Overall, the Mountaineer defense has been the one constant positive in a season filled with inconsistent performance. The only poor game, from beginning to end, was the Baylor game, which resulted in WVU being gashed for more than 500 yards of total offense and 45 points. The defense was solid again last week against Kansas State despite what the scoreboard indicated. The drives that the Wildcats scored touchdowns on were as follows: 55 yards, punt block, 33 yards, and 63 yards. The defense can’t be expected to shut down opposing offenses when the offense can’t sustain drives or get first downs.
Going into the Texas game, it will be important for the offense to get back on track in order to win the field position battle. Texas’s offense averages 6.7 plays per drive across all games in 2021. Coupling that stat with their average yards per play of 6.2 ypp means that, on average, the Longhorn offense will move the ball about 30-40 yards per drive. Additionally, the Longhorns only have 4 or less plays on a drive on 7% of all possessions. WVU will not force many 3 and outs, and because our defensive philosophy can be labeled as “bend but don’t break”, when the field behind them is shortened, those bends lead to scores. As an example, if Texas gets the ball on our 25 and drives 30 yards, they will punt. However, if Texas gets the ball on our 40 and drives 30 yards, they will likely get 3 points.
The best way for the Mountaineer defense to detach itself from the offensive’s performance is to attack the Longhorns where they are weak, and apply additional attention to matchups that are not their favor. Below is a breakdown of how WVU can shutdown the dynamic offense of the Texas Longhorns.
- Pass Rush – Texas excels at running the ball as evidenced by their 198 yards rushing per game, and while Bijan Robinson is a big reason for that, the offensive line excels at run blocking. However, with Bijan out, the Longhorns may try to pass more, especially to their big-time freshman, Xavier Worthy, in order to offset the loss of Robinson. This does not play to their line’s strengths as right tackle, Derek Kerstetter, is the only offensive lineman that has a better than average grade. WVU needs to find a way to exploit these other matchups in the trenches to generate pressure on quarterback, Casey Thompson, and force him into mistakes, which has a history of working this year. In games where Thompson is sacked 2 times more more, he only completes 58% of his passes for 9 TDs and 4 INTs. However, in games where he is sacked 1 time or less, he is completing 71% of his passes for 14 TDs and 3 INTs. The WVU pass rush is going to be very important.
- Xavier Worthy – I alluded to Xavier Worthy in the point above, but he is that important of a player that he deserves his own bullet. Xavier Worthy is a 6’1″ 160 pound Freshman wide receiver that is lighting up defenses this year. He has racked up more than 830 yards and 11 touchdowns on more than 17 yard per catch. He presents matchup issues regardless of who is covering him, and while the Mountaineer secondary has been good as of late, they cannot rely on their defensive backs to cover Worthy one-on-one. We need to double Worthy and be sure we are able to keep him in check.
- Rushing attack – With Bijan Robinson out, it’s still uncertain who will lead the Longhorn’s rushing attack. However, it is likely that we will see a lot of Roschon Johnson, the 6’2″ 219 pound junior running back. Johnson has the most experience out of any other back in the Texas backfield, with more than 1,300 career rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. In fact, Johnson has four career games with more than 100 yards rushing, including one against WVU in 2019. The strength of Texas’s running game comes from its interior lineman, who grade out as good run blockers per PFF. This means the linebackers will need to play better this week than they did against Kansas State by flowing to the running lanes faster, getting off blocks, and finishing tackles.
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