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The Week That Will Be: Texas Two-Step

If a bowl game is important to you, Saturday's tilt against West Virginia represents a must win. Can the Horns take two steps forward?

John Weast

Last Week: 4-2 ATS 4-2 SU
For the Year: 27-32-1 (.458) ATS 43-17 (.717) SU

We learned last week…

• Florida State will be in the inaugural College Football playoff. They don’t leave the state of Florida the rest of the season, and have only one road game (@ Miami). The Hurricanes might put up a fight, but the Seminoles have dominated that series lately (winning four in a row and 7 out of 9).

• Arkansas put on a clinic on how not to defeat the top-ranked team in the country with their last three drives against Mississippi State: missed field goal, turnover on downs at the three-yard line, interception in end zone. Closers, these Razorbacks are not.

• Bid playoff adieu to the Ole Miss Rebels, who lost a game in brutal fashion (or comedic fashion, if you are an idiot), but when you allow the other team to score 35 points you can’t feel like the game was taken away from you…

• It took Oklahoma State one possession to better Texas’s offensive output against Kansas State, unfortunately for them the Wildcats returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and ended up scoring 45 unanswered points.

• West Virginia had two separate two touchdown leads, Trevone Boykin looked more like the old version of himself, but five Mountaineer turnovers was the story of this game as TCU keeps rolling along.

• And finally, it takes playing an awful Texas Tech team with the spawn of Vinny Testaverde under center, but for one night, it felt like the old days just a little bit around here…

Lost on offense. Solid play followed by putrid play. The obituary on the 2014 Texas Longhorns? Not quite.

Consider what a disaster 2013 was for the West Virginia Mountaineers. They were shutout and embarrassed by Maryland 37-0. They gave up 73 points to Baylor. They got drubbed by Kansas State in Manhattan. And they finished the year with a three game losing streak, which included losses to Kansas and Iowa State.

A lot wanted Dana Holgersen gone last year. But he reinvented, promoting Tony Gibson to defensive coordinator and becoming more involved with the overall direction of the program.

And he developed a quarterback.

Clint Trickett was a three-star recruit coming out of Florida. He did what Florida kids do and committed to a Florida school, in this case Florida State. After playing back-up to E.J. Manuel for two years, Trickett expected to get the job, but the Seminoles had a guy named Jameis Winston in the wings.

So he transferred in May and was throwing 50 attempts against Oklahoma State four months later. And he struggled, throwing as many interceptions as he did touchdowns in eight starts.

Fast forward a year later and Trickett has developed into a passer. He’s 17th in the country in quarterback rating and 4th in the country in passing yards. He had a streak of 8 straight games where he threw for at least 300 yards earlier this season.

West Virginia sits at 6-3, which wouldn't set off any fireworks in Austin, but when you consider they have lost to Alabama, Oklahoma and TCU, you can forgive them that they haven't quite taken THAT many steps forward.

Which, of course, brings us to the Longhorns. The talent is there to win games in this league…if West Virginia and the other feel good story in the conference this year that is TCU can do it with the talent that they have, then Texas can do it with the talent that they have.

It takes smart coaching decisions, talent, and yes, a quarterback. For every disastrous failed attempt to throw the ball away that ends up being a fumble into the end zone, Tyrone Swoopes rifles one over the middle of the field to John Harris on 3rd and 18 to keep a drive alive.

This year might seem like a lost year, and yes, when you have a year like this the second guy on the depth chart always seems like the easiest answer to your current problems, but all you have to do is look at West Virginia and TCU and see that it can be turned around in one year, and experience and probably more importantly, development matters.

On to the games…

Ohio State @ Michigan State -3.5:

This one is the typical "something has to give" game, as the Buckeyes have scored 50 or more points in five of their last six games since being defeated by Virginia Tech early in the season, but Michigan State enters this game having given up 22 points or less in five of their last six games since being defeated by Oregon.

Ohio State has won 20 straight regular season Big Ten games, but I think we know what typically happens when good defense meets good offense.

Michigan State 27 Ohio State 21
ATS – Michigan State
SU – Michigan State

Notre Dame @ Arizona State -1.5:

Arizona State is an inexplicable beat down at the hands of UCLA from being undefeated and in the playoff talk. Lately they’ve been doing it on defense, only allowing 36 points combined in their last three games against solid Pac-12 teams (Stanford, at Washington, Utah).

Notre Dame’s best win? That loss in Tallahassee. But seriously, their best win? Stanford? Meanwhile they’ve given up 39 points to Navy and 43 to North Carolina sandwiched around that Florida State game.

Arizona State is the better team, despite the Vegas line.

Arizona State 34 Notre Dame 24
ATS – Arizona State
SU – Arizona State

Alabama -6.5 @ LSU:

Another year, another epic Alabama/LSU matchup. The Tigers are 19-2 in their last 21 SEC games at home, but one of those losses was to Alabama.

The Crimson Tide have been favored in an unbelievable 63 straight games dating back to 2009, and with the defense they have (haven’t given up more than 23 points in a game all season), and the solid offensive output they’ve been getting (33 points or more in 6 of 8 games), it isn’t hard to figure out why.

Look for your typical Alabama/LSU slugfest, but Alabama just has more on offense to get the job done.

Alabama 24 LSU 17
ATS – Alabama
SU – Alabama

Baylor @ Oklahoma -5.5:

This game was a close one last year until Baylor scored three touchdowns in the last seven minutes of the second quarter. They won it not with the arm of Bryce Petty, who did throw three touchdowns but "only" had 200 yards and completed fifty percent of his passes. No, they won it with defense, forcing two turnovers while holding Oklahoma to 237 total yards.

They might need to do it again, as this Baylor offense tends to struggle away from Waco, particularly Petty, who barely threw for 100 yards in Austin and completed less than fifty percent of his passes at West Virginia.

If Oklahoma is smart, they will play a ball control game, as they are 65-1 under Bob Stoops when rushing for more than 200 yards, including 37 straight (last loss? September of 2006 against Oregon). Baylor has the nation’s 8th best rush defense, allowing only 99 yards per game, but they haven’t faced an attack like this.

I really could see this one going either way, but can only pick one. Oklahoma in a close one.

Oklahoma 38 Baylor 34
ATS – Baylor
SU – Oklahoma

Kansas State @ TCU -6:

Win this one and the schedule sets up nicely for TCU, with away games at Kansas and Texas followed by a home date with Iowa State to close out the season. They would essentially have one foot in the door for that final playoff spot.

It won’t be easy, of course, as the much improved Horned Frog offense will square off against the league’s best defense. Running back B.J. Catalon could miss this one with an injury sustained against West Virginia…that would be a huge blow.

Kansas State has played two road games this year. They defeated Iowa State by four points and Oklahoma by one point. Not that the Amon Carter crowd is intimidating, but are they ready to get outside of their comfort zone?

TCU 37 Kansas State 28

West Virginia -3.5 @ Texas:

The most depressing stat of this treacherous 2014 season is that the Longhorns are 0-4 against Top 25 teams. With West Virginia visiting this week, and TCU on Thanksgiving, Texas is in danger of going 0-6.


So what can they do to reverse that trend?

Well one thing they cannot do is get into a shootout. Texas defeated the Mountaineers 47-40 in Morgantown last year, while Geno Smith and West Virginia bested the Longhorns 48-45 in Austin in 2012. While the Longhorns were able to beat Iowa State in a shootout, West Virginia’s defense is not Iowa State’s.

While they’re not statistically impressive (62nd in total defense, 45th in passing defense, 84th in rush defense), they’ve stepped up in big games lately. They held Trevone Boykin to 166 passing yards. And as mentioned above, they allowed Baylor to only convert 3 of 16 third down opportunities.

The Longhorns, if able, will have to follow the Oklahoma blueprint where Trevor Knight was not featured but efficient (completed 16 passes for 205 yards). Instead they ran the ball 46 times for 301 yards and scored 35 points in the pivotal second and third quarters.

On offense, the Horns will need to follow their game plan from the Baylor game, where they forced the Bears to drive the field. The Mountaineers rank 121st in the country in turnover margin, and 5 of Clint Trickett’s 7 interceptions have come against Baylor, Oklahoma and TCU, closer games with increased pressure.

This is a very winnable game for the Horns. You've heard the phrase "two steps forward, one step back", which seems to have been coined with this season in mind. Can the Longhorns break out and take two steps forward?

Who knows what kind of mental state West Virginia will be in after that last second loss to TCU. But it will take a well executed game plan with zero mistakes…and after sticking my neck out there with the Kansas State game, I’m not sure I trust this team to do that quite yet...but somehow wouldn't be surprised if they do.

West Virginia 27 Texas 21
ATS – West Virginia
SU – West Virginia

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for burnt orange turtlenecks.