In any close loss, you're going to come away with what ifs. But it seems like Texas's 48-45 loss to West Virginia has even more than most. Joe Bergeron dropped a potential touchdown pass on a fourth down. A timeout nullified a Texas fourth-down stop. A penalty took away a sack that would have put West Virginia in a third-and-20. Mykkele Thompson dropped an interception on a drive that resulted in a touchdown. And of course, there's the miscommunication between David Ash and Dominic Espinosa that resulted in a botched snap, and eventually, a missed game-tying field goal. If any single one of those things goes the Longhorns' way, you're potentially looking at a different result.
I'm not a huge fan of crying over spilled milk. And good teams tend to create their own breaks, as the Longhorns have often done under Mack Brown. I also feel that West Virginia did everything it needed to to win, and did so in front of a record-setting and raucous crowd at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. But it's amazing how many chances the Longhorns had to change their fate that went the other way.
Defending the Spread
Manny Diaz is going to take a lot of heat, but I'm actually not sure that West Virginia putting up 48 points is Diaz's fault. Were the Longhorns largely set up to defend the pass? Yep. Did that leave them vulnerable to the run? Sure. But that's what the spread (especially when populated with West Virginia-caliber skill players) does.
Think about it: when West Virginia goes single-back four-wide, how many guys do you get to put in the box? Just five, if you want to cover each receiver, and provide over-the-top help on each side. That's obviously an advantage for the offense, which gets one blocker for each man in the box.
It's a numbers game. Ideally, you'd be able to man-up on each receiver guy and free up your safeties for run support, but when you have Stedman Bailey on one side and Tavon Austin in the slot on the other, that's just not realistic. Diaz chose to go the safer route, sitting the safeties back to support over the top, and against the pass, it worked. Smith was kept largely under control, and wasn't able to hit on any deep kill shots, just a week after getting them in droves against Baylor.
Of course, the counter of that was that the Longhorns were outnumbered in the box, or at least not in a situation to outnumber the blockers in the box. And Andrew Buie took advantage to the tune of a career-high 207-yard rushing day. It made for a frustrating game to watch, sure. And one that was easily analyzed: when the defensive line dominated the battle up front, the run didn't hurt the Longhorns. When they allowed themselves to be blocked, it was a big play.
Now, the Longhorns face a similar challenge in another spread offense in Oklahoma. Diaz can come up with the most brilliant schemes in the world, but when the spread forces you to pick your poison, it certainly makes things difficult.
Okafor is having a whale of an early senior season. Just five games in, he has six sacks and 12 quarterback hurries. Keep in mind, he had just (just?) seven and 17 in 13 games last season. But I'm not sure he's ever had a game like the effort he put out against West Virginia.
Not only did Okafor sack Geno Smith twice — Smith was sacked three times in West Virginia's four previous games — but he forced fumbles on each play. And in each case, the ball was recovered by a Longhorn for a huge, momentum-turning turnover. The first was recovered by fellow end Jackson Jeffcoat for a touchdown, tying the game at 21-all. And defensive tackle Chris Whaley jumped on the other one, setting Texas up in the red zone down by three points in the fourth quarter. That a botched snap and missed field goal kept Texas off the scoreboard on that possession shouldn't alter the fact that when the Longhorns needed a huge defensive play, Okafor made it. And of course, none of that counts the fact that Okafor blocked a West Virginia field goal.
Texas certainly had flashes from other defensive linemen. Whaley had two tackles for loss. Jeffcoat was his typical disruptive self. Defensive tackle Desmond Jackson added a sack, while fellow tackles Ashton Dorsey, Brandon Moore and Malcom Brown each had a tackle for loss. But it's easy to see why Diaz considers Okafor arguably the biggest and most important piece of his defense. When Okafor is on, the entire unit seems to jump up a level.