Probably the best defensive performance of the season by a Longhorn crew that was dialed in on their assignments, brought the wood repeatedly, forced key turnovers and held up on key situational downs like Madeline Albright's garter belt. When you factor in the second half Longhorn offensive wasteland and the early holes that Texas special teams dug for the D, it's all the more impressive.
WVU gained 448 yards, but they needed 90 plays to do it, a good bit of it accumulated on a meaningless late drive and some 2nd half bend-but-don't-break by design. Statistics are great, but knowing which ones matter in game context is key. The defense played really well. Lots of game balls to go around.
Stayed pretty simple. We ran zone on 85% of our snaps - of the man match under, zone deep variety. If the Mountaineers wanted go deep, they were going to have the block the Texas DL and win a contested ball over a safety staring at the QB. Not exactly percentage football.
Texas particularly dominated on situational downs - a marked contrast to our struggles there through much of the year. Overall, the 'neers were 6 of 22 on 3rd and 4th down (27%). More encouragingly, on 3rd and long (3rd and 6+), WVU was only 1 of 7 on conversions. Contrast that with our struggles against KSU and Tech. The red zone defense yielded stops on 1st down on our 3 yard line and 1st down on our 9 yard line. Pretty spectacular.
Bedford placed Thompson at the nickel for the first time this season to allow us to match Diggs on White and both Diggs and Thompson responded well. Diggs is pretty good at harassing and tackling bigger receivers when he's protected over the top and Thompson has definite lateral range and closing ability. Apparently contacts make him like contact. Let's do that again.
Tackling, effort, pursuit and awareness were all on point. This defense was on - save one regrettable lapse when Smith went for 62.
Great job by the coaches to seek clarity over complexity. WVU has murdered us in years past as we sought to match their play calls with our own inspired cleverness. Or by playing on dumb islands and not allowing the defense to operate as a unit. You beat the spread by playing your position correctly and helping your teammates out. Not "playmaking" and dialing up 65 inspired blitz calls.
When we got Strong, one of the things I was most pleased about is his recognition that beating the spread isn't about the macro defensive call - it's about teaching each individual defender to play correctly and interdependently.
It's amusing to praise Quandre after he had primary coverage on a wide receiver who caught 16 balls, but White's longest play from scrimmage went for 21 yards and he averaged a sickly 8.3 yards per reception. Great player, but he was consistently shut down in the red zone and on 3rd down. Diggs also had a gorgeous interception where he covered two and caught one.
Thompson had two textbook hits from the nickel and cleaned up a lot of garbage. His ability to man or zone there is important and I think he'll get some pick opportunities against lesser QBs. Hi Daxx Garman!
Thomas was very sound playing WVU's lesser receivers and some nice solo stops in run support and jumping WVU screens. His only real stumble came on an out and up bite, but WVU didn't capitalize.
Dylan Haines led the secondary with 14 tackles. Jason Hall chipped in a surprisingly quiet 9. We protected both, but they didn't allow anything over the top and were more than willing in run support as the drop down safety.
49 pass attempts yielding only 248 yards is victory. They averaged under 7 yards per completion. And 2 of our 3 sacks were of the coverage variety.
In many respects, their most complete game of the year. The 3-3-5 was only really victimized once and they all tackled well in space. The 4-2-5 was pretty much dominant. Jordan Hicks was a revelation - his three consecutive stops in the red zone were emblematic of his 15 tackle (11 solos!) effort. Edmond played very well after a couple of early miscues - he may be learning to stop the overruns inside - and did a credible job of disrupting short crossing routes and RB releases.
I was less enthused with Hughes and Santos, but Naashon had a nice hit late.
Were it a just world, Strong would be taking over like Mack did with his equivalent of Humphery, Hampton and Rogers all with multiple years of eligibility remaining, but the world is not and Ridgeway, Brown and Reed proved in this game why they are the league's biggest handful on the DL.
If Hicks continues to play out of his mind while our DBs tackle well and choke off the deep balls, the game becomes a match-up of our DL against the opponent OL and it's not going to turn out well for the latter.
Cedric Reed exploded with 13 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, a safety and a strip fumble. The safety was an easy play (he was unblocked and Brown and Ridgeway put the entire WVU interior OL on roller skates) but his strip sack, constant pressure and dominance against the run were major game factors.
Brown and Ridge were really good. Ridge has been playing much better over center of late and while that's dragging down his stats, it's allowing Brown to dominate from the 3 technique. He drew several penalties, had 2 tackles for loss and two hits on Trickett just as he released the ball. While Desmond Jackson is missed, his best use now would be as the #3 DT spelling both - Ridgeway is that good now.
Boyette has a motor and some pursuit ability. He's a year out from being a solid rotation DT. Ford is just too young - it's a pity we didn't get to redshirt him. I'm still intrigued by what he can offer - he has the John Randle starter kit.
Caleb is still coming along well and he's going to be a player next year.
Michael Davidson rewarded the coach's opening up the punting competition by averaging 43.7 yards per kick and having two punts downed inside the 5. A native of Scotland, Davidson was wrapped in cool towels like a mummy and kept under the bench during the September and October heat, but November's 65 degree weather allowed him to emerge so long as he's slathered in SPF 100. FRREEEEEEEDDDDOOOOMMMMM!
The Nick Rose Experience was 1 for 2 on field goals. When he misses, he really misses. Not messing around with a close deflection off of the post. His misses elevate about a foot and half off of the ground and careen drunkenly into a lineman's ass cheek like it was struck by a chick trying to nail a 50 yard field goal in a Dr Pepper No-Fan-Can-Actually-Do-This Win 1 Million Dollars halftime promotion.
WVU had two KOR for an average of 35 yards each. Watching our coverage is dispiriting.
A great defensive effort against a quality Mountaineer offense. While Stillwater will represent different challenges, their offense is in a lot of trouble if they don't come up with a fantastic game plan.