Texas is bowl eligible! Texas ran for over 200 yards in a football game!
It was more obvious why the staff prefers Daniel Young at RB when the freshman turned 12 carries into 85 yards for a TD but nearly everyone was running wild for Texas against the Mountaineers. Kyle Porter was running hard with 53 yards on seven carries and Ehlinger was his usual self, doing some particularly nasty damage on a few scrambles and QB draws where his knack for making sudden and powerful cuts in the middle of the field tortured West Virginia.
West Virginia (and Texas, really) made things interesting but that was a pretty commanding win for Herman’s Horns with another similar victory likely in the coming week.
Quick thought no. 1: The boys are back in town
Texas getting Sam Ehlinger, Connor Williams, and Reggie Hemphill-Mapps back made a huge difference for this team. Shane Buechele started off decently, throwing seven passes for 28 yards (4 ypa) with one that should’ve been caught by John Burt for a first down. Then Ehlinger came in and threw 19 passes for 136 yards (7.2 ypa) with two TDs and a truly terrible INT. Ehlinger also added 68 rushing yards on nine carries (7.6 ypc) and a 23-yard reception.
His physicality on the field really takes things up a notch for this Texas team and his ability to extend plays allows them to push the ball down the field better and more consistently than with Buechele, despite the sophomore’s more consistently good placement on downfield throws. There’s no doubt this is his team and Tom Herman communicated as much for the world to see when he stuck with the freshman after that bad INT.
On that INT btw, Texas let a West Virginia LB slip through to the side Ehlinger was rolling out towards. That’s where a wiser QB has to take the sack but Ehlinger was juiced up after a big gain that set up their quick snap on this play and tried to do too much. He’ll learn from it and hopefully add another data point telling him how much improvement he can make by playing more in control and taking care of the ball and himself better.
Connor Williams looked like he’d been itching for a fight for weeks and weeks and he came out intent on picking up where he left off in 2016 when he was paving the way for D’Onta Foreman to run for 2k yards. Patrick Vahe went out early for Texas, for Terrell Cuney no less, and it didn’t much matter because playing next to Connor Williams is apparently not terribly difficult.
Reggie Hemphill-Mapps had a couple of big catches as well and looked healthy doing so. When those three guys are on the field Texas has three superior athletes and can present matchup problems for opposing teams. Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson present some issues as well of course but RHM puts this WR corps over the top while Ehlinger and Connor Williams upgrade the play of Texas in the box by a considerable margin.
Quick thought no. 2: The game broke with Will Grier’s finger
You know the play. He fumbles the ball thanks to a solid play by Brandon Jones and because the ball slips out, his fist opens and his extended fingers go into the turf…the middle finger doesn’t make it out alive. West Virginia lost their leader and engine on that play as well as a nearly guaranteed seven points.
Texas missed out on a lot of the breaks in this game. The refs reviewed and penalized Texas for offensive pass interference for the third consecutive week, Tom Herman has to feel like a guy who’s just been pulled over for going five over in the same small town for the third time in a row. They managed to miss an obvious facemask on Breckyn Hager but didn’t miss the obvious targeting that Hager (and Jason Hall, honestly) then immediately committed while running down Chris Chugonov. Gary Jennings made a ridiculous catch on a deflected pass and then West Virginia had a reception that wasn’t upheld. Then there was the absurd personal foul on Davante Davis for suplexing a Mountaineer receiver just after the whistle.
It wasn’t just blatant officiating AGAINST Texas, the Longhorns benefitted from the officials being well aware of the struggles of the Mountaineer center to handle Poona Ford and co in the middle of the field. However, there were a lot of small breaks that went against the Longhorns…but then one big break that went for them. Chris Chugonov made a gritty effort in this game but you could tell West Virginia was struggling to maintain fight and get back into this game once he was out.
Quick thought no. 3: Todd Orlando secured the win with his pressure package
Texas forced three fumbles in this game, recovered two, and made several big plays at key moments with the pass-rush. They only had two sacks but the pressure was constant and resulted in a few key plays that prevented the Mountaineers from executing their attempted comeback.
Then there was also an impressive play by DeShon Elliott erasing what could’ve been a big West Virginia score and covering an impressive amount of ground in the process. I’m not sure if we’re going to see DeShon Elliott in a Texas uniform next season, his tackling and play near the line of scrimmage has been good this year but it’s that kind of range in coverage that will get him snapped up by the NFL.
The move of Jason Hall to starting boundary safety in the dime package has been yet another smart tweak by Todd Orlando to make this “lightning package” all the more effective. He’s physical when blitzing on the edge and is just as capable as John Bonney in deep zone if perhaps not in man coverage. It’ll be interesting to see which of the two gets more action against the more pass-heavy Red Raiders next week.
Gary Johnson and Antwuan Davis fight hard on blitzes and while Texas hasn’t really had a dominant blitzer at the LB level this season these guys fight hard enough to cause problems for opponents in protection.
Quick thought no. 4: Chris Warren, 2018 Tight End?
Warren throws some solid lead blocks from TE and has the size to really do damage there if he puts in the work in the offseason to commit to that craft. Additionally, while he’s not always terribly hard to tackle at RB due to his inability to get up to speed quickly, when he has a few steps and open field to work in he’s a real load to handle.
Warren seems to make a catch and open field move afterwards in every game, he has 16 catches for 190 yards and a TD on the year, and he has a ton of obvious upside as a TE. What he might be capable of if he spent some time learning to execute more blocks or learning to run some routes out wide? What would happen if he spent the bowl practices and spring ball learning TE while Cade Brewer rehabs?
Obviously the coaches don’t need to be sold on this, we’ll see what Warren makes of such a move this coming offseason.
Quick thought no. 5: Texas bowl?
Texas is eligible to go to a bowl game now…so let’s talk about that for a bit. This is a big win for Herman’s program. Those bowl practices will be very valuable for developing depth, beginning to cement a team identity around Sam Ehlinger at QB, and helping the coaches get a sense of how to rebuild this team the following offseason. They have to know that Connor Williams, Malik Jefferson, Holton Hill, and perhaps DeShon Elliott (big game today) could be gone and those bowl practices will be round one for the young guys looking to earn a spot.
For the image of the program a bowl game is huge. It’s discernible progress for a team that hasn’t been bowling in three years and a perhaps a chance for Texas to get eight wins on the year. 8-5 is not bad for a year one, particularly one with as many injuries and as tough a schedule as Texas drew.
Finally for recruiting it’s an easy sell for Texas to continue to push the “Texas is back, get on the train or get run over” pitch when there’s real success on the field to point to as evidence in addition to the respectable showings against USC, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.
But here’s the real kicker, the Texas Bowl is a Big 12/SEC tie-in game. How much do you think the Texas bowl would like to reignite the rivalry by matching Texas against Texas A&M in this game? That’s an easy sell for Texas, who could be facing an interim coach, an Aggie team that may or may not be up for the contest, and perhaps a healthier and improved offense after some rest and extra practices. Just something to root for in addition to a 7-5 finish and sendoff for Kliff Kingsbury in what will likely be his final game as the Texas Tech head coach.