Season 126, Episode 8 – The Stars At Night, Are Big And Bright

West Virginia exorcised its demons by thrashing Baylor; can we prevent Texas from exorcising their own against us?

When/Where

Date: November 3, 2018

Time: 3:30pm EST

Venue: Darrell K. Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, TX

How to Watch/Listen

TV: Fox

Streaming: FoxSports app

Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMGon TuneIn Radio.

Gambler’s Corner

Spread: WVU +2

O/U: 58

UniWatch

West Virginia:

I like blue-white-blue, but after last week I think we should probably petition the conference to wear blue-blue-gold every game.

Know Your Enemy

Series History: (4-3). We’ve actually split our Big 12 matchups right down the middle, but I think we all remember that 1956 barnburner that saw the good guys emerge victorious by a score of 7-6. Last year’s 28-14 loss in Morgantown still festers.

Record: (6-2, 4-1). The Longhorns resume to date is lots of good bookended by two headscratchers. I think we’re likely to find out though that the real Texas is closer to the squad that ran away from Oklahoma than the one that lost to Maryland.

Head Coach: Tom Herman. After a rocky first season in charge, Herman now seems to have things heading in the right direction in Austin. This

Offensive Coordinator: Tim Beck. Beck is now in his second year at Texas after previous stints at Ohio State and Nebraska.

Defensive Coordinator: Todd Orlando. Orlando is one of the more well-known coordinators in the country, and his first two seasons in Austin show why. The Longhorns have long had some of the best athletes in the conference on that side of the ball, but Orlando is the first guy in nearly a decade to have them playing to their potential.

By the Numbers

Welcome to “By the Numbers”!

First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.

Second, definitions for the uninitiated:

Big Play Differential = (Big Plays For – Big Plays Against)

Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin

NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position – Opponent Average Starting Field Position

Havoc Rate = (Total TFL + Passes Defended + Forced Fumbles)/Total Plays

There’s really not too much that jumps out at you when you first glance at Texas’ radar profile, but then you realize that that’s kinda what jumps out at you – they’re above average or better at just about everything. Just as there are no overwhelming strengths, there are also very few glaring weaknesses, and that presents a unique challenge.

One thing I’m watching tomorrow – who’s able to finish their drives in the end zone? We appear to have a solid edge in terms of red zone offense, while they appear to have a similar advantage defensively. I expect both offenses to move the ball in their own way, so whoever is able to consistently come away with 6’s instead of 3’s will likely be the happier team by about 7pm.

When we have the ball..

Players to watch: NT Chris Nelson, DE Breckyn Hager, LB Anthony Wheeler, LB Gary Johnson, NB PJ Locke, CB Kris Boyd, S Brandon Jones, S Caden Sterns

Defining success: Finish drives in the endzone

The Longhorns defense took a massive step forward last year in their first year under Todd Orlando, finishing 8th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game, 3rd in 3rd down defense, and 1st in defensive touchdowns. They’ve regressed slightly from those heights following the graduation of a whole herd of All-Conference and All-American caliber players, but they still have plenty left over to field a very strong unit again in 2018.

Schematically they generally run a three-down front anchored by three seniors, with Chris Nelson at the nose flanked by Breckyn Hager and Charles Omenihu. All three of these guys are extremely disruptive, though we will receive a small boost this week with Nelson missing out due to injury. Linebackers Gary Johnson and Anthony Wheeler are both high-level players, as well, sitting 1st and 4th on the team in tackles, respectively. Where they really excel though is in the secondary, where I’m not sure that they have a guy on their 2-deep who wasn’t at least a high-rated 4-star player coming out of high school. The leaders of the group are nickelback PJ Locke, corner Kris Boyd, and safety Brandon Jones, but really they’re talented enough across the board that it’s difficult to pick any one guy as the standout performer. They’ll definitely be the stiffest test that our passing game has faced to-date, though I am confident that we can get open and move the ball on them provided that Will has time to throw (and hopefully he will – Texas ranks just nationally in sacks).

As for our key to success, I already mentioned that I think finishing our drives with touchdowns is going to be crucial tomorrow. I do expect us to move the ball, but based on the overall talent level of that secondary I don’t think we can depend on as many big plays through the air as usual. If that holds true it’s going to be very important that we tighten up our ball security and execute in the red zone. If we’re able to punch it in on better than half of our red zone trips then I expect us to be right there with a chance to win it at the end.

When they have the ball…

Players to watch: QB Sam Ehlinger, RB Tre Watson, RB Keaontay Ingram, WR Lil’Jordan Humphrey, WR Collin Johnson

Defining success: Shut down the Ehlinger run

Herman’s offense looks a bit different in Austin than it did in Houston, but the Longhorns have carved out a nice identity for themselves over the last two years as a kind of rich man’s version of Kansas State. Their modus operandi is to establish the QB run and then build off of that with RPO’s and play-action, and while it’s generally not overly flashy (32nd percentile nationally in yards per play, 21st percentile in big play percentage), it’s undoubtedly effective (60th percentile in points per game, 69th percentile in 3rd down offense).

Everything starts with sophomore QB Sam Ehlinger. Ehlinger split time last year with Shane Buechele, but his performance so far in 2018 has left little question about who the better option is, throwing for 230 yards per game on 64% completions with 13 touchdowns against just 2 interceptions. Even more impressive than his work through the air though is his contribution on the ground, where he runs with a physicality that belies his position and sets the tone for the rest of their offense. I mentioned against Iowa State that I thought Brock Purdy had some whiffs of Ehlinger in his game, and if the outcome of that one doesn’t worry you about this one then I don’t know why you’re wasting time reading this.

As for his skill position mates, the primary ball carriers (other than Ehlinger himself) are senior Tre Watson and freshman Keaontay Ingram. Expect Watson to get the majority of the short yardage and goal line work while Ingram provides a much more dynamic option between the twenties and on passing downs. Out wide they have four very capable targets in Lil’Jordan Humphrey, Collin Johnson, Devin Duvernay, and tight end Andrew Beck, but the two we need to pay special attention to are Humphrey and Johnson. Neither of them have gamebreaking speed, but both of them have big bodies and great ball skills and will probably look to bully us in 1v1 situations the way Hakeem Butler did for Iowa State. Up front they’re about exactly what we’ve come to expect from Texas at this point – big, physical, and relatively well-seasoned with game experience.

The key for us is going to be stopping the run, and stopping the Ehlinger run in particular. As I mentioned above, their offense depends on the run to facilitate everything else that they do, so if we stop that we stop them. I expect us to feel reasonably confident about selling out stop it on early downs, and then at that point we just have to hope that our 1v1 matchups on the outside go better than they did a few weeks ago. With that in mind, pay attention to their 3rd down situations tomorrow – if they have some 3rd and longs sprinkled in there then we’re probably doing a pretty good job of limiting Ehlinger.

Closing Argument/Prediction

Make no mistake – Texas is the best team we’ve played this year, and they should be well-motivated in front of a sold out crowd after letting themselves get caught out against Oklahoma State last weekend. On paper that sounds like a recipe for a classic West Virginia letdown, and I’d be absolutely terrified of it happening had we not already laid a boulder-sized egg in Ames three weeks ago. Now that we have it out of our system though, and after exorcising any remaining demons against Baylor, I’m expecting nothing less than an absolutely fantastic matchup both stylistically and aesthetically.

Regarding the latter, it’s always a beautiful mix of colors when we play Texas, with their burnt orange clashing wonderfully against our blue and gold, but it’s the former that has me really excited. Texas is a big, physical, grind-you-into-dust type of football team, preferring to go through their opponents while we go over and around. That could be bad news for us if we fall behind early, but I’m expecting us to come out guns blazing. If we’re able to stand up to their running game even a little bit then I think we have the chance to run away from them, but it’s much more likely that this one’s close into the 4th quarter. At that point, I generally back the team with the better quarterback, and for this year at least that’s still us.

West Virginia 38 Texas 30

Source: Smoking Musket