MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
First, it should be noted that a defense, if it so desires, can do a lot to remove, or at least severely limit, one player's impact on the game. Whether it's stacking the box against a runner or committing multiple defenders to blanket a receiver, if a defensive coordinator has the players with ability, it can limit a threat. That's certainly what has been happening with Kevin White recently.
Oklahoma State played two deep safeties and put corners up close on White, then mixed up coverages with an effective blend of secondary rotations and tactics. TCU used an outstanding corner (the "other" Kevin White), more deep safety help and outside linebackers dropping into robber positions to cut off slants. Those tactics limited White, and aided by a few off target throws, kept him from having an impact on the TCU game.
Several options have been presented in the hopes of freeing up White, from the use of motion to lining him up in the slot. There are objections to those, however. First, WVU typically motions its slot receivers, not its wideouts. In Dana Holgorsen's system, the outside receivers line up in the same spot on every snap, so as to promote familiarity with routes and cohesion with the quarterback. Also, moving from outside to the slot is not an easy task, given the different reads and responsibilities of each position -- not to mention the different routes. While it might be achievable for one or two special plays, it's probably not something that can be implemented in a week of practice.
To free White, WVU might look at some different action with wide receiver screens, but if White is covered by outstanding Texas corner Quandre Diggs, that might not be an option, especially if Diggs is jamming him at the line. More likely, WVU might look at crossing routes or rub-offs between White and a slot receiver to his inside. That won't necessarily free White, but if Texas's defense is focused on him, it could cause a mix-up that allows more room for the slot receiver.
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Of course, none of this will matter a whit if West Virginia can't pass protect -- a problem that went somewhat overlooked in last week's offensive struggles.
Is Texas' front as good as TCU's? Maybe not, but it's not far behind. UT will use both three- and four-man fronts to confuse blocking assignments, and it has been able to get pressure with its defensive front alone. Headed by defensive tackle Malcom Brown and nose tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who have combined for 9.5 sacks, the Longhorns have been able to generate heat on opposing passers without bringing a lot of blitzers. If West Virginia can't protect against that group, the Mountaineers will suffer their fourth loss of the season.
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
The longhorn made its first appearance on campus in November, 1916, when a steer rescued from a group of cattle rustlers was purchased by Stephen Pinckney and shipped to Austin for the game. The steer, unhappy after its long trip and deprived of food and water, charged the cameraman taking photos in a stockyard after the game, perhaps giving credence to the mascot as a customer not to be messed with.
The current Bevo, number 14 in the line, is much better cared for. He lives on a cattle ranch when not at University functions, and has a student group, the Silver Spurs, responsible for his care when off the range. Bevo XIV weighs approximately one ton and eats 50-60 pounds of feed per day. Oddly enough, one of the two owners of the ranch on which the current Bevo lives is a Texas A&M graduate.
THINGS TO WATCH
The "second level" of both defenses has been very good this year, and bears watching as a key point in the game. The play of the linebacking and strong safeties of both teams serve as the linchpins in their defensive performances, and the group that comes up with the best overall play on Saturday afternoon will put its team in the best position to win.
Texas' Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond have amassed an incredible 210 total tackles this year, which leads to the suspicion that there are some very liberal grading policies employed by those reviewing game films for tackle totals. Even if those numbers are inflated, however, there's no doubt that the duo is an outstanding one. Hicks and Edmonds are often the only two "true" LBs on the field, as Texas has used a number of five-defensive back sets this year. That may have also contributed to the pair's high tackle totals, but doesn't detract from their overall performance. If they are kept clean by the defensive front, WVU will again have trouble running the football.
On the West Virginia side, it's more of a team effort, as four defenders behind the front have combined for 214 stops. Linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Wes Tonkery, along with bandit Karl Joseph and spur K.J. Dillon, have been something of an underrated foursome for the Mountaineers. Joseph's hard hits attract some attention, but the workmanlike performances of Kwit and Tonk tend to go unnoticed. Take the time this week to focus on them when Texas is on the attack - most likely they are going to wind up at the ball by play's end.
The total tackle numbers won't determine the winner here, so watch for clean arrivals at the ball and crisply executed stops. The group with the fewest errors -- especially missed tackles -- is going to have a huge impact on the outcome.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has something of a reputation as a runner, but his raw stats (78 carries for 237 yards, 3.0 per carry) don't incite a lot of fear. As is often the case with numbers, however, those are a bit misleading.
First, Swoopes is mobile, and has used his abilities to keep plays alive and find receivers after his pass protection breaks down. While he has made a few bad decisions, a near 60% completion rate, coupled with just five interceptions, attests to his growing efficiency in the passing game. Against WVU, with its unproductive pass rush, the specter of Swoopes dancing around the backfield before finding a late-opening receiver is a haunting one. West Virginia must find a way to keep Swoopes moving and not let him reset his feet, and also force him to get his eyes on rushers and not downfield. While Swoopes does have the ability to pick up yardage on designed runs and scrambles, West Virginia must also find a way to keep him from extending pass plays in the pocket.