What a weekend! I was out of town, enjoying the company of friends and family, and that game! Much like last season’s Notre Dame season-opener, Saturday’s game did not disappoint. As stated in the preview, both teams were evenly matched. I gave Texas the slight edge only due to playing the game at home. The other perceived ‘edge’, passing, went the way of Shane Buechele on the sideline with a bum ankle. With that comes Sam Ehlinger and a different dynamic. Once the news of Ehlinger starting was confirmed, I issued the Twitter warning, BRUTALITY! This game was a bout of burnt-orange and purple Rock’em Sock’em Robots, trading shots all game, a thing of beauty. This one will surely force the staff to ask some serious questions. Also, I wanted to introduce a little bit about SB Nation Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly and his ‘5 Factors’.
Offensive Line – This was a surprise. Though the unit wasn’t dominant, they managed to create just enough protection and space for both Ehlinger and the backs. The main concerns, aside from the new right tackle, were the new center and left tackle, yikes!
– Terrell Cuney: The backup center performed admirably. He did well on double-teams and often drew a tough assignment against KSU’s defensive tackle, Will Geary. Geary tended to win the solo match-ups.
– Denzel Okafor: This young man had himself a day. Again, you don’t need to be a world-beater. You simply have to be effective on most downs, run and the pass. Okafor showed promise.
Sam Ehlinger – Sam is not as accurate a passer as Shane, but his ability as a run threat changes the dynamic. Sam was 30/50 (60%) for 380 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 INT. That is great and reaches a threshold (IMO) that may force the staff to stick with him. Add the trump card of 20 rushes for 107 yards and the offense is in business. To be clear, there is no knock on Shane, he’s a good player. However, the offense isn’t at a place to allow what Shane does best to shine the most.
Scoring Zone – Texas remains bad here. When you reach the scoring zone, you should come away with points. Some of it’s the staff’s fault, opting to go for 6 near the goal line. Some of it’s the kicker, inconsistent. He has a tough job. Some of it’s scoring zone execution, the offense’s inability to punch it in. Maybe I’ll write about this.
Defense – The defense matches personnel and situation. That much is clear. The problem remains limiting explosive plays, both run and pass. What you do like is the effort. This unit is taking pride in their work. As with any unit, they can improve. That’s a good thing because you suspect they will.
– Coverage: The defense focused on the run. That put some defenders in run-pass conflict. Teams continue to formation the B-backer to the slot when the ball is between the hashes. This effects both the run and pass. Also, you don’t like seeing coverage busts. They’re happening less, but the next two offenses on the schedule will kill you for that.
– 3rd Down (BUT!): Texas did a great job here. KSU was 2-11 on 3rd down. That is huge! Of course, KSU gained chunks of yards on standard downs, via the run and the pass. Add the more athletic and less-hobbled backup quarterback and things looked bleak for a spell. The defense needs to clean up the big plays. If and when they do that, they will be a very highly-rated unit. Is that possible in the Big 12? Yes.
Those are my takeaways, the things that stood out to me. I didn’t want to go into detail. Also, I wanted to give a broad overview of where Texas is and where they need to go, to win ‘bigly’. Mentioned above, Bill Connelly measures the ‘5 Factors’, Efficiency, Explosiveness, Field Position, Finishing Drives, and Turnovers. The reason these 5 factors are tracked is because each offers a very high statistical probability for winning. If you win in these categories, you win games. Of course, there are probably odd outlying games. With that said, ‘This Is Texas’ (Lol)!
Image courtesy of footballstudyhall.com
Efficiency is important, to say the least. You want the offense to remain on schedule and ahead of the chains. That means gaining 3 or more yards on 1st and 2nd downs and avoiding ‘Passing Downs’, 2nd with 8 or more yards and 3rd or 4th with 5 or more yards. On defense, it’s the inverse. Texas struggles here some, but is above-average. This is where false start and holding calls hamper an offense, as well as early down tackles for loss (TFL). Lastly, efficiency lends itself to the next Factor.
Explosiveness is something that is difficult to separate. In a nutshell, how successful are your successful plays? You can be very efficient while not being explosive and vice versa. It’s clear Texas struggles in this respect on both sides of the ball, often unable to ‘rip’ long runs and pass plays nor prevent them on defense. It has also cost the team games, 2 in fact. Solve this issue, win.
Field Position is something that’s often mentioned, but not a focus on game day. It’s VERY important. Win this battle, win the game in easier fashion. Put simply, your odds improve the more often you start drives closer to the opponent’s end zone. This also cuts both ways. You need good special teams, kicks and punts, you need first downs before punting, and you need first series ‘3 and outs’, to name a few things. Field position matters. In Texas’ case, the defense suffers most and that’s the offense’s fault!
Finishing Drives is obvious. When you reach the ‘scoring zone’, do you score? In Connelly’s statistics, it’s trips inside the opponent’s 40 yard line. Of course this differs from team to team. In Texas’ case, the staff has opted to go for it at or near the goal line rather than attempt a field goal. An issue, Texas’ field goal kicker has been inconsistent, but has made some important kicks. At the goal line, there’s a trade-off of sorts. If you lose, you get great field position and zero points. If you win you get 6 points and a kick. Personally, I don’t have a preference and I’m curious just how ‘the math’ fleshes out that decision.
Turnovers are another key component to winning and losing. This one is special, as turnovers, fumbles in particular, are often considered chance occurrences. Nevertheless, ball security is paid very close attention to by coaches. Remember ‘You lost to Kansas’? Well, it just so happens Texas lost the turnover margin bigly in that game. This hasn’t been too big an issue this season, though it’s come up, the SC game is a prime example. Anyhow, this one doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to understand, gotta win turnovers.
You see how Texas stacks up? This is mostly why they’re ranked 29 in S&P+ and not higher. The bigger question, how does Texas win the 5 Factors against OU & OSU? That my friends will take a gargantuan effort. Can they do it? I don’t know. As always, leave your thoughts in the comments.