5 Quick Thoughts: Holgorsen lands the jab

Devin Duvernay (Will Gallagher/IT)
Devin Duvernay (Will Gallagher/IT)

A gut wrenching loss in Austin. Dana Holgorsen predictably took the Mike Gundy gameplan on offense, made a few tweaks for his own team and personnel, and then went out and took it to the Texas defense for 578 yards of offense, 42 points, and most devastating of all, 232 rushing yards.

Meanwhile, the Texas offense continued their growth that has been brewing since they stomped Oklahoma in Dallas and put the team in position to pull out a win with 2:34 left on the clock. But Dana Holgorsen was playing for keeps and had TWO brilliant calls in his back pocket for that two point conversion. We’ll break that down in a minute.

Overall it was a tough loss that wrested control over their own destiny from the Longhorns’ hands and played spoiler to Todd Orlando’s reputation as a spread-busting DC. It’s probably not worth totally breaking down the scenarios from here until the day is done but Texas is obviously in precarious position given OU’s likely strength down the stretch and West Virginia’s possession of a tie-breaker advantage. Even as I write this, Kyler Murray is throwing an INT from deep within OU territory.

The bigger concern though is the deteriorating play of Texas’ defense with Kliff Kingsbury and Matt Campbell still looming on the schedule. Both of those guys can watch film too.

Quick thought no. 1: Tight officiating. Nothing goes in that game.

It wasn’t to the detriment of either team, in my estimation, and it wasn’t all wrong but it was VERY tight. Texas took seven penalties for 64 yards while West Virginia racked up 14 for 120, maybe half of that on “horns down” taunts.

The “holding” penalty on Elijah Rodriguez on Texas’ final FG drive was a tough for the Horns, forcing them to throw the ball around when they had the West Virginia defense completely whipped for 5-10 yards on any run call they wanted to send in. That was one of many calls that showed up in this game that you’d normally see ignored even if twice as egregious.

Will Grier and friends’ insistence on coming over to taunt the Texas student section after their game-winning two point conversion nearly cost them the football game when they had to kick off to Texas from 15 yards back off the normal placement. Kris Boyd got called for DPI on one play that looked like textbook pass defense, the officials were working the defensive holding penalty on DL trying to grab jersey as a means of spoiling combo blocks. And of course, Yodny Cajuste got sent to the locker room for throwing a punch that didn’t come close to landing. There were the reviews or non reviews on spots, usually after Sam Ehlinger runs, that hurt Texas.

Just one of several things that made this game into a roller coaster. This is the sort of game that makes B12 officials into a negative for the league brand, even if many of the calls were correct. It was like an NBA finals game where all of a sudden calls that aren’t made are being enforced up and down the field. Eventually both teams adjusted and we moved on from this as a major distraction to the game.

Quick thought no. 2: Texas has a big problem on defense

I think that’s obvious enough. West Virginia forced Texas out of their dime package in this game because Texas couldn’t do the one thing that makes the dime package such a deadly answer to these Air Raid attacks…stop the run. It wasn’t a schematic issue, although B.J. Foster wasn’t bringing enough size to the edge on the Mountaineers’ stretch runs.

Texas is going to keep seeing that play every week because it picks at their biggest weakness, lack of either lateral agility OR decisive play from Mac LB. This was Anthony Wheeler’s worst game as a Longhorn and I say that knowing that
A) By all accounts he’s a great kid who’s giving everything he can for the program and
B) Saying this was his worst game is really saying something because he’s been a sieve much of the year.

It was bad though. Texas kept getting creased on stretch runs as WVU would double the nose AND the play side DE because they knew that Foster wasn’t strong enough to set a hard edge and because they knew they didn’t need to block Wheeler if they could get a stretch by blocking up the DL. If you tried that on an Iowa State LB or that Garrett Wallow kid at TCU you’d be watching him run through the line to inflict TFL after TFL.

Eventually Texas moved to nickel so that they could free up that play side DE to avoid the double and that limited some of the damage but the double team of the nose still gave Wheeler fits.

Then the Mountaineers had this little formation, which was good for about 10 yards whenever they wanted it:

WVU's assualt on Wheeler

Texas started playing a lot of two deep coverage over the slots because they couldn’t trust the Anthony Cook/Josh Thompson duo to hold up down the field in man coverage without help over the top…you saw that on their final score. Boyd didn’t need help, he was outstanding all game and lived up to what I expected from him coming into a big game. But two deep coverage means that the Mac has to match up on a #3 receiver and this formation ensured that said matchup would take place in as much space as possible.

This is untenable, you can’t bleed yards in the middle of the field with someone that is easily exploited on both standard and passing downs. I bet you anything that Wheeler feels terrible, knowing that he was targeted while his team was gashed.

The solution? I dunno. Shark was pretty bad in his limited snaps at Mac (good at B-backer) and God only knows how things are going at practice. But they have to figure something out because these spread teams don’t allow you to “comb over” a glaring bald spot, especially if you have to do it with a freshman-filled secondary because your top safety goes out just before the game.

Quick thought no. 3: Ehlinger is jinx proof

Another big game from the sophomore signal-caller. 25-36 passing for 354 yards at 9.8 yards per attempt with three TDs and zero INTs or turnovers of any kind. Texas continues to never turn the ball over at QB, which is normally an ingredient for big success. It would be, if opposing QBs weren’t able to play free from doubt about where the ball should go because they’re just going to the same ATM on every other play call.

Ehlinger added 11 carries for 52 yards and a score, 10 for 61 if you remove the sole sack that the Mountaineers inflicted upon Texas. They should have had more Ehlinger rushing scores as well but we’re still building to that point.

The prayer off his back foot to Lil’Jordan Humphrey was unbelievable, then he hit him again on a similar throw under pressure, placing the ball in just the right spot. They kept coming back to the TE POP pass to Andrew Beck until it finally yielded a pair of big conversions on the final scoring drive.

Ehlinger is managing the game at a very high level but more than that, he’s executing some truly high level playmaking. I’d take Ehlinger over his counterpart in this game, Texas lost this one elsewhere.

I know they flashed the infographic of how many consecutive passes that Ehlinger has thrown without an INT not to jinx him but to celebrate him now being the record holder across the entire league, but it still feels like a jinx every time. Instead he responded by throwing a long TD pass to a wide open Devin Duvernay for what should have been the winning score.

Remember when the narrative after last season and then again after the Maryland game was that Ehlinger couldn’t be trusted in big moments because he makes risky decisions and fails to protect the football while playing hero-ball? Now he holds the record across a league known for elite QB play for throwing the most consecutive passes without an INT.

You could have made an argument that Texas should have tried to take more time on that drive but Herman really played it pretty smart and on defense they were determined on that final drive to make West Virginia work their way down the field against mostly two-deep coverages. It should have worked but then they got caught failing to get lined up and ready and Caden Sterns lost eye discipline in single high on a blitz while Marcus Simms blew by Josh Thompson for the score.

That’s two games in a row where Texas wins if they can put their QB in position to win the game late that they instead lost because the game-winning possession featured their defense on the field instead. Pretty bizarre in light of last season.

Quick thought no. 4: Texas lost that game with goal line calls

The first QB stretch call that West Virginia was deemed to have stopped after a review was a very tough break for Texas. Johnson could only have been a few inches short and it’s remarkable that Ehlinger didn’t pick that up. Perhaps his helmet should have been strapped on tighter but credit to West Virginia for being the first team to solve that scheme.

The second QB stretch call that West Virginia stopped on second and goal from the 1 for a three-yard loss was also defensible. Who’d have thought they’d blow it up again? But at that point you start to maybe wish you’d gone back to that QB power package from a double TE set that produced the first score of the game and looked as unstoppable as the old Belldozer scheme.

You had to be concerned coming off that sequence that Texas had just dominated the quarter and only added three points to their lead.

Meanwhile, West Virgina decided to put the entire game on their ability to execute from the three yard line. First they came out in the 4×1 set, and drew the timeout from Texas. Then they lined it up again on the hash and flipped the strength of the set so that David Sills V would be lined up on the right cornerback (Anthony Cook) rather than the left cornerback (Kris Boyd). Tom Herman barely got a timeout off before the inevitable slant route on an isolated freshman produced the inevitable conversion.

So, West Virginia had to go back out there with their go-to play call for that situation taken away and Texas totally matched up with Boyd moved over to deny the slant to Sills and everything else doubled up. But Holgorsen did a simple calculation, “if Texas is doubling up our four receivers and in tight man on Sills to the boundary…who’s accounting for the QB?”

Draw for Grier, West Virginia wins.

Quick thought no. 5: Season in the balance

Texas needs to win out and that’s it. The road game to Lubbock has been circled as the danger game, coming after the rest of the Raid bro gauntlet, but Texas’ sins on defense gave up two other games they could not afford to yield. That may or may not be enough to fulfill the goal of putting Texas into the Big 12 championship but they need to figure some things out.

Breckyn Hager went down in this game, as did Davante Davis. They had inexperience and holes across the defense in that game and there’s just too many to cover up. Meanwhile the offense is on a roll with a hot hand at QB, all four of the WRs in the base offense clicking now (Devin Duvernay is giving great effort, as is Andrew Beck), and a run game that nearly forced West Virginia to tap out if not for an unfortunate holding penalty and then a quick strike offense in the fourth quarter.

Todd Orlando is making a lot of money to try and figure out how to get Texas back to a level on defense where they can make enough stops to give themselves a chance to win the game. I don’t envy him the pressure or begrudge him the cash, but that’s it for the rest of the season. Fix the defense or Texas will not only miss the Big 12 title but may take additional losses that really put a damper on the successes of this season.

History major, football theorist.