Jake Shaw analyzes the weekend's college action across Texas.
The Big 12 may be known for offense, but that reputation holds true for the entire state. And one odd statistic proves that perhaps more than any other.
Through four weeks of the 2012 season, five Texas-based programs are among the top 15 programs who have punted the least amount of times. Texas Tech leads the nation with just two punts. Texas has done it five times, one fewer than UTSA, while TCU (7) and Baylor (10) also finish drives with results that most often don't involve punting.
How many times did your favorite program punt this weekend? I recap most of what went on in Texas from the past weekend. As always, the recaps -- and the brief look-aheads -- are based on the order of this week's power poll rankings.
1) Texas (3-0)
What actually happened: The Longhorns hung out in Austin on Saturday, likely watched some great NFL games on Sunday, and woke up Monday to find out they're a Top 10 team, at least according to the coaches; the media ranks UT 12th in the nation. Not bad for a weekend off.
Key number: 2, the number of consecutive losses by Texas to OSU, where UT travels to on Saturday. Texas had just two losses in the previous 24 meetings.
What's next: I gave it away in the key stat: Texas travels to OSU, and while rankings mean very little at this point of the season, we'll get a good idea of which team truly belongs where they currently are. Oklahoma State is in the "receiving votes" category of the top 25s, while Texas has climbed to as high as 10th in the media's opinion. I'm not sold on OSU being unranked, nor am I sure that Texas is the tenth best team in the nation. We'll know a lot more about both teams by Saturday evening.
2) TCU (3-0)
The mob said: TCU by 17.5
So said I: TCU 37, Virginia 17
What actually happened: The defense in TCU's 27-7 win over Virginia took all the pressure off the TCU offense, which actually needed some help after it had trouble holding onto the ball for two straight weeks. QB Casey Pachall put up great numbers (21-32, 305 yards, 3 TDs), but he threw a bad interception around the goal line, and he had at least two more would-be INTs dropped. Receiver Skye Dawson also lost a fumble that went through the end zone for a touchback. And while I'm nit-picking, I've also got to wonder about about the longterm viability of the TCU running game. Not only has TCU lost the two guys it thought would top the 2012 RB depth chart, the young offensive line will have some trouble creating space this year. But all those negatives were out-weighed by another dominant defensive performance, one that shouldn't be marred by the Frogs finally giving up their first TD of the year. And if you haven't seen Brandon Carter's 68-yard one-handed TD catch, Let Me Google That For You. Carter (5-128, TD on Saturday) is quickly going from breakout player to potential all-Big 12 receiver.
Star of the game: He didn't get as many tackles as usual, but Kenny Cain was still the top playmaker for the TCU defense. Aside from his four tackles, Cain had a fumble recovery and two interceptions. He was also credited with a QB hurry and a shared tackle for a loss.
Key number: 1, both the number of TDs TCU's defense has allowed in three games -- and the number of sacks the TCU offensive line has given up in three games. That's certainly a winning combination.
What's next: TCU coach Gary Patterson gets a chance to take out his frustration with SMU coach June Jones on the field rather than on the podium. It was TCU's loss to SMU -- on the Frogs' home turf -- that pretty much cost TCU another BCS bowl last year. I expect the Frogs to be hyped up for this one.
3) Texas A&M (2-1)
The mob said: It couldn't count high enough to set this line
So said I: Texas A&M 59, South Carolina State 0
What actually happened: The best reference I've seen to Texas A&M's new offense is "sandlot football." I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not, but it makes for entertaining football, and it had Aggie fans cheering constantly in a 70-14 win over South Carolina State Saturday in College Station. QB Johnny Manziel accounted for half of A&M's 10 TDs, running his season total to 12. This game was over by halftime, when A&M led 49-7. A week after sitting out because of suspension, RB Christine Michael didn't get his normal number of carries, allowing Ben Malena (11-88, 2 TDs) to get temporarily steal the featured role. The defense, despite giving up a couple scores to an FCS program that was shut out by Arizona earlier this season, continued to make a lot of plays, getting a pick-six to close the scoring while pushing its sacks-per-game average up to a nation-leading 5.3.
Star of the game: Who else other than Johnny Manziel? He accounted for 5 TDs and 262 of A&M's 448 yards, all while sitting out much of the blowout in the second half.
Key number: 101 and 76, the respective rankings of the defense and offense of A&M's next opponent, Arkansas.
What's next: After meeting in Arlington the past three years, Arkansas and Texas A&M have momentarily switched to home-and-home now that they're conference mates. This one could get ugly -- a very different ugly than the last three years, when the Aggies have lost all three games in variously exscrutiating fashion. This one has the chance to be ugly in the Aggies' favor seeing that Arkansas has completely fallen off the map.
t-4) Baylor (3-0)
The mob said: Baylor by 7.5
So said I: Baylor 45, Louisiana-Monroe 35
What actually happened: Baylor walked into a hornet's nest in Monroe, Louisiana, and came out with a few bites -- but also a 47-42 win. Don't laugh; yeah, ULM might be a traditional un-power, but this is a Warhawks club that delivered the knockout punch to Arkansas, then fell in OT at Auburn, which dang near beat LSU this past weekend. ULM has put together a nice team, and throw in a record-sellout crowd, ULM was fired up and ready to beat Baylor. It got off to a hot start, taking a 14-0 lead, but QB Nick Florence (26-39, 351 yards, 4 TDs) -- after two early interceptions -- and the BU offense finally got going, scoring 24 in the second quarter alone. Three Baylor receivers had at least 84 yards receiving, led by Tevin Reese (8-145), who along with Terrance Williams (4-84) had two TD receptions. Williams's final catch gave Baylor a 47-35 lead with only a couple minutes left. And that's where we come to the negatives: With that lead, Baylor's defense had a chance to gain some momentum and get a stop. Instead, ULM QB Kolton Browning led his team down the field for a final score. It proved inconsequential, but this is a Baylor defense needing to get better, and through three games it's very questionable if there has been improvement.
Star of the game: Once again, Nick Florence was Baylor's MVP. He shook off his two picks to pass for 351 yards and 4 TDs, but his best play might've been a freelanced pitch out to receiver Levi Norwood, who caught the lateral and ran 21 yards for a TD to give Baylor a 40-35 lead. Florence's name doesn't show up in the box score on that play, but it was a heady play at a crucial point in the game.
Key number: 31,175, the attendance at Malone Stadium in Monroe, the largest ever for a home game at ULM, which moved up to Division I football (now FBS) in 1994.
What's next: If Friday night in Louisiana was a dogfit, I'm not sure what to call what the Bears will face on Saturday morning in Morgantown, West Virginia, where the Mountaineers will play their first-ever Big 12 game. Baylor's defense needs its best game of the year to have a chance for the upset of No. 8 West Virginia. The Bears, ranked in both the AP and coaches polls for the first season, will skyrocket up the rankings with a win, but it will take a colossal effort to do so.
t-4) Texas Tech (3-0)
What actually happened: Tommy Tubberville spent the week partly praising his team, calling it the best he's had in Lubbock, and partly trying to keep them from getting too overconfident after a 3-0 start where everything -- from offense to defense to special teams -- is clicking.
Key number: 1, Texas Tech's defense's national ranking, 115 spots higher than it finished the 2011 season. However, two of the FBS teams Texas Tech has beaten to earn that position rank 117th (New Mexico) and 77th (Texas State), so the jury is still out.
What's next: The Red Raiders had an extra week off to prepare for Iowa State, a team that has, frankly, embarrassed Tech the past two seasons. This is a crucial game for Tech. It's tough to emphasize a game that's 1) so early in the season and 2) on the road, but with the next five games against ranked teams, including three in the Top 10 of various polls, Tech can't afford to lose momentum now.
6) UTEP (1-3)
The mob said: Wisconsin by 17
So said I: Wisconsin 24, UTEP 13
What actually happened: Lest you think Mike Price was satisfied with a 37-26 loss at Wisconsin -- the Miners' third competitive defeat to a BCS program -- just check out one of his big toes. The toenail was removed after Price kicked a trashcan in frustration during his postgame speech to his players. UTEP was in this game again, cutting a 14-point halftime deficit to 23-19 in the third quarter. That's when Wisconsin countered with a 75-yard scoring drive, doing it without having to face a third down. UTEP's defense did accomplish what had never been done before: Forcing and recovering a fumble by Wisconsin RB Montee Ball. And the Miners actually knocked Ball out of the game, but between Melvin Gordon (8-112, TD) and James White (15-65, 2 TDs), UTEP couldn't slow down Wisconsin's running game.
Star of the game: I was tempted to go with WR Michael Edwards (7-151, 2 TDs), but he had a costly fourth-quarter fumble that Wisconsin turned into a TD one play later. Nick Lamaison was the biggest reason UTEP remained in the game, fighting through four sacks to throw for 259 yards and two scores.
Key number: 5,820, the number of miles UTEP will travel over a nine-day span while playing road games at Wisconsin and at East Carolina.
What's next: The Miners face an East Carolina (2-2) squad that also put some BCS programs on its schedule. ECU has lost to South Carolina and North Carolina by wide margins in the past three weeks. And the Pirates have only scored 6 TDs in four games, making this UTEP's most winnable game so far, outside of the home game against New Mexico State.
7) North Texas (1-3)
The mob said: Pick
So said I: North Texas 41, Troy 37
What actually happened: Troy was held to nearly three touchdowns below its scoring average, but the Mean Green offense didn't match the defense's effort in a 14-7 loss. Troy's offense came into the game averaging well over 500 yards per game, but UNT limited the Trojans to 382 and forced three-and-outs on Troy's first three possessions. Looking at UNT's offensive numbers -- 422 total yards, 186 of them on the ground for a 5.3 yards-per-carry average; no turnovers -- combined with the defense's effort, and UNT would've looked like it won this thing going away. But third down was the bane of UNT's Saturday. The Mean Green converted just twice on 14 third-down attempts. And UNT also failed two of three fourth-down conversions, including on its final possession of the game. Those numbers make this loss more explicable, but this was a game UNT should've won. Since defenders won my stars of the game, I've still got to give a hat-tip to WRs Brelan Chancellor (4-107, TD) and Ivan Delgado (6-126), who were UNT's first pair of 100-yard receivers since 2007.
Stars of the game: Holding Troy to 14 points usually results in a win, so the defense did its work. The two standouts from that unit were linebackers Derek Akunne, who had 12 tackles and one sack, and Zachary Orr, who had one less tackle than Akunne and added an interception.
Key number: 3, the number of field-goal attempts missed by North Texas, two of which were from 40 yards or less.
What's next: UNT resumes Sun Belt play with a road trip to Florida Atlantic, a team beaten up over the last two weeks with losses by an average of 5 TDs per game to Georgia and Alabama. Having earlier lost to Middle Tennessee State, FAU -- like North Texas -- really needs this win to avoid dropping to 0-2 in conference play. UNT beat FAU by two scores last year in Denton.
8) Rice (1-3)
The mob said: Marshall by 2.5
So said I: Rice 40, Marshall 37
What actually happened: Injury was added to the insult of a 54-51 double-overtime loss to Marshall on Saturday. Taylor McHargue -- who had quietly put together an excellent season before having the game of his life against Marshall -- wasn't able to play in the extra sessions, injuring his non-throwing shoulder while diving into the end zone for a touchdown with about four minutes left in the game. Backup Driphus Jackson played the rest of the night. In one of the more thrilling games of the year, no team ever trailed by more than seven points after McHargue threw a 43-yard TD pass to Donte Moore to cut Marshall's lead to 21-14 with 6:30 left in the first half. Rice would score again to tie the game, and the teams traded points for the rest of the night. Rice had a chance to end the game in regulation, getting a first-and-goal from the Marshall two-yard line, but after a one-yard run on first down, a false start pushed Rice five yards back, and the Owls had to settle for a game-tying field goal with five seconds left in the fourth quarter. In a high-scoring game like this, a field goal almost feels like a wasted possession. For Rice, the difference between the FG and TD was the difference between a W and an L.
Star of the game: It would be a disservice to give it to anyone but Taylor McHargue, who posted career highs in both passing yards (316) and rushing yards (153) while putting up four TDs. Who knows what he would've done had he not left the game with an injury, but it's safe to say the game's outcome would've been different.
Key number: 6.7, the average yards gained on Marshall's 50 rushes, totaling 334 yards. Rice is now allowing teams to rush than more than 300 yards per game.
What's next: With or without McHargue, Rice is fired up to get revenge for losing the Bayou Bucket to Houston last year. But let's be clear, Houston may be 0-3, but the Coogs will be the favorites if McHargue can't go. He's too valuable to Rice.
9) SMU (1-2)
What actually happened: The Mustangs apparently didn't use the off week to get some rest, putting in some extra time after practice, hoping to get the offense in shape by this weekend. SMU's passing attack has been a dud through three games, as QB Garrett Gilbert has one more interception than he has touchdown passes.
Key number: 124, SMU's defensive ranking out of the 124 FBS teams, partly explained by playing games against the No. 6 (Baylor) and 36 (Texas A&M) offenses in the country, as well as an offensively-strong FCS team (SFA).
What's next: June Jones can silence critics and restore some faith to his bosses with an Iron Skillet win over TCU this weekend. In rivalry games, nothing is out of the ordinary, though SMU and TCU enter the game playing on two far different levels of football.
10) UTSA (4-0)
The mob said: The mob distances itself from lines involving Division II teams
So said I: UTSA 44, NWOSU 6
What actually happened: The Roadrunners scored the game's first 42 points before NWOSU kicked a field goal with two seconds left in the first half. The dominant 56-3 UTSA win was just what the program was supposed to do to a bad Division II program. There's not a whole lot to break down in the smaller picture here, but in the bigger picture, this win is very meaningful. UTSA is off to a 4-0 start in just its second season of football. After two home games, it leads the WAC in average game attendance. Things might get rocky from here, but the Roadrunners are establishing the foundations of an FBS program by doing the right way: Building up both wins and excitement.
Stars of the game: Everybody gets involved in blowouts, so not one single Roadrunner had an exceptional game that stood out above the others. I'll go with RBs David Glasco (4-69, 2 TDs) and Evans Okotcha (7-40, 2 TDs), who combined to score 33 percent of the times they touched the ball on Saturday.
Key number: 38-17, the run-pass ratio by UTSA on Saturday. The Roadrunners didn't need to throw it much around in this one-sided game; starter Eric Soza only had seven attempts but gained 115 yards on them, while his backup, John Simmons, was a perfect 8-for-8.
What's next: The schedule begins to get more difficult, although in small increments. Up this week is a road game against 1-3 New Mexico State, which took the opposite approach as UTSA and played a tougher non-conference schedule, including road games at Ohio, UTEP and New Mexico.
11) Texas State (2-1)
The mob said: It didn't have an opinion on this line
So said I: Texas State 37, SFA 27
What actually happened: Texas State jumped out to a big lead in the second half, then withstood an SFA rally in a 41-37 win. The Bobcats pushed their lead to 41-17 on TE Chase Harper's 9-yard score six minutes into the second half, and that's when things got interesting. Texas State would turn the ball over on downs, lose two fumbles, miss a field goal and punt the ball on every possession afterward. SFA, meanwhile, answered with three touchdowns on its next four possessions to cut the deficit to four points. Finally, the Texas State defense woke up, forcing an SFA three-and-out on the next-to-last possession before stopping SFA on downs on the final possession of the game.
Star of the game: With the threat of losing his job to backup Tyler Arndt, Shaun Rutherford made a strong case to keep his first-team role, throwing for 301 yards and 3 TDs -- with just five incomplete passes -- while adding 48 yards and a score on the ground.
Key number: 98, the yards covered by Isaiah Battle on a touchdown pass from Rutherford, setting a school record. Battle finished with six catches for 140 yards a year after torching SFA for five catches for 131 yards.
What's next: Texas State's defensive woes in the second half will be a concern again when Nevada comes to town. The Wolf Pack average 557 yards of offense per game and nearly 6 TDs per outing, boosted by a 69-24 win at Hawaii last week. The Bobcats better hope Nevada is still recovering from jet lag after the trip out to the islands.
12) Houston (0-3)
What actually happened: Houston got the week off, needing the extra seven days of rest perhaps more than any team in the country. The Coogs are off to only their second 0-3 start in program history. The last time that happened, UH went winless for the season. First-year coach Tony Levine and his staff likely put in a lot more hours during an off week to try to figure out how to jumpstart the running game, make the passing game more efficient, and how to get his defense to come up with more stops.
Key number: 48.79, the average yards per punt by Houston's Richie Leone. That number leads the nation by nearly a full yard over the second-best punter.
What's next: Good news and bad news for Houston: Rice's offense has been very good this year, and Houston's 123-ranked defense has been flat out bad. But Rice's defense (rated 122nd in the nation) has been equally porous, so I expect a ton of points to be scored between these crosstown rivals. Picking a winner is the tougher call.
Grading My Predictions
Last week straight up: 6-2
Last week against the spread: 2-3
Season straight up: 32-8
Season against the spread: 15-11
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com