments and included multiple wake up calls on where the program is at this point.

They’ll have 15 bowl practices soon for the first time since 2014 and I’m sure we can all pick at plenty of holes on this team that could stand the extra development, to say nothing of the potential holes emerging on the 2018 roster. They have a freshman quarterback that gained a lot of experience and a fair few trial and error lessons he’ll have to own and swallow this offseason, a cast of talented young skill players out of which some leading men need to emerge, and then an offensive staff that Tom Herman is going to have to take a careful look at for year two.

That loss was particularly hard because it erased a lot of the good will and impressions of real growth made by this team, but they’re still well positioned to go into this next offseason with a strong idea of how to finally get over some of these humps.