As they enter the second half of the season, Longhorns need to learn to close
Last Week: 5-1 ATS 3-3 SU
For the Year: 24-18 (.571) ($360) ATS 31-11 (.738) SU
We learned last week…
- We only thought the SEC might be a two-team league. Auburn was up on LSU 20-0, LSU made it 24-23 in the 4th Quarter (wait a minute…) and held on to the victory (oh). The Tigers from Auburn were held to 73 total yards in the second half and they still haven’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999.
Kellen Mond was 8/24 passing, the Aggies only rushed for 83 yards on 38 carries and only had four first downs in the first three quarters, but Texas A&M defeated Florida anyhow. Florida coach Jim McElwain is now 5-11 when Florida opponents score more than 14 points.
- The Sam Darnold Turnover Machine keeps humming along (credited with three fumbles) as Utah jumped out to a 21-7 first half lead. However Darnold finished with 358 passing yards and three touchdowns as a failed two-point conversion by Utah with 42 seconds remaining allowed the Trojans to escape the Coliseum with a victory.
- Texas Tech scored on four of six first half possessions (missing field goals on the other two drives) and went up 35-17 early in the third quarter until West Virginia put up 29 unanswered points to pull away with the victory. Will Grier was the hero, throwing for 352 yards and 5 touchdowns.
- Whether it was the lengthy weather delays or the swarming TCU defense, Kansas State didn’t look much interested in a fight against the Horned Frogs. Starting quarterback Alex Delton, who shredded Texas for much of the game last week, was held to 39 rushing yards on 19 carries as the Wildcats were 2/15 on third down.
- And finally, when Oklahoma has 20 points through their first four drives, and you have 33 yards through your first three drives it’s going to be a long day.
As I walked out of the Cotton Bowl last week, with the smell of corn dog and domestic beer lingering over the masses like a persistent fog, only one statement came to mind.
Son of a bitch.
We can talk X’s and O’s all we want. There is a ton to fix on both sides of the ball, and not much time to get there as another nightmare matchup lingers just a few days from now. But Oklahoma had a Heisman Trophy contending quarterback, the best offensive line in the conference and a defense that hasn’t looked sharp lately but just a month ago went into the Horseshoe and shut down the Buckeyes, and Texas still had the ball with a minute to go with a more than zero chance of winning the game.
And dammit if this kid Sam Ehlinger didn’t have me thinking the Longhorns were about to somehow pull this off.
If you don’t think the crimson clad Sooner fans on the other end of the arena were choking on their pork rinds when Texas started moving the ball you need to reevaluate matters.
But alas, it wasn’t to be in the end.
The 2017 Texas Longhorns football team motto might as well be “No Moral Victories at Texas”, but all you can do each and every Saturday is go out and leave it all on the field and twice this year it was almost enough against Top 10 opponents.
On the flip side, you can certainly say that they didn’t leave it all on the field against Maryland, and you can certainly say that they were Chris Warren not recovering a fumble from losing to Kansas State. It goes both ways.
So here they sit at 3-3, and the symmetry of their remaining opponents pleases my OCD. Oklahoma State and TCU very well could meet again in Arlington in December. Texas Tech and West Virginia are both dangerous but also flawed squads. And if the Longhorns lose to winless Baylor or lose again to Kansas I am pivoting this column and learning the rules to Quidditch.
There was a time not that long ago that Texas fans debated declining a bowl berth, but two straight years of getting elbows to the ribs about Paul’s Barber College getting a bowl berth and Texas not getting one has led me to getting my Elvis costume together for a trip to Memphis (the Liberty Bowl), setting Southwest Airlines alerts for fares to Phoenix (the Cactus Bowl), contemplating how I can go to Orlando and not get roped into a trip to Disney World (the Camping World Bowl) and finally trying to convince myself that playing in the Cotton Bowl stadium would be just like Texas/OU Part Deux (the Heart of Dallas Bowl).
Desperate times call for desperate measures.
To get there Texas requires three more wins, and if we’re counting Baylor and Kansas for my sanity, basic math tells me they need one more out of that group mentioned previously. Something tells me they’ll get more than that, because I do think this team has a major upset in it, and I do think as this season goes forth this team will get better.
If not, we’ll always have the moral victories of 2017 to tell our grandchildren about.
On to the games…
USC @ Notre Dame -3.5:
Notre Dame does two things very well. First, they run the football, as they showed last time out rushing for 341 yards against North Carolina (and an astounding 515 yards rushing against Boston College earlier this year), and they don’t beat themselves, as they currently rank 9th in the country in turnover margin.
USC’s issues turning over the ball are well chronicled. Add that to a matchup against a Notre Dame defense that is 13th in the country in S&P+ defense and haven’t allowed a team to score more than 20 points all season, I think the Irish pull out a win in the 91st meeting between these two schools.
Notre Dame 28 USC 23
ATS – Notre Dame
SU – Notre Dame
Michigan @ Penn State -9.5:
A funny thing happened on Jim Harbaugh’s way to dominate the college game. He forgot to bring an offense and they’re still playing with razor thin margins.
Penn State has been dominant this season, but there is a question about who they have played, as currently Iowa at 38th in the S&P+ rankings are the best team on their schedule. With Michigan, @ Ohio State and @ Michigan State the next three weeks, we’ll see what they are made of.
To give them credit, they have been ridiculously good on defense, only allowing 9 points per game. They have shut out two opponents, and the most points they have given up in 6 games is 19 points.
Saquon Barkley gets the headlines, but Trace McSorely has been efficient at quarterback and certainly brings more stability to the position than John O’Korn brings does.
The Wolverines embarrassed Penn State last season 49-10…not even close to that this time.
Penn State 23 Michigan 16
ATS – Michigan
SU – Penn State
West Virginia -9.5 @ Baylor:
I am pretty sure this is the latest that I have ever featured a winless team in this column this deep into the season, but one glance at the schedule tells you that this game ranks up there in the matter of local importance.
As mentioned, Baylor is winless for the first time since 1969, so if you grew up in the nineties like I did even those terrible teams that drew like 6 people at Floyd Casey Stadium were never this bad. That’s quite the accomplishment.
West Virginia has Oklahoma State on the schedule next week, so there is a chance they overlook this one, but while Baylor had a valiant effort against Oklahoma, they rank near the bottom of the country in yards allowed at 518 per game, including yielding 747 total yards to Oklahoma State last week. That should be reserved for airplanes, not defenses.
West Virginia 41 Baylor 27
ATS – West Virginia
SU – West Virginia
Iowa State @ Texas Tech -7:
Last year’s meeting between these two teams had to be one of the most shocking of the 2016 season, as Iowa State demolished Texas Tech 66-10 in Ames. The Cyclones put up 600 yards of offense on the Red Raiders. That must have been a long plane ride home.
But that was last year. This year, Texas Tech looks better on defense….”better” being a relative term, of course. Iowa State, meanwhile, is currently 2-1 in the Big 12, and if you are an optimistic Cyclones fan, you see that you have both TCU and Oklahoma State at home later in the season.
Winning in Lubbock is a lot more difficult than winning in Ames, of course. Despite a comfortable win over Kansas last week, Iowa State was quite average on offense, and probably can’t replicate that defensive effort against the Red Raiders.
Texas Tech 45 Iowa State 31
ATS – Texas Tech
SU – Texas Tech
Oklahoma -14 @ Kansas State:
There is an oddity in this series that every year since 2011, the visiting team has won the game, until last year’s 38-17 Oklahoma victory in Norman. That is probably just a testament to Bill Snyder and how his teams aren’t scared when they play the best.
With Jesse Ertz out indefinitely, Alex Delton is now the man in Manhattan and while he looked dangerous against Texas, he looked very average against TCU, only achieving 5.03 yards per pass attempt and rushing for just 39 yards.
The Wildcats have the secondary to match up with the Sooners and their passing attack, but unless Ertz is somehow able to go or Delton looks better than he did against TCU, this could be a long day for the home team.
Oklahoma 38 Kansas State 17
ATS – Oklahoma
SU – Oklahoma
Oklahoma State -7 @ Texas:
The schedule makers do Texas no favors this week as 7 days after a tough, physical, emotionally draining game against their arch rivals in Dallas the Longhorns must get up again to play the #10 Oklahoma State Cowboys.
There was a time where this was an entertaining yet ultimately satisfying rivalry for the Longhorns, as they won 13 of the first 14 matchups in the Big 12 conference between these two teams, however recently the Cowboys have turned the tide, winning 5 of the last 7, including the last four matchups played in Austin (Colt McCoy threw for nearly 400 yards and Vondrell McGee, Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby all had touchdowns in the last victory in Austin, 2008).
Oklahoma State brings one of the country’s best offenses to town (2nd in the S&P+ rankings), and they are explosive, as last week’s opponent Baylor can attest to, as the Cowboys had NINE passing plays of 30 yards or more last week.
Mason Rudolph is the next best thing to Baker Mayfield in this conference (and possibly the country), as he has already thrown for 2,368 yards and 19 touchdowns on the season. Think you’ll get some pressure on him and force him into a mistake? Think again as their offensive line has only allowed a 3.3% sack rate and Rudolph has only thrown 4 interceptions on 204 attempts.
Add that to the fact that the Cowboys have the best set of receivers in the conference, running back Justice Hill has more than 700 total offensive yards this season and Rudolph himself has 5 rushing touchdowns and Todd Orlando isn’t getting much sleep this week.
Defensively it is a little hard to judge (44th in S&P+ defense) when you are playing the likes of South Alabama, but the two teams the Cowboys have played with a pulse on offense have scored 44 (TCU) and 34 (Texas Tech) against them. Here is where you can certainly argue whether Texas has a pulse on offense, but Tulsa was able to rush for 244 yards, Pittsburgh was able to throw for 288, TCU ran for 238 yards and even Baylor ran for more than 200 yards, so they usually allow you to do at least something.
Which defense do we see here? Is it the first half defense against Oklahoma that gave up 6 plays of more than 20 yards, or is it is the second half that allowed 9 points to Mayfield, with 6 of those coming on one long, broken play? Is it the USC defense that contained Sam Darnold, or is the defense that allowed Darnold to drive down the field to tie the game?
Unfortunately after watching Texas blow coverage after coverage in the first half last week and Mayfield miss open receivers in the second half, I just don’t think Texas can contain that offense enough to win this game. This just isn’t a team equipped to win shootouts at this stage of their maturation.
I hope that I am wrong.
Oklahoma State 38 Texas 24
ATS – Oklahoma State
SU – Oklahoma State
For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for Justin Timberlake tickets.