Keys To The Game: How the Texas Longhorns can beat the West Virginia Mountaineers

Brett Deering - Getty Images

The Longhorn path to victory over West Virginia.

DEFENSE

Rush Four.

Mostly. Bill Connelly does a very good job of breaking down the statistical argument, but here's the subjective one. The Air Raid is built to exploit defensive insufficiency. Most college defenses are masking a personnel deficiency in at least one unit. As a coordinator, you compensate with numbers and/or scheme. A slick spread offense does exactly what the name suggests - it makes you spread out your defense, declare your intentions more plainly, and makes you rob Peter to pay Paul.

Want to take away the run and get pressure? Bring numbers. But half of West Virginia's offense is nothing but screens, well disguised pick plays, shovels, draws, fly shovels, and hot routes with instantaneous reads, thrown by an accurate QB on auto-pilot, to receivers that murder you after the catch. Some fans like it because "it's aggressive" but it's also kind of dumb.

So play coverage and bring three. Geno Smith now leisurely examines your defense while pausing to emery board his nails and throws to as many as five pass options all expertly schooled in flooding zones, extending routes, and experience Hive Mind with their QB. He's not reading your defense. He's surveying it. You're praying for an errorless offense to make a mistake running six second routes against a drill skeleton. Good luck, I guess.

As with Goldilocks, four is just right. Bring four - in whatever permutation - and you prevent an immediate automatic read made from muscle memory because you can challenge the shallow routes that are WVU's sustaining force without losing help over the top. Bring four because eventually, fairly good pass rushers will get there. Bring four because it marries well with what we should be running for 75% of our snaps. Which brings us to....

Dime Personnel, Man Under

If we come out in a 4-2-5 nickel bringing extra men with Cover 3 behind it, I will put my remote control through YOUR screen. That's right. It will first travel through my screen, through the electricity thingies, through a network of cables and/or a satellite parked outside of our atmosphere, and erupt from the screen in your home.

Also, I do not understand physics well. Or electronics. Or the nature of matter and energy.

West Virginia hasn't been challenged in coverage. And they can't run like OSU. And their physical mismatches are built on quickness and speed - not size or physicality. Our guys can look like the defense we thought they might be when they're able to simplify reads, focus on one slice of the field, know that there are safeties with their back so they can get up in some asses, and focus on the man across from them. Instead of executing the flawless choreography of feints, disguises, stunts, and gap switches that has so far worked only on Diaz's white board.

Man up West Virginia's receivers. Or at least Austin and Bailey. Place two safeties deep (say Turner and Thompson - their orders are clear - NONE SHALL PASS). Vaccaro and Phillips inside. Diggs and Byndom outside. Vaccaro and Phillips are also able to act as run forces and screen disruptors and Diggs and Byndom know that there are two guys behind them tasked with nothing but having their backs. You're man under, zone deep. The initial coverage prevents easy, quick throws and the layered coverage prevents easy 3 step drop deep timing routes. Geno Smith will have to hold on to the ball, face a real pass rush, and make some real throws.

So how do they cripple our pass rush? That brings us to...

Watch Your Fly

With West Virginia's Shawne Alston out, the running load goes to their scatback Andrew Buie. He's a great receiving threat (another reason to play 5 DBs) and it appears at times that any back with a pulse can run on us, but he's not going to win the game for them. What can kill us in West Virginia's use of Tavon Austin in the fly sweep. His ability with the ball in his hands paired with our inability to pursue at LB inside to outside means that Diaz will have to make Okafor and Jeffcoat check the fly. And they can roll protection to the other side on the OL. And guess what? Most of the time, they'll just fake the fly sweep and throw it. But now they've frozen out our two best pass rushers. This is yet another reason to play dime coverage. And move Jeffcoat around liberally. In dime man under, Austin's motion would be mirrored by his guy. He's not the DEs problem. Their job is pin back their ears and make Smith come to on the charter plane home as if he'd been Roofied. Speaking of...

It's Not About Geno

No, that's not the name of a delightful new pilot from ABC about a working class Italian family with sassy kids, a wise Mom, and an ineffectual Dad who puts syrup in the toaster BECAUSE MEN DON'T KNOW HOW TO DO ANYTHING IN SITCOMS!!!!

I digress.

Smith is a delivery platform. He's a good one. But anyone who utters the platitude that Geno Smith must be pressured no matter the cost or no matter how many men you have to bring must be ignored. They don't get it.

When Bill Belichick's Patriots played The Greatest Show on Turf St Louis Rams, he realized that Kurt Warner, while very good, was just a delivery platform. Marshall Faulk was the key to the Ram offense. Everything else was noise. He assigned a specific man to Faulk in every defense, man or zone and told his defense to hit Faulk every chance they had. He took away Warner's favorite outlet and security blanket, and crippled one of the great offenses of all time by making them play the game left-handed.

We will lose this game on defense because of what their two Faulks - Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin - do to us. Not because our looks against Geno Smith are insufficiently complex.

OFFENSE

Pound The Rock, Then Over The Top

West Virginia uses three DL to form the rock of their run defense, surround them with some active, smaller guys to get pressure, and use their safeties heavily in run support. Consequently, they will hang their corners out to dry as a 9.0 YPA allowed will attest. If we can run the ball sufficiently so that we can continue to give David Ash the clean one-on-one reads that he has been getting with Davis and Shipley over the last two games, then we're in tremendous shape. Our run staples will be inside zone, pin n pull, and we'll do it out of quite a bit of Pistol. The fly sweep will be huge, not as only as constrain to prevent them from squeezing our inside zone (stoppable by simple defensive calls), but also because we want Daje Johnson and DJ Monroe playmaking against a defense that's going to have quite a bit to think about. One of them should break a big one.

West Virginia isn't as good a defense - at least personnel wise - as OSU. And we can't afford the 2nd and 3rd quarter lull that we experienced in Stillwater. Even when we're establishing our running game and trying to wear them out for a big 4th quarter, it's important that we be able to go over the top such that their corners have to play off coverage and basically concede some 3rd down and short conversions. if WVU wants to play suicide run stopping, you have to make them pay. Forget Time of Possession. That comes later.

Play For 6

Mack is usually great about going for it on 4th down despite a Texas fan base that weirdly won't acknowledge it. Aside from bludgeoning those people with math, our lack of a reliable field goal kicker, or our offense's newfound acumen, I'd contend that it's not just 4th and 2 on the 35 yard line that's a clear go-for-it. So is 4th and 7. Not even a discussion, in fact. And if we do it, even if doesn't work, we should be wildly supportive. Attack every possession as if it's the game-winning drive.

SPECIAL TEAMS

We're not going to win at placekicking. But we need to at least get a draw on kick coverage, net punting, returns. Trust Nick Rose and Alex King to do their things. If we must squib, study their actual personnel so that it goes to a blocker, not a threat. A punt block or a kick return is our most likely means of impacting the game substantially in our favor.

FINALLY....

The Crowd.


When we're on this blog, we can be detached and analytical. Even critical. But when we're at the stadium, our role is unabashed, maniacal fan. Fuck your folded arms and detached manner. When a Texas crowd pulls together and coalesces into one giant organism of enthusiasm and energy, it's an awesome sight to behold. No, it won't happen against New Mexico or Kansas. But when the stakes are large and the stage is center, Texas fans impact football games. I've seen it. I was there. Whether the 1990 UH game that I attended with a crowd energy bordering on murderous, to countless Texas-OU's, the Michigan and USC Rose Bowls, to 2008 Missouri.

If you're going to the game, make a fool of yourself. If the crowd puts West Virginia on silent counts, disallows audibles, and prevents their center from getting his calls to the offensive tackle, Texas Fan is worth actual points on the scoreboard.

If our defense makes a great play, go nuts. If our defense makes a bad play, go nuts. It's not about you and your expectations. Help the team. Make it about us.

Hook 'em.

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