Jake Shaw recaps the weekend's college action across Texas.
The midway point of the 2012 season is almost here. Bad news and good news: The time of year that we all wait so impatiently for is just about halfway finished, so that's obviously the bad news.
The good? There's still a lot of football to be played. And this is the time of year when the stakes are raised and the intensity is cranked up a notch or two. Two spirited rivalry games (Texas/OU, TCU/Baylor) this weekend will go a long way in determining the Big 12 standings, while another game (UTSA at Rice) will help us further figure out where teams rank within the state's borders.
But before we look too deep into the future, a review of the past weekend's action is in store. As always, the recaps (and the brief look-aheads) are based on the order of this week's power poll rankings.
1) Texas (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12)
The mob said: Texas by 7
So said I: West Virginia 45, Texas 41
What actually happened: The Texas defense managed to slow down Heisman front-runner Geno Smith, but it shocking had no answer for Andrew Buie in a 48-45 loss. Who, you're asking? Buie, West Virginia's sophomore running back, had never rushed for 100 yards in a game. Saturday in Austin, he rushed for 207 and 2 TDs, averaging nearly seven yards on each of his 31 carries. That helped WVU overcome season lows in attempts (35), completions (25) and yards (268) by Smith, who had a decent game with 4 TDs and no picks, but felt more pressure than he has all season. Texas sacked him four times, forcing two fumbles. The first led to a one-yard TD run on the next play. The second was just as costly -- but for Texas. After forcing and recovering a fumble, Texas went backwards on its ensuing drive and Anthony Fera wound up missing a FG. Those three points obviously would have mattered in this game.
Star of the game: There might not be any more proving necessary for Texas QB David Ash. After another solid game (22-29, 269 yards, TD) and showing poise in a second straight late-game situation, Ash is showing confidence and command as the starter. It's the running game (3.5 yards per carry against WVU), oddly enough, that is the cause for concern.
Key number: 406, the number of rushing yards the Texas defense has given up to starting running backs in the last two games (199 by OSU's Joseph Randle and 207 by Andrew Buie of West Virginia).
What's next: Oh, just arguably the top rivalry game in the country (with apologies to Bama/Auburn, Michigan/Ohio State, etc., etc.). I said before the season the Big 12 champ will likely have one conference loss. Both Texas and OU have already picked up one loss. I have to think neither team can afford another one if it wants to win a conference title. So yes, this game as always will have much more than bragging rights on the line.
t-2) Texas A&M (4-1, 2-1 in SEC)
The mob said: Texas A&M by 11
So said I: Texas A&M 38, Ole Miss 28
What actually happened: Held in check for most of the day, Texas A&M's offense found its explosiveness just when it needed it most in the 30-27 comeback win over Ole Miss. Trailing 27-17, the Aggies started a drive on their own 12-yard line, but Johnny Manziel was sacked for an 11-yard loss. Ole Miss challenged the play -- thinking it was a safety -- but replay proved that even though Manziel was in the end zone when sacked, the ball was at the one. On second down, A&M got some breathing room with a two-yard Ben Malena run. Then came the play of the game: Mike Evans made an excellent sideline catch for 32 yards, giving A&M a huge first down. Deflated, the Ole Miss defense stood zero chance the rest of the game. Texas A&M scored two plays and 65 yards later. Then, after stopping Ole Miss on 4th and 1 from the Ole Miss 39, Texas A&M needed less than a minute to travel the 39 yards in four plays to get the game winner, a 20-yard Manziel to Ryan Swope touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone. Just like that, in a matter of minutes, Ole Miss went from celebration to despair. As rough as Manziel's day was overall (2 INTs and one fumble lost), he and the Aggies made the plays when they mattered.
Star of the game: I wanted to give it to Manziel, who had excellent numbers (320 total yards, 2 TDs) once again, but with three turnovers and four sacks (despite getting all day to pass against Ole Miss), I'll go with Mike Evans, who had the most clutch play of the day with his 32-yard reception on third-and-19 deep in A&M territory. That catch was the catalyst in A&M's comeback, and Evans ended the day as the top receiver with 8 catches for 105 yards.
Key number: 6, the number of Texas A&M turnovers against Ole Miss after coming into the game with just one turnover in the previous four games.
What's next: Back when Texas A&M's season opener against Louisiana Tech was postponed, I felt it hurt the Aggies, because they'd get no preparation for the game against Florida. Sure enough, A&M lost that game. But now, playing Louisiana Tech in Shreveport this weekend will help the Aggies. They'll need all the offense possible against a team ranked 11th in the nation in total offense, one spot ahead of Texas A&M. Texas A&M's offense wouldn't have the same momentum and chemistry it currently has had inclement weather not postponed the game in the first place.
t-2) Baylor (3-1, 0-1 in Big 12)
What actually happened: A little tension was lifted in the room when Baylor, which had its second bye week less than halfway into the season, watched West Virginia pile up points and yards against a Texas defense that was supposed to be far superior and pose a greater challenge. Still, Baylor's defense is flat out bad, and it needed all of these two weeks to try to fix all the broken parts.
Key number: 33, the national rank of Baylor's strength of schedule up to this point of the season. Only Iowa State (24) and Texas (25) in the Big 12 have played a tougher schedule.
What's next: It won't get the same attention as Texas/OU, especially since neither team is ranked, but the TCU and Baylor fan bases will get just as fired up about Saturday's rivalry game (the best name among a weak field of candidates for this now conference game: The Revivalry). If this game lives up to last year's thriller, it will be far more exciting than the one going on in Dallas.
4) Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12)
The mob said: Oklahoma by 5.5
So said I: Oklahoma 30, Texas Tech 27
What actually happened: There were several casualties in Texas Tech's 41-20 loss to OU. Gone is the four-game winning streak to start the season. Gone is the home winning streak the Red Raiders had against Oklahoma dating back to 2003. And gone is the national No. 1 defensive ranking, one that likely won't come back considering who's coming to Lubbock next. Tech fans might point out that even in the three-touchdown loss to the Sooners, the Tech defense only gave up 380 yards of offense. OU came into the game averaging 495 yards per game; Tech held OU to its lowest output and lowest yards-per-play average of the season. But I wonder if those numbers were skewed by OU building up a 41-13 lead, scoring on all but one of its first seven drives. After jumping out to a huge lead, OU appeared to relax, only getting 43 yards on its final four drives. Texas Tech was never going to hold onto the top defensive ranking -- the schedule won't permit that. So what's even more troubling is how Texas Tech struggled after scoring on its first three drives. The offense, forced to keep up for the first time all year, fell apart, turning it over three times. And 86 of Tech's 360 total yards came on the final drive of the game, when the outcome had long been decided. Hopefully Texas Tech will learn from this experience, because it's not like things are going to get much easier.
Star of the game: I had to search long and hard for a candidate this week. Nobody defensively earned it, and few on offense had better than pedestrian numbers. But props should go to SaDale Foster, a backup RB who gets little time but made the most of it with injuries at the top of the depth chart. Foster led Tech with 44 yards rushing and a TD, added 26 receiving yards, and averaged better than 21 yards on his three kickoff returns.
Key number: 89, Tech's number of rushing yards against Oklahoma, making it two straight weeks the Red Raiders were held below 100 yards. Texas Tech ran for at least 179 yards in its three non-conference games.
What's next: If the Texas Tech defense really wants something to hang its hat on, there's no better opportunity than this weekend, when No. 5 West Virginia -- averaging nearly 60 points per game in Big 12 play -- comes to town. Texas Tech should be able to score on WVU, but it most likely will have to try to match the Mountaineers TD for TD for four straight quarters.
5) TCU (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12)
The mob said: TCU by 7
So said I: TCU 23, Iowa State 17
What actually happened: TCU trailed for the first time all season and just didn't have the firepower to come back in a 37-23 defeat. Though Trevone Boykin got the start in place of suspended QB Casey Pachall (his season fate will be announced later today), the same offensive problems plagued TCU. The Horned Frogs again couldn't hold onto the ball, turning it over five times, including twice in the red zone. That's now nine times in 24 trips to the red zone that TCU hasn't scored -- only five programs in FBS have a worse success rate. Boykin's two interceptions were particularly harmful even though neither came in the red zone: His first one led to an Iowa State field goal that gave the Cyclones a 10-0 lead; his second was returned 21 yards for a TD that gave Iowa State a two touchdown lead. But Boykin wasn't alone; freshman RB B.J. Catalon also had to start because of an injury to Matthew Tucker, and though Catalon (13-86) showed flashes of great speed and ability to break tackles, his two first-half fumbles were equally costly. For the most visible time this year, mounting injuries and other varied player absences took their toll on the Frogs.
Star of the game: One player that has really impressed without getting any attention is freshman kicker Jaden Oberkrom. He has a huge leg and so far has proven to be very accurate. He went 3-for-3 on FG attempts Saturday -- pushing his season totals to 8-for-10, along with making all 18 PATs -- including a make from 50 yards out that would've been good from 60. Oberkrom has a very high ceiling.
Key number: 0, TCU's turnover margin. TCU is in the national top 10 for takeaways defensively with 14, but the 14 lost turnovers ranks TCU 105th in the country.
What's next: TCU has played three teams from auto-BCS conferences and given up at least 350 yards of offense to each. Next up is rival Baylor, which averages more than 600 yards per outing. TCU's defense will have its hands full -- but so will Baylor's defense, even with a TCU offense trying to find its legs.
6) SMU (2-3, 1-0 in CUSA)
The mob said: UTEP by 2.5
So said I: UTEP 27, SMU 23
What actually happened: A 14-play drive near the end of the first quarter ended with an SMU field goal for a 3-0 lead. Stunningly, that really was all the scoring necessary in the 17-0 win at UTEP. The SMU defense kept UTEP in check, allowing just 285 yards of offense and generating three turnovers, including one that LB Ja'Gared Davis returned 30 yards for a touchdown two minutes before halftime to close out the scoring. The drive log from this game looks more like something you'd see out of an SEC game. The teams combined for nine drives of less than 10 yards; there were a combined 12 punts (four NCAA teams have fewer than 12 punts on the season); there were three missed field goals; there were also three interceptions thrown, including two by UTEP in a span of less than two minutes. It's up to the eye of the beholder to say whether this was a battle of top defenses or porous offenses, but the key point is this: The Mustangs picked up a big road conference win, its first of the year against an FBS program, and one that should give the defense a huge boost of confidence.
Star of the game: SMU obviously had some great defensive performances, seeing that UTEP put up all of zero points. But part of the explanation for a goose egg was yet another blocked kick by Margus Hunt, who got his huge hands on a 28-yard UTEP field goal attempt. It was Hunt's 10th block of his career, upping his national record.
Key number: 87, the rank of the SMU defense nationally. That's a good thing, however. SMU ranked dead last after it gave up an average of 561 yards in its first three games. That number has dropped to 425 per game after holding TCU to 185 yards and UTEP to 285.
What's next: The Mustangs travel in the opposite direction, heading east to Tulane, which at 0-5 with an average loss of 33 points per game is an attractive candidate for the worst team in the FBS.
7) Houston (2-3, 1-0 in CUSA)
The mob said: Houston by 12
So said I: Houston 38, UNT 28
What actually happened: The Coogs would've beaten a lot of teams the way it played in the 44-21 win over UNT Saturday in Houston. Let's take a look at some of the numbers: 623 yards of offense; 302 of those yards coming on the ground; no turnovers by the offense; two takeaways by the defense, both coming in the fourth quarter; just two punts; and only four penalties for 30 yards. Sure, Houston allowed 483 yards of offense and could've done better than going 4-for-10 on third down conversions, but these numbers verify that Houston, a week after beating a Rice team minus its starting QB, is steadily improving. The shock of the 0-3 start is slowly fading, and it appears the offense is starting to find a groove. Frankly, that shouldn't be a surprise. With so many skill players gone from the 2011 season, Houston's rebuilding project might even be ahead of schedule.
Star of the game: It's no coincidence that in Houston's two wins junior RB Charles Sims has topped the 100-yard mark. A week after rushing for 158 against Rice, Sims had 210 yards on just 21 carries against UNT. Of his 510 rushing yards this season, 368 have come in the past two weeks.
Key number: 32.5, the number of first downs Houston is averaging in its two wins, compared to just 23 per game in the losses, a sign of how much more effective and efficient the offense is becoming.
What's next: It's all conference play from here on out, and next up is UAB, which opened the season 0-4 before getting its first win, albeit against an FCS opponent (Southeastern Louisiana). A comfortable win would help Houston, because a short week is looming. After UAB, Houston travels to SMU for a Thursday night appearance on FSN on October 18th.
8) UTSA (5-0, 1-0 in WAC)
What actually happened: The calendar finally slowed down the Roadrunners, who with this year's perfect start have now won six straight games dating back to the end of the 2011 season. The six-game winning streak is tied for the fourth-longest current in the nation. UTSA is the only unbeaten ream remaining in Texas.
Key number: 35:25, the UTSA average time of possession this season. Only Oregon State (36:31) ranks higher in TOP.
What's next: Two months ago, I didn't think UTSA belonged on the same field as Rice. Now, I think UTSA has a chance to win this weekend in Houston, though I still think Rice is and should be the favorite.
9) UTEP (1-5, 0-2 in CUSA)
The mob said: UTEP by 2.5
So said I: UTEP 27, SMU 23
What actually happened: Not since 1996 had UTEP been shut out at home, but such was the case in the 17-0 loss to SMU Saturday night in El Paso. Coincidentally, SMU was that '96 team that held the Miners scoreless, but UTEP was a 2-9 team back then. This year was supposed to be different. UTEP was supposed to be a bowl contender. But an incredibly tough non-conference schedule has led to a complete unraveling in El Paso. The offense hadn't been great this year, yet it had moved the ball against much tougher defenses. But starting QB Nick Lamaison was so bad (131 yards, 2 INTs) that UTEP went to backup Carson Meger, who wasn't much better (7-16, 47 yards, INT). What's worse, the usually dependable running game was also a no-show. Nathan Jeffery, finally healthy after missing a few games, got his chances but only rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries. Five other Miner ball carriers combined for 40 yards on 10 more carries. It wasted a solid performance by the UTEP defense, a unit that gave up just 372 yards and 10 points; SMU's final TD came on an interception return.
Star of the game: The UTEP defense did nearly everything it could to get a win. The top performance from that unit came from CB Drew Thomas, who led UTEP with 12 tackles and broke up two passes.
Key number: 28, the percentage of times UTEP converts on third down. That figure ranks UTEP 121st out of 124 FBS teams. In UTEP's only win, the Miners converted 41 percent of their third down attempts. UTEP converted 33 percent of the time against SMU.
What's next: Whatever UTEP did defensively against SMU, it will need that and then some at Tulsa. The offense, meanwhile, has a short week (the teams meet on Thursday night on FSN) to figure out which quarterback gives it the best chances of winning.
10) North Texas (2-4, 1-1 in Sun Belt)
The mob said: Houston by 12
So said I: Houston 38, North Texas 28
What actually happened: By the time North Texas established its offense in the 44-21 loss at Houston, it was a bit too late. The Mean Green scored touchdowns on consecutive drives to start the second quarter, but that came after Houston had built a 17-0 lead. Even with that surge, two more Houston TDs -- both on 75-yard drives -- put the Coogs ahead for good. The UNT defense had fared far better against Kansas State, LSU and even Troy, which shouldn't be taken lightly with an average of 500 yards per game -- but it was lost on Saturday. Houston didn't punt until the fourth quarter, and the only stop before that came early in the second quarter when Houston failed to convert a 4th and 4 at UNT's 36. Otherwise, Houston scored a touchdown or field goal on every other drive before the fourth quarter came around. So it didn't matter that UNT averaged 5.8 yards per carry (led by 19 for 96 by Brandin Byrd); the running game was knocked out of the equation by the huge deficit. And left with the passing game, UNT QB Derek Thompson was picked off twice in the fourth quarter, preventing any kind of rally.
Star of the game: First-year starting DB Hilbert Jackson has had some nice games so far (like his nine tackles at LSU), but his 15 tackles Saturday were a career high and the most of any player in the game.
Key number: 226, the number of yards North Texas gave up in the first quarter to Houston. Last year, UH rolled up 309 at UNT in the first quarter.
What's next: The Mean Green get Saturday off -- sort of. UNT's home date with Louisiana-Lafayette will be played next Tuesday (Oct. 16) so that it can air on ESPN2.
11) Texas State (2-3, 0-0 in WAC)
The mob said: New Mexico by 3.5
So said I: New Mexico 27, Texas State 21
What actually happened: The story is very simply told: New Mexico gained 370 yards of offense in Texas State's 35-21 loss in Albuquerque. Of those 370 yards, 361 came on the ground. New Mexico was completely one-dimension on Saturday -- and that's usually the game plan for the Lobos. It's up to the opposing defense to, oddly enough, make New Mexico a two-dimensional team, but Texas State just couldn't do it. It didn't help that the Bobcats, after giving up a 37-yard touchdown run to Kasey Carrier on the first drive of the game, fumbled two plays into their ensuing drive, allowing UNM to score another Carrier rushing touchdown less than a minute later. Texas State did respond with a 7-play, 75-yard drive to cut the deficit to 14-7 early in the second quarter, but the defense never figured out how to slow down UNM's ground game. Carrier would score twice more on runs, from 19 and 43 yards out, and the UNM defense forced two punts and an interception on Texas State's final three drives.
Star of the game: With the team rushing for only 32 yards on 20 attempts, Texas State needed a solid game from its QBs. One of them delivered: Shaun Rutherford went 16-for-21 with 186 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. His backup, Tyler Arndt, wasn't so fortunate, going 5-of-13 for just 30 yards with 2 INTs.
Key number: 3, the number of New Mexico passing attempts on Saturday, only one of them completed. Texas State, meanwhile, threw 35 passes, but three were intercepted, and UNM also sacked Texas State's QBs five times.
What's next: I've thrown out the label "worst team in FBS" a few times, and Idaho -- which comes to San Marcos on Saturday -- was a leading candidate until it beat New Mexico State, 26-18, at home on Saturday. It was the first Idaho (1-5) win of the season and might halt talks of moving down to the FCS. Or maybe not.
12) Rice (1-5, 0-3 in CUSA)
The mob said: Rice by 7.5
So said I: Rice 40, Memphis 27
What actually happened: Memphis fans left the game early partly because of nasty weather -- but mostly because they expected the same outcome as what they've wearily grow accustomed to: a loss. Except it didn't happen. Rice's 14-10 loss gave Memphis its win of the year and only its fifth in the last four years. This may be the most inexplicable outcome involving a Texas team all year. Firstly, Rice has been terrible defensively all year, yet the Owls had their best showing to date, holding Memphis to 245 yards. If you had told Rice coach David Bailiff that Memphis would score 14 points, he'd likely calculate in his head how many points he expected to beat Memphis by. And that's where it gets more inexplicable: Sure, Taylor McHargue was returning from an injury after missing the previous game, but to only go 16-for-30 with 117 yards? And to rush for just six yards? And for the team to average just 3.8 yards per play? All this against a defense that had given up 392 yards to Tennessee-Martin and 500 to Duke? Rice played its absolute worst game of the year, which was what it took to get the loss. Time has just about run out on Rice's chances for a bowl game.
Star of the game: Rice finally got some big plays from the defense. The Owls had eight tackles for a loss, including four sacks. LB James Radcliffe had three of those TFLs and one sack while also putting up a game-high 12 tackles.
Key number: 19, the number of Rice punts in the last two games (10 against Houston and 9 at Memphis). Rice only had 17 punts in the previous four games.
What's next: A new rivalry perhaps? Probably not, as this appears to be just a home-and-home arrangement, but Rice and UTSA will meet for the first time Saturday in Houston. On paper in the preseason, Rice looked like the much better team, so we'll find out just how much momentum (both negative for Rice and positive for UTSA) plays into this matchup.
Grading My Predictions
Last week straight up: 6-2
Last week against the spread: 4-4
Season straight up: 45-13
Season against the spread: 23-21
Jake Shaw is a special contributor to TexasFootball.com