With the juxtaposition of styles, Texas playing a more conventional, pro-set style against WVU’s Air Raid, third down conversions could go a long way in determining the outcome. The Mountaineers lead the nation in third down conversion rate at 60.9 percent (28 of 46) after hitting on 12 of 15 in the 70-63 win over Baylor. Texas is fourth at 58 percent, converting 35 of 60 attempts.
It’s a major key mainly because of the Longhorn offense, which will try to mix punishing, between-the-tackles run with opportunistic passing to control the ball, and clock, and keep West Virginia’s third-ranked scoring offense off the field.
“We did a better job this week and didn’t get ourselves behind the chains,” Holgorsen said. “And that’s what Texas does, not getting behind the chains and continuing to move forward. They just do it in a different style.”
Maryland had some success with the strategy, and a flat WVU team never truly pulled away in a 31-21 win as it had in solid victories in its first two games. Texas won’t slow it down that much – “(Maryland) standing over the ball for 30 seconds looking at the sideline, that was hard to watch” was Holgorsen’s description – but expect a significantly slower game pace this Saturday, and increased toughness and physicality.
“It’s what they do,” Holgorsen said. “They are very well-coached offensively, and defensively, and (UT co-offensive coordinator and QB coach Brian Harsin) develops quarterbacks. I have known Brian a long time. (Texas quarterback David Ash) is playing at a high level and taking care of the football. The backs are big, they will scare you, and they have a couple kids on the outside that can run. From a scheme standpoint, they will play conventional football and keep us off the field. This will not be like last week where both teams have 90 snaps. That will slow us down. They will play two backs, use tight ends. We will have to match-up.”
Holgorsen noted that indeed West Virginia matches up better, from a defensive standpoint, against the more traditional look. The Mountaineers struggled with Baylor’s spread, passed-based offense, and its pacing and skilled wideouts. WVU couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing a Baylor team second in the nation in scoring offense to convert 11 of 16. The Bears, sixth in the NCAA with 29 first downs per game, converted their only fourth down try as well. There were positives, however, and a second viewing of the game settled some West Virginia coaching staff nerves.
“You go back and see what happened and I felt much better about it (after watching again),” Holgorsen said. “We played pretty good defense 75 percent of the time. But they got chunks (at times), and that’s pretty disheartening. Baylor won nine games in a row. They know what they are doing and they put guys in position to make plays and they make plays.
“Defensively, we played well against the run. We held them to two yards per carry. We were physical up front. We were really happy with the guys up front in terms of stopping the run. We have guys behind the starters that needed to do a better job. Now, our pass defense was atrocious. We got them in third down and didn’t make a play in the secondary. We either have to get the starters better or find other guys.”
Holgorsen said the offensive line play was quite good. “Joey Madsen probably had his best game since he’s been here,” he said. “And having another year in this system makes everyone (better).”
Hogorsen was asked how defensive coordinator Joe DeForest handled the outcome, and the head coach was, as per typical, quite forthright. “He felt worse than anybody,” Holgorsen said. “I didn’t have a very good day, either. I have been in games like that, both offenses playing at a very high level, receivers making plays, quarterbacks playing at a high level, pass protection good.”