A brilliant crowd and a few strong individual performances couldn't buoy the Longhorn defense enough to overcome West Virginia's fantastic playmakers, some feeble special teams moments, and a Longhorn scheme that's still fundamentally broken. Texas played better defense than against Ole Miss or Oklahoma State (adjust for opponent quality and consider the lack of single play long scores), but it's all for naught when a defense (and special teams) surrenders nearly half a hundred and allows a unheralded running back to drop 200+ yards from a pass first spread offense.
West Virginia was 8 of 12 against the Longhorn defense on surrender of possession downs (3 of 12 on 3rd, an amazing 5 of 5 on 4th down) and RB Andrew "Don't Swim Move Past The" Buie amassed 207 yards on 31 carries on the same two plays.
The key moment of the game on defense: down 41-38, needing a stop, with more than enough time on the clock to still win the game, Texas allows West Virginia down the field with 76 yards on 8 plays (7 carries, 63 yards, 1 TD for Buie) while burning over 4:00 of clock against a Longhorn defense and coaching staff that had to know what was coming. The Longhorn headsets watched Buie march down the field at nine yards per clip.
That drive - and so many others - also laid bare the folly of Diaz's attempt to address our deficiencies at LB with play calls and schemes over imparting basic principles. We had a chance to stop digging the "pick a random gap to run blitz thru" hole in the bye week before OSU. Diaz the coordinator told Diaz the position coach to put down his shovel...and to buy a jackhammer. We decided to simplify by making our LBs an albatross by design. Our LBing unit is currently operating at a sub-FBS level.
Diaz stuck to the idea that a nickel should be our base defense despite the fact that the Dime and a 4-5 man rush yielded an inordinate amount of successful plays against West Virginia's offense. It was pretty noticeable throughout the course of the game, though I haven't had a chance to compile the numbers. Any play where West Virginia had at least three, and certainly four, wide receivers on the field, and we weren't in dime, was a win for them.
The notion that an extra LB makes us stouter against the run is just laughable at this stage. If Diaz want's to continue the Young Frankenstein act, we'd be better off going base dime, going small, outnumbering the line of scrimmage, playing base fronts, and relying on recovery speed. Or we could accept that Hicks is injured and try to teach our LBs principles instead of a new run blitz gap.
We certainly have fits in the running game. Like an epileptic.
Whenever our DBs held up and denied Smith of his first read, they got great pressure. Not surprisingly this happened most often when we were in dime. Alex Okafor had two sacks and two forced fumbles which resulted in a defensive touchdown and another scoring opportunity from the opponent 12 that we botched. Can't ask much more of Oak and he's the clear player of the game. Jackson Jeffcoat contributed a sack of his own and had a couple of notable pressures. Reggie Wilson also logged some nice snaps.
The DT's combined for seventeen tackles, six tackles for loss, and a sack (courtesy of a sweet inside move by Des Jackson). Great numbers. But...
...we continue to play games with them while our LBs run blitz behind them - creating massive holes that any RB could run through - and although we inflicted negative plays on the Mountaineer rushing game, they knew their successful runs were much more probable. Chris Whaley's performance was emblematic of that strategy - feast, famine, with a lot more Mountaineer feasting. Malcom Brown was a particular bright spot in limited snaps and made his presence felt with great activity and a natural ability to find the ball.
How do I evaluate a unit that played reasonably well, but found themselves compensating for other bigger issues?
I'm not going to beat this dead horse. I've been writing about it since New Mexico. Buie's longest run was only 30 yards. That means he averaged 5.9 yards a pop on his other 30 carries. And a half dozen of those carries went for negative yardage. So you're left with the realization that, just as against Ole Miss and OSU, any run the Longhorn defense doesn't stop behind the line of scrimmage is probably a first down.
Not winning football, exactly.
Played fairly well for stretches, despite a WVU offense that forced them to play both run and pass for four quarters. That they didn't surrender big gains over the top given that is actually pretty good. Thompson had two different chances to makes plays on the ball in the air for interceptions and though neither was an easy play, we now have a defense so fundamentally unreliable that any chance for turnover is going to get inordinate scrutiny. Despite a blown tackle or two and some great play action throws by Geno Smith, Byndom and Diggs actually held up pretty well. Our inability to prevent the Mountaineers from converting four touchdown throws to their top 2 receivers (18-177-4 tds combined for Bailey and Austin) was largely owed to WVU's ability to legitimately threaten in play action and Smith making a couple of amazing throws.
Smith was still quite efficient when they did get clean passing looks and "holding" him to 25 of 35 for 268 and 4 TD tosses with no interceptions probably explains the new normal of my defensive expectations.
Tavon Austin is special. No doubt. But we blew it on kick coverage early, sticking a knife in the defense's back early in the game allowing returns to the WVU 46 and UT 32. We cleaned it up after that with squib kicking, but it's incredibly frustrating to concede easy fields and yardage in such an important game. We roughly equalized on special teams as the game wore on, and the decisive difference seems to be that their struggling field goal kicker went 2 for 3 from the same ranges where we went 1 of 2. That 3 point difference came up big.
We've not done a very good job coaching our LBs or addressing their inexperience after Hicks went out, we blew the install of our new defense for the entire unit as early as Wyoming, and a good DL and solid group of DBs are being made lesser by our scheme. Can guys come around? Sure. But if your defense can't install until Kansas or later, it's on the coaches, not the players. Though the quality of our athletes will give us the opportunity to turn people over and make some big plays, Diaz probably needs to get out of the film room, get away from any notions that he can scheme his way out of this or win the play calling game against opposing offensive coordinators on a down by down basis, and work on establishing some base competencies.