I didn’t take in much college football over the weekend as a result of driving to Austin to visit newborn family. I did attend the Texas/Oklahoma State game though and took in a lot from that contest.
One result that really stood out on the scoreboard was Iowa State dropping 72 while their key receivers Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones went for a combined 242 yards and two scores off just five catches. There’s that missing explosiveness that the Cyclones have been missing.
The Texas-Oklahoma State game seemed to be the most heavily viewed and discussed by the league’s fans. I was surprised after the game to see that many seemed to have the impression from the game that Ok State was THIS close and that a smarter gameplan from Mike Gundy would have done the trick.
Taking it in live I had more or less the opposite reaction. Texas had the Cowboys beat in the trenches on both sides of the ball and the QB who was in greatest command of the action. Texas almost put the Cowboys away on two occasions, when they made it 21-13 and then forced a punt before the half and then when they pushed it to 36-23 and forced a punt with the fourth quarter running out. On both occasions the Longhorns then fumbled short punts when their returners tried to rush into traffic to secure the ball and instead dropped it. Both fumbles led to OSU touchdowns. 21-20 before the half and then 36-30 toward the end of the game.
Contrar-Ian says the glass is half empty
The TCU Horned Frogs were the big losers in week 4. Their loss to SMU was indicative of the reality that their QB play isn’t where it needs to be for everything else to come to bear.
The Frogs played solid defense and ran the ball for over 200 yards but fumbled three times, twice from QB Max Duggan who won the “tallest dwarf” competition that determined their QB battle. Mike Collins and Matthew Baldwin loom as potential saviors during the season if they can step in and avoid turnovers.
It wasn’t a season-crushing loss for the Frogs, but it was indicative that a defense/run game formula doesn’t work if you get killed in turnover margin and it’s a strategy that is already vulnerable going up against potent spread offenses within the league. Barring a dramatic rescue from another QB, it seems that the Frogs won’t have the field generalship to really compete for the B12 this season.
Baylor had similar concerns after eeking by a Rice team that Texas just made to look like a JV squad the previous weekend. The Owls run a 3-3-5 akin to Iowa State’s system and they’re really crafty about moving pieces around to confuse the reads and allocate numbers to different parts of the field.
The Bears moved the ball down the field efficiently but they turned it over a couple of times and turtled up on offense for virtually the entire second half rather than stepping on the gas. Baylor clearly had a greater command of that game than the score indicated but the fumbles and fact that Charlie Brewer got 12 carries and was the leading rusher are more worrisome.
As I noted a week ago, the Bears seem to be putting a lot on Brewer physically in this offense. The toll of his workload is similar to something you’d see in a HS offense or a dual-threat QB offense like Texas or Oklahoma State are using, although Ehlinger’s run game workload has been much less than Brewer’s despite a tougher schedule. How will Brewer hold up over the course of the season if he’s throwing 30+ times and running 10-15x a game? That was tough on Ehlinger last year and he’s a much bigger fellow than Charlie.
Speaking of injuries, the Longhorns took it on the chin and currently enter a bye week with the following DBs injured:
Back-up CB/Ni Josh Thompson
Back-up dime Demarvion Overshown
Starting safety BJ Foster
Starting safety Caden Sterns
Starting corner Jalen Green
They’ll trickle back into the lineup, except Thompson who broke a foot, after a couple of weeks. The Red River Shootout will not feature a full strength secondary from Texas though.
Contrar-Ian says the glass is half full
I thought the Pokes were further away from the Longhorns than anyone in Oklahoma seemed to think. I was very impressed with Spencer Sanders, like everyone else, but I was impressed in part because I could tell how lost he is much of the time.
I suspected this was the case when watching him in previous games trying to find where the ball belongs when he isn’t just executing a double move throw for Tylan Wallace. To their credit, Texas adapted in all the right ways from the LSU debacle and treated Oklahoma State to inverted Tampa 2 from dime with the safety on Wallace’s side playing an inside shade directly across from him. They simply weren’t letting the Cowboys have any easy reads or throws to Wallace.
Without that safety blanket, the Cowboys defaulted to running Chuba Hubbard 37 times (35 the week before!) and leaning on Sanders in the run game. Both of these guys are well above average runners at their positions so that yielded some fruit.
Sanders’ arm strength and accuracy (when he has time and surety) combined with his athleticism makes for astoundingly talented player overall. As his command of the OSU offense and ability to work through progressions improves he’ll be a force of nature.
The ‘Pokes do need to rotate in another RB though. Hubbard is clearly tough as nails in addition to being insanely fast, but no one is going to hold up getting this kind of workload and particularly not someone so lithe.
Who won week 4 in the Big 12?
Sam Ehlinger was the most obvious winner. There were a lot of things to be noticed watching Texas live, one of them was the way that Ehlinger understands how to command games by controlling the tempo and when to call his own number.
Coming out halftime, Texas stalled just past midfield on the first drive and then yielded a field goal to OSU that made it 23-21 Pokes. The next drive was a clear “okay, we need to make some plays here” moment and it was keyed by a long scramble by Ehlinger that thwarted OSU’s drop 8 scheme and then the trick play call that had Ehlinger give up the ball on a reverse before getting it back to throw a strike on the move to the TE for a score.
Also notable in this game, star receiver Collin Johnson was out with an injury and his replacement Malcolm Epps was a negative against the Cowboy cornerbacks. He didn’t command much extra attention, couldn’t get off the jam, and deflected a pass that hit him in the hands to a safety. What’s more, he played on the boundary so one of the more easily accessible targets for Ehlinger was manned by a weaker target.
Despite that, things often looked fairly easy for Texas. Ehlinger is clearly the best player in the league, which combines with a more humble defensive approach bodes well for their chances at a league title. The Sooners had a similar dynamic to their 2017 team in particular with Baker Mayfield, who notably kept them in the right plays.
Another hat tip to West Virginia, who escaped the catacombs and didn’t get locked in the cellar by Kansas when Les Miles lured them down there on Saturday.
Next week we’ll learn more about Oklahoma and Kansas State, who draw Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. We also get a major proving ground matchup in Iowa State at Baylor.