Archive for the ‘2022’ Category

Who is Texas?

Texas’ win over a ranked Kansas State team was their first road win of the season and only their second road win under Steve Sarkisian. The win put the Longhorns back into the College Football Playoff rankings and the AP poll rankings at #18. Further, the college football computer geeks like Texas. They’re #6 in the ESPN Power Index and the ESPN SP+ rankings. More importantly, the win over Kansas State coupled with Oklahoma State’s loss to Kansas means Texas will get into the Big 12 Championship if they win their remaining three games in the regular season.

With the win over Kansas State has Texas put their road woes behind them?  Are they going to perform going forward like the talent laden team they are should perform?  Or is Texas still the under achieving team they have been? In their two conference road losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, and in their road win against Kansas State they scored only three points in the second half.  They were lucky at home to beat Iowa State, a 4-5 team that is in 9th place in the Big 12.  Nine games into the season I don’t know who Texas is.

TCU vs Texas

Big game experience

Although TCU rolls into Austin sporting a #4 College Football Playoff Texas is currently a 7-point favorite. Generally, in college football the home field is worth three points so the oddsmakers think Texas is the better team. Like I said, the football computer geeks like Texas.

TCU has no recent experience in games of this magnitude. Texas played #1 Alabama a couple of months ago, but the expectations were low. Remember, most Texas fans and pro-Texas media were just hoping Texas could keep the game within two scores. Texas was playing with house money.  So, I don’t think either team has an edge in big game experience.

Quarterback

If Quinn Ewers plays up to his potential I don’t think either team has an edge in the quarterback matchup. If Sarkisian continues to call numerous deep shot attempts to Xavier Worthy and Ewers is having an off day I think TCU with Max Dugan will have the decided edge. Duggan can hurt you running or passing. Texas will have a tough time containing him. He leads the Big 12 in total passing yards averaging 267 yards per game and touchdown passes with 24. He’s completed 66% of his throws. Texas struggles in pass defense even against average passers. Duggan has run for 282 yards averaging 3.7 yards per carry which seems rather modest, but sacks are factored into quarterback rushing stats skewing yards per carry and total yards lower.

Coaching

I don’t see an edge for either team in terms of coaching. Dykes and Sarkisian have faced each other once. In 2014 Sarkisian’s USC beat Dykes’ California team 38-30.  

Sonny Dykes has won 56% of his games as head coach of Louisiana Tech, California, and SMU.  He was 25-10 at SMU and that success got him the job at TCU. This will be the biggest game of his head coaching career.

Ironically, Steve Sarkisian has also won 56% of his games as a head coach with stops at Washington, USC, and Texas. His best year was in 2014 at USC when he went 9-4.  Reviewing the recap of that season without much context it looks like if USC had beaten UCLA in their last conference game, they would have been in the Pac 12 Championship game. They lost to #11 UCLA 38-20.  Anyway, that’s ancient history. This will be the biggest game of his head coaching career. Win and he would have a manageable task of winning a road game versus Kansas, and a home game versus Baylor to get in the Big 12 Championship which would be a successful season. Lose and it’s wait until next year. Again.

Making plays

Before the Alabama game I wrote that Texas players needed to make plays when they had opportunities. In that game, Xavier Worthy dropped a very catchable ball in the end zone. D’Shawn Jamison dropped an interception that hit him between the numbers that would have ended an Alabama scoring drive. And Ryan Watts missed a sack that would have been a game a game clincher on Alabama’s winning drive for a field goal. Texas can’t afford to miss those kinds of opportunities on Saturday.

Tale of two halves

By now we’re familiar with Texas’ second half struggles in their losses to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. Last week in their win at Kansas State they only scored three points. What happens if Texas doesn’t have a good first half against TCU?

Classic matchup

This game isn’t a championship game. It’s not #1 versus #2 such as Nebraska vs Oklahoma in 1971 or USC vs Texas in the 2005 title game. But it is a classic Big 12 matchup of the 2010s. Those involve Texas with predominantly four-star recruits with a few five stars sprinkled in versus non blueblood programs like Iowa State, Oklahoma State, or TCU. Those programs’ rosters consist of mostly three-star recruits with a four-star here and there.  In the recruiting classes from 2019 through 2022 Texas’ average national ranking was 8. TCU’s was 38.

In 2020 after Iowa State beat Texas, Iowa State’s Breece Hall took to Twitter with “It’s five-star culture vs. five-star players.”  You know TCU will be coming into this game with five-star culture vs. five-star players chip on their collective shoulders.

Final

As Chris Schenkel said during the fourth quarter of the 1969 Texas, Arkansas game, “tension.”

We might get some Saturday night.

Song of the Week

When this song came out in 1977 and top 40 radio was still big in my life, it was played so often that I developed something close to a dislike for this song. In more recent years I have come to really appreciate it as one of the Eagles best.

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Kansas State Over/Under Results

On a day when the average score was 4.55, four players shined. Zach Moorhead and Dan Yoxall tied for first place with 8 correct answers. Zach and Dan both picked a winner, Georgia and a loser, Clemson against the line. So, it came down to their score predictions to determine the winner. Zach had Texas losing 35-17. Dan predicted a Texas road victory 35-31 so Dan wins this week. I’m not sure, but I think it’s Dan’s first win ever. Dan takes home $40 for the effort. Congratulations Dan!

D.R. Flower and Helen Frink tied for third place with 7 correct answers which blew away the field’s average of 4.55.

Interestingly enough, no player scored a 6.

Zach Moorehead and D.R. Flower were the only two plyers who predicted Texas would score less than 10.5 points in the second half.

We had another large field with 22 players.

Study up your stat sheets this week for the biggest game in Austin for the Longhorns in a while.

W.E.

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The Weak Link

Though I’m not an expert in analytics, frequently I use statistics as a guide and for inspiration in writing a column and formulating Over/Under questions. I was just looking at the Big 12 defensive statistics and was a little surprised to see that Texas is third in points allowed giving up 21.1 points per game. Then I noticed that all games are used in compiling these statistics not just conference games. And then I remembered that Texas hung a goose egg on Oklahoma.

When I think about Texas’ defense I remember the Texas Tech and Oklahoma State games. I also think about how the defense tried to give the Iowa State game away. You probably remember in the fourth quarter that Iowa State’s best receiver dropped a sure touchdown pass with no Texas defender within 20 yards. To their credit the defense sealed the win a few plays later by forcing an Iowa State fumble.

In my analysis of the Kansas State game and all the other remaining games on the schedule, I see Texas’ defense as the weak link that will probably cost Texas at least one of the next four games.

Texas’ defense doesn’t pass the eye test for me.

******

Since Kansas State’s defense is second in the Big 12 in scoring defense surrendering just 17.3 points a game, maybe analytics would tell you that the Texas – Kansas State game will be low scoring. The betting line on the over/under the last time I checked was 54.5. If I was dumb enough to bet on college or pro football I would be a sucker on this one for the over. I’m thinking both teams will score in the mid-30s.

Elimination game

I think this is a Big 12 Championship elimination game for Texas. The chances of Texas with three conference losses making the championship game are slim to none. If Texas loses to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State would have the tiebreaker edge on them. Texas Tech with three conference losses also has the tiebreaker edge on Texas. At least Texas has the edge on Oklahoma. I’m wondering if Oklahoma is getting back to being Oklahoma and are on their way to finishing the season with a 6-game winning streak.

The vision thing

I think the off week Over/Under contest will become a permanent fixture on Willie Earl in future seasons. I enjoyed compiling the answers of the 15 players who submitted entries.

Here’s how the predictions for Texas’ final regular season record broke down:

9-3: 3
8-4: 4
7-5: 6
6-6: 1
5-7: 1

The players at 9-3 have something I don’t. A vision of Texas wining multiple conference road games against worthy opponents.

It was interesting to me that only one player hedged their bet by putting their final record prediction in conflict with their predictions for the outcomes of Texas’ four remaining games. It was a smart move in my opinion.

The bowl game destination predictions for Texas were more varied and entertaining than I anticipated. Here’s how those broke down:

Alamo: 4
Cotton: 2
Cheez it: 2
Texas: 1
Sun: 1
Armed Forces: 1
Frisco: 1
No bowl: 1
Cereal: 1
Bluebonnet: 1

Ah yes, the old Bluebonnet Bowl. For those keeping score at home, the Bluebonnet Bowl which morphed into the Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl was played last on December 31, 1987. In that game, Texas defeated Pittsburg 32-27 in the Astrodome in front of 23,282 fans. I remember it well. Without conducting a deep dive on the game, I want to say it featured a speedy, diminutive Tony Jones scoring on multiple long pass receptions for Texas and hard-running Craig “Hammerhead” Heyward keying Pittsburg’s ground attack.

I don’t have to do a deep dive on the 1975 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl to tell you that Texas overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit to defeat 10th ranked Colorado going away 38-21. I’m pretty sure the game was a sellout with 50,000 + fans in attendance. The highlight of the game was Tim Campbell, Earl’s younger brother, blocking a Colorado punt and returning it for a touchdown. And I think I remember our Sig Ep fraternity brother Bill Hamilton recovering a fumble on Colorado’s opening possession of the second half setting up a short touchdown drive for Texas.  Texas finished the season 10-2 ranked #6 nationally. Those were the days my friend we thought they’d never end . . .

Players only meeting

The old “players only meeting” fix. This is what’s being reported by Horns247 and SB Nation on Texas’ second players only meeting of the week.

“We had a meeting after we lost to Texas Tech about just how important the details are,” junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington said, per 247Sports. “And this was just like catching back up to it. Just making sure everybody stayed on track and understood that we’re at the last stretch of the season, so the details matter even more. It was good and very much needed. And I think today, just watching practice, you could tell that it got implemented.”

Steve Sarkisian said he definitely sensed a renewed focus and energy at practice on Monday. “I like where our team is at,” Sarkisian said. “I can tell just today (Monday) at practice, and you guys know me, I don’t mind commenting on practice. Today was a tremendous practice. The intent, the energy, the way we went about our business. The focus by the players, that’s a really positive sign on a Monday for where we need to be come Saturday at six o’clock.”

We all know how another meeting solves everything.

The Kansas State Game

The timing of this game should be good for Texas for three reasons:

1. Texas is coming off a bye and should be healthier than they’ve been since early in the season.

2. Last week Kansas State thrashed Oklahoma State 48-0. Kansas State led 35-0 at the half. I’m thinking Kansas State will revert to its mean and come down to earth against Texas. They might even come out flat after a performance like the one against OSU.

3. If Taylor Martinez is healthy, Kansas State could have a quarterback controversy. Do you go back to Marinez as the starter after Will Howard’s 296 yards passing with 4 touchdowns versus Oklahoma State?

Watch the slant!

Rod Babers uncovered a telling stat on the Texas defense. In the last two games, opposing teams have completed 77% of their passes on slant and post routes; 66% of those throws went for a 1st down or a touchdown. To simplify, slant and post routes are passes over the middle. Will Kansas State try to exploit this weakness?  Will Texas fix this weakness?

Final

Texas is a 2.5-point favorite on the road versus Kansas State. Interesting. I’ll believe Texas with Sarkisian will win a game like this when I see it.

Song of the Week

I was going to feature Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” and not go with the more commercial “Born to Run”. But the “Born to Run” video was so great that I audibled out of “Thunder Road” into “Born to Run” Some may disagree but it’s nice to remember Springsteen when he didn’t take himself so seriously.

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Oklahoma State Review

Oklahoma State

Paul Wadlington is my Texas Football guru and I’m going to summarize highlights of his Oklahoma State Postmortem: Offense column.  You can read Paul Wadlington at https://www.on3.com/teams/texas-longhorns/

Wadlington

Texas had a season high 19 offensive possessions. They had 9 meaningful possessions in the Iowa State game. Texas scored 31 points on 10 possessions in the first half. They scored 3 points on 9 possessions in the second half.

******

Texas had 14 penalties.  The Longhorn offense failed to convert a 4th and 3 on the Oklahoma State 28-yard line by lining up in an illegal formation. Later, the Horns had a 2nd quarter drive that got to the OSU 12-yard line, but false starts on Karic and Sanders helped to create 3rd and 22 and an eventual Auburn field goal. The Texas offense had 5 different penalties for procedure or lining up incorrectly. 

Willie Earl

Some Texas fans are complaining that Oklahoma State had no penalties while Texas was called for 14. Maybe Oklahoma State got away with a hold or two, but they didn’t have any procedure, lining up wrong, false start penalties, or jumping offsides on defense penalties. Texas had all of the above. Also, Oklahoma State was flagged twice. Texas declined one and the other was offset by a Texas penalty on the same play.

It seems like Texas is jumping offsides on defense in almost every game. This is a coaching deficiency, right?

*****

Question: How does a QB go 19 of 49 in modern football against a defense that surrendered 523 yards?

Answer: Because the head coach didn’t stop him at 13 of 34.

Willie Earl

My perspective on Sarkisian’s decision or non-decision to not replace Quinn Ewers with Hudson Card in the second half:  Making the switch would have been an adjustment. Sarkisian doesn’t do adjustments.

Wadlington

Texas was 3 for 19 on converting third downs. When the big plays dried up, it was incumbent on Texas to concern itself more with chain moving and making some scheme or personnel adjustments than trying to hit Xavier Worthy in double coverage downfield. If Texas even performs at the season average of other Cowboy opponents on 3rd down, the Horns are probably celebrating a win.

A passable Longhorn passing game would have meant 45+ points on the board, ultimately more Texas runs, and fewer possessions for Oklahoma State to rally. The cause of second half inefficiency was the nexus between head coach, quarterback and perhaps the Longhorn receivers.

Ultimately, when the offense you want to run isn’t working because the QB isn’t making the throws available, you can either hope it turns, pare down the offense considerably, or you can make a change.

Sark bet it would turn and it didn’t.

Willie Earl

Hope isn’t a plan. Again, it’s the adjustment thing.

Wind

David Bergstrom and I played in my club’s member-guest tournament last weekend. The format was a round robin of five 9-hole matches. All weekend the winds were southwesterly at 15-20 mph gusting to 25. It was very windy. So windy that even putts were affected. This required adjustments to club selections and shot alignment on almost every shot. Bergy and I staged a big comeback winning our last two matches. We won the last match 7 ½ -1 ½.  Every point counted in the overall, so all 9 holes were played in every match.  We finished second in our flight and won $450. Righteous bucks.

After our final round, Bergy and I sat down in the clubhouse to watch the Texas-Oklahoma State game picking it up midway through the first quarter. I commented that it’s got to be windy there too. Bergy checked the Stillwater weather on his phone which showed 18 mph south winds. I read some where that the field in T. Boone Pickens stadium runs east to west, one of the few if not the only football field in high school, college, or pro not to run north to south. Okies.

I’m wondering if Sarkisian’s gameplan took the wind into account. It wasn’t obvious to the untrained eye if he did. During the second half when it was clear that Ewers was having a bad day why weren’t more short passes called. Such as the one that went to Xavier Worthy for a touchdown when he lined up as a wingback and the pass to Bijan out of the backfield for a touchdown. It was the only reception of the game for Bijan. Keilan Robinson also caught a short pass out of the backfield that gained 19 yards. It was his only reception as well.  Successful or not, does Sarkisian not like running the same play more than once?

****

Paul Wadlington also does Postmortem columns on defense/special teams. I encourage you to seek out his offensive and defensive breakdowns weekly if you want to better understand Texas Football. Below is his Special Teams breakdown.

Wadlington

A terrific effort overall. Texas won every phase of the return game. Morice Blackwell blocked a punt, Trejo had a punt to the 1-yard line that should have turned the game and Worthy had multiple strong punt returns. Texas won this phase of the game convincingly and if you’d told me before the game that the Horns would have blocked a punt, returned another to the opponent 20, recovered a muffed punt in Cowboy territory and out gained the opponent by 100 yards in returns, a loss would have not been in my predictive index. Losing finds a way.

Willie Earl

Losing finds a way. That defines Steve Sarkisian’s tenure at Texas so far.

All Gas, No Brakes

Do you think No brakes refers to Sarkisian’s defense? 😊

Song of the Week

Those of you who were alive in 1974 and ’75 may remember the release of “Endless Summer” in June of ’74. It was a best of album with the hits from 1963, ’64, and ’65. I had the luck of seeing the Beach Boys in the Municipal Auditorium the evening of last day of class of the spring semester of 1975. I went with John Scott and met up with my brothers during the intermission. John and I sat on the floor about 20 rows back from the stage. When the Beach Boys went into a medley of their biggest hits–I’m gettin’ bugged driving up and down the same old strip I gotta find a new place where the kids are hip–we could see the balcony bobbing up and down to the beat.  It was crazy. I thought to myself, it’s okay that it’s doing that right? It won’t fall down on top of us will it?

Then, about five or six weeks later, home in Reston, Virginia, a girl who had spurned me in high school invited me to go with her to see the Beach Boys and Chicago in concert at the Capital Center in Landover, Maryland. Evidently she had come to her senses.  Now we’re talking sublime luck. The groups had a hugely successful tour that summer playing multiple sold out shows in most of the stops. During the concert, Chicago played, then the Beachboys, and then they played together! The Beach Boys became the soundtrack of that summer. It was a good summer.

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Oklahoma State Over/Under Results

What does Willie Earl’s Over/Under 2022 have in common with Steve Sarkisian’s tenure at Texas?  Predictability.  You can count on Over/Under being a barnburner and you can count on Sarkisian to blow a two-score lead in the second half and lose. Harsh you say? Well, it’s just what came to my mind while grading this week’s entries. Now on to the results.

We had a season high 23 entries this week which is the second biggest field of all time. Willie Earl appreciates each and every player. The high all time was 25 entries for the 2008 Oklahoma Over/Under.

Tyler Cotton and Mitch Frink tied for first place with seven correct answers. They both went one for two in the pick ‘ems winning with TCU and losing with UCLA. So, it came down to their predictions on the Texas-Oklahoma State final score.  They both predicted Texas would win. Mitch had it 38-35 and Tyler had Texas 48-23. Willie Earl’s tiebreaker rule when it comes down to the score prediction is the one closest to the final point differential is the winner.  Texas lost by seven, Mitch had them winning by 3 making his prediction off by 10 points.  Tyler had Texas winning by 25 putting him 32 points off the mark. 

If you followed, you know that Mich Frink is the winner. Congratulations to Mitch who takes home the biggest pot of all time, $70.

Mark Stephan, Helen Frink, Andy Garrod, Wes Peoples, and Clayton Frink tied for third with six correct.

The average score was 5.1.

Only one player predicted that Mitch Auburn would miss more than 1.5 field goals, he missed one. If I played I think I would have gone over given the high wind typical in Stillwater and the pressure of the game.

Just three players went under on .5 TD passes for Quinn Ewers in the fourth quarter. He didn’t throw one.

Only four players correctly went over on Spencer Sanders passing for 227.5 yards. He passed for 391.

And only four players went under on 32:01 time of possession for Texas. They had the ball for 27 minutes.

Lastly, only 2 of 23 players predicted an Oklahoma State win.  I’m not sure what the reason is for the overwhelming optimism given Texas’ history over the last 13 years and especially Sarkisian’s history. Maybe it’s just hard to pick against your team. Players’ entries are strictly confidential so no one will be ridiculed if they pick Texas to lose. I thought that there was about a 60% chance Texas would lose in Stillwater.

W.E.

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