The Texas Longhorns were handed their first loss of the 2012 season by the West Virginia Mountaineers, 48-45, in front of a record Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium crowd on Saturday evening. This one was a battle of wills, and ultimately, Texas didn’t take advantage of the opportunities given them to come out on top, while the cool, collected West Virginia offense looked just like what they are: the best unit in college football.
Let’s take a look at how each of the positional groupings performed against West Virginia:
Quarterbacks : B
David Ash did his part to keep the Texas offense moving with consistency, finishing 22-29 for 269 yards and one touchdown on the evening, but also wasn’t given the license to throw the deep ball as he had been in recent weeks. Most of Ash’s throws were screens, short sideline routes, and shallow crossing routes to his receivers and tight ends.
Ash never looked rattled even under the bright lights and played up to expectations in large part. When asked to make tough deep throws into coverage late in the game his throws only allowed for his receivers to make a play and would not have turned into turnovers. In all, another solid job from the Texas signal caller.
Running Backs: B
With the absence of Malcolm Brown, Texas running backs Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray were called upon to take on a bigger role and they accepted it with confidence. Gray finished the evening with 87 yards on 14 carries and continued to hit holes with force and ran the WildHorn formation very well– including a series in the third quarter that was dedicated entirely to the formation.
True freshman Daje Johnson picked up 54 yards on two touches– one a 46-yard reception in the first half that electrified the DKR crowd– but was absent otherwise. D.J. Monroe didn’t touch the ball one single time– something that I’ll admit baffled me– especially given his success in jet sweep and sprint sweep carries in recent weeks.
Wide Receivers: C
Because they were so rarely thrown, in spite of the Baylor Bears’ complete success with the deep ball, I have to attribute David Ash’s lack of willingness to make these attempts to the Texas receivers’ lack of ability to create separation. A tell-tale sign of this was that Jeremy Hills— a little-used senior slot receiver– was Texas’ leading pass-catcher on the evening with six catches for 67 yards– the lion-share coming on a series of screens in the first half.
Jaxon Shipley and Mike Davis couldn’t create the space necessary to have the type of evenings the Baylor receivers did just a week prior and were largely unable to have the impact they should have.
Offensive Line: B
The Texas offensive line was solid again last evening, never allowing the West Virginia defensive unit to pressure David Ash too often or create negative plays. Ash was sacked only once in the second-half and the Texas running backs had holes to create positive plays– even if some were of the two and three-yard variety– throughout the ballgame.
Defensive Secondary : B
Of the Texas defensive units, the secondary had the strongest performance against the vaunted West Virginia defense. Obviously, Geno Smith had another amazing game, solidifying his Heisman Trophy candidacy with a 268 yard, four touchdown performance– but the Texas secondary never allowed the deep ball to beat them and made some nice plays in important situations.
Quandre Diggs and Kenny Vaccaro both played well. Vaccaro assisted on several second-level tackles when the elusive Mountaineers running back Andrew Buie broke the tackles of linebackers, and looked just like the NFL prospect he’s turning into.
You can’t hang the 48 points on the secondary, you can hang these points on the linebackers.
Linebackers / Ends: D
Apart from Jackson Jeffcoat, who was outstanding in both pressure and support, the Texas defensive ends and linebackers had a terrible game. West Virginia running back Andrew Buie sliced and diced his way through the second-level to the tune of 224 yards on 31 carries and seemed virtually untouchable.
Dana Holgorsen’s play-calling also allowed the West Virginia receiving duo of Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey to turn short passes over the middle into large gains due to the inability of the Texas linebackers to wrap-up. One thing was obvious, the absence of Jordan Hicks leaves a huge hole in the middle of the defense that can’t be overstated.
These large plays led to short fields for the Mountaineers which they took advantage of on every occasion.
Defensive Line: B-
The Texas defensive line did an adequate job on Saturday evening, but didn’t get the type of pressure needed to disrupt the methodical West Virginia offense. Desmond Jackson and Ashton Dorsey were bright spots, but as a whole the group was not disruptive enough. Geno Smith’s ability to have time in the pocket to work through his progressions was one difference in the game.
True freshman Malcom Brown, in fact, was the most impressive of the bunch, and should see a substantial playing time increase in coming weeks as Texas takes on two more pass-happy offenses in Oklahoma and Baylor that will test the resolve of the front four.
Special Teams: C
When you can hear 101,000 people hold their collective breath on every kickoff, it’s reasonable to assume there are issues with special teams. The long kickoff returns in the first half by Tavon Austin were enough to get the West Virginia offense rolling and proof of Texas’ inability to make plays in the kickoff game. Once Texas turned to the squib kick, this field position advantage was negated somewhat, but by that point, the momentum had already been established. On the flipside, Texas did not gain the advantage in its own returns as in previous weeks.
Although Anthony Fera did return for Texas– and was largely solid– his 41-yard field goal miss in the fourth-quarter was arguably the difference in the game. It’s hard to pin this one on Fera, however, given the opportunities Texas had on that drive which were wasted.
The Texas Longhorns face off against the Oklahoma Sooners next Saturday morning in the Red River Shootout– a game which will likely determine whether Texas tucks their tails and goes into a tailspin, or bounces back to regain some momentum in Big 12 play.
Kris Hughes is the College Football Network Manager for Rant Sports and a member of the Football Writers Association of America.
Kris is also the host of the Rant Sports College Football Hour on the TSC Radio Network on Sunday evenings at 8 Central Time and Rant Sports Radio on the Blog Talk Radio Network Wednesday evenings at 8 Central Time.