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Grabbing the Bull by the Horns: Previewing the 2017 Texas Longhorns

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An unranked Longhorn team still poses plenty of challenge for the Frogs

NCAA Football: Texas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

They say “almost” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. But Longhorn fans would beg to differ this season. “Almost” pretty much sums up their season. The Horns aren’t ranked, but it’s not for lack of trying. While 25 teams are at the cool kids lunch table, Texas is holding its cafeteria tray and standing nearby looking for someone they can uproot. This week, that someone is TCU.

Schedule

After their first game against Maryland, nobody paid much attention to Texas. Jokes were thrown around about Texas still being the Texas team of recent seasons. But then they went to Los Angeles and faced a then-No. 4 USC team that kept everyone glued to their TV until almost midnight. Losing 27-24 in double overtime, talk of how the Horns almost beat USC could be heard around the state. The first week of Big 12 play should have the Longhorns feeling like they dodged a bullet, since they played an Iowa State team that hadn’t yet found its mojo and was still starting Jacob Park at QB. Texas is currently the only Big 12 loss haunting a stellar Cyclones season. Then there were the almosts against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. With Sam Ehlinger getting injured in the final minutes of the Red River Showdown, the Longhorns just couldn’t pull it together on offense to overcome the Sooners. And Oklahoma State pulled it together to get a messy 13-10 OT victory over the Horns the following weekend. The Horns have had plenty of shoulda-coulda-wouldas this season.

Offense

Texas’ roster is stacked with potential, thanks to solid recruiting efforts in recent years. Their roster has also been plagued with injuries. Shane Buechele, the Longhorns’ starter at quarterback going into the season, has had shoulder and ankle injuries this year. Sam Ehlinger continues to be under concussion protocol for a head injury at Red River. And last week RB Toneil Carter had a head injury against Baylor. OT Connor Williams has been hurt since the USC game, and RB Kyle Porter suffered a chest injury a few weeks ago. So far, the otherwise stacked roster has allowed Texas to rotate players through games, depending on their needs for a specific play series. That lack of predictability has kept teams on its toes this season. Tom Herman takes pride in surprising everyone with his starting QB choice each week (given they’re both healthy). He’s alluded to both QBs possibly playing this week, but says that they’ll likely have a starter chosen by now. These are their current passing stats:

The two QBs are fairly even, averaging almost the same number of yards per attempt. Ehlinger has more attempts (and 1 more game), but Buechele’s completion percentage is stronger. Ehlinger has 6 touchdowns to his name, but he’s also been sacked for a loss of 93 yards, versus Buechele’s -53.

In terms of receiving and rushing, Texas is the team that gives everyone a chance. WR Armanti Foreman leads in touchdown receptions (3), but WR Collin Johnson has 36 receptions on the season for 571 yards. Ehlinger himself poses a strong rushing threat as a quarterback. But Chris Warren III and Kyle Porter, along with freshmen Toneil Carter and Daniel Young, create a talented pool of running backs to choose from. Carter had 70 yards and a touchdown against Baylor last week before he was injured, and Young had 60 yards and a touchdown.

Where Texas’ offense seems to struggle is on 3rd and 4th down. They’re 6/17 on 4th downs this season. Last week against Baylor, they went 0/2 on 4th downs and 5/15 on 3rd downs. If the Frogs can limit the Horns’ in the first two downs, the Horns may not be able to advance down the field.

Defense

Defense is what Texas has become known for this season. Once again, their roster allows them to rotate defensive players to match what their opponent is setting up on the field. And their defensive line is strong. Many would argue that it was their defense that set them up for the almost victories. Games against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and USC could’ve gotten completely out of control without key defensive stops. John Bonney had 2 fumble recoveries against Baylor, and Charles Omenihu had a forced fumble. Holton Hill has 2 interceptions and 2 defensive touchdowns this season. He’s got the kind of numbers that make NFL scouts pay attention and is expected to be drafted.

DeShon Elliot poses an even greater threat, with 2 touchdowns of his own and 6 interceptions. The Horns suffered a big loss with DB PJ Locke III going out in the Bayor game last week. Texas DBs can force a quarterback to have pinpoint accuracy, while avoiding a defensive line that can seemingly break down walls. The silly mistakes that TCU made on offense last week simply can’t happen this week if they expect to protect Kenny Hill and give him time to throw an accurate pass.

Prediction

The Longhorns won’t be an easy win like the past few matchups we’ve seen. That being said, the Horns are beat up and starting to thin a bit on the roster. They don’t have the depth they had at the start of the season. The Frogs can’t stand to make mistakes in this game, but they have the ability to greatly limit the Horns’ offense. Texas can switch players all they want, but you can bet Patterson will prepare the Frogs for every possibility. There’s plenty of film on them all by now. The Frogs have to be accurate on offense. Dropped balls and inaccurate passes can’t happen. As long as the Frogs keep their heads in the game, they should have no problem reaching into their bag of tricks to keep the Longhorns guessing. My prediction?

TCU 28-UT 17

GO FROGS!