The 411 after Week 3: Offensive crisis continues for Jimbo Fisher; Bijan or bust in Austin for Longhorns

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Week 3 proved challenging for most of the 12 FBS college football programs in the state of Texas. The group combined for a 4-7 record with only Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, and Rice leaving the weekend on the right side of the ledger. Baylor and Texas beat in-state teams to earn those victories. Texas A&M gutted out potentially season-saving victory over Miami in a defensive struggle, while Rice won by 12 against Louisiana to move to 2-1 and put bowl bids in the minds of everyone involved. TCU was idle ahead of a crosstown showdown with SMU in Week 4. 

The 411 provides readers with four truths, one question, and one prediction following the weekend's action. 

FOUR TRUTHS 

Offensive woes continue in College Station: Texas A&M knocked off the Hurricanes to right the ship in College Station, at least for a week, but not because of the quarterback flip from Haynes King to Max Johnson. The passing offense for the Aggies remains broken. A week after King went 13 of 20 for 96 yards in a loss to App State, Johnson entered the lineup and went 10 of 20 for 140 yards and a touchdown. That lone touchdown pass was to running back Devon Achane. Of Johnson’s 10 completions, four were to Achane, four were to slot receiver Ainias Smith, one was to tight end (on the first play of the game) and one was completed to an outside receiver – a six-yard catch by Devin Price. 

The fault doesn’t solely lie at the quarterback’s feet, or arm. Head coach Jimbo Fisher stated after the game that quarterbacks “get all the glory and all the blame” and he’s right. The problems for Texas A&M’s passing offense extend beyond the quarterback position. Fisher arrived in College Station in 2018. The offense averaged 253 yards passing per game that season. That number decreased each year since, culminating in 209 yards per game in 2021. That number sits at 208 through three games of the 2022 season. 

The offensive line is key to the concern. King was sacked twice during the loss against App State, and that doesn’t count the handful of times he was flushed with pressure or forced to throw the ball early with a defender heading his way. Johnson was similarly harassed in the win over Miami. The LSU transfer was sacked three times and forced to leave his spot at least a handful of other times. 

Bijan Robinson keys Texas’ success: The Longhorns were 0-4 in games that Bijan Robinson didn’t top 100 yards rushing in 2021. They were 4-2 when he rushed for more than 100 yards. The only win Texas has since the start of 2021 in a game that Robinson doesn’t rush for at least 100 yards was the Week 1 win against Louisiana Monroe. That seems like a simple indicator of success in Austin. Bijan drives the bus, I mean the Lambo, in Austin. 

He was a Formula 1 quality driver in the win over UTSA in Week 3, rushing for 183 yards and three scores on 20 carries. He only managed 57 yards on 21 carries in the one-point loss to Alabama in Week 2. The lack of success on the ground, especially in the red zone, cost the Longhorns an opportunity to pull the upset. Add in the physical Roschon Johnson and Texas possesses the best one-two punch in college football. 

Texas figures to be without starting quarterback Quinn Ewers for at least two more weeks. The hope is for him to return to the starting lineup against Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry game on Oct. 8. That leaves a road contest against Texas Tech and a home game against West Virginia before Ewers’ return. Robinson and Johnson must be the stars offensively for Texas to enter the game against the Sooners at 5-1. Texas Tech is only allowing 2.3 yards a rush and 83 yards a game rushing to opponents through three games. West Virginia is worse at 3.4 yards an attempt and 119.3 yards per game allowed. 

SMU is an AAC contender: The American Athletic Conference appeared to be a two-horse race entering the 2022 season with reigning champion Cincinnati and incoming favorite Houston on a collision course for a second straight contest in the AAC championship game. Flash-forward three weeks into the season and the AAC now appears to be one of the most wide-open conferences in America. Houston is on a two-game losing streak with losses to future Big 12 mates Texas Tech and Kansas. Cincinnati sits at a shaky 2-1. Miami (Ohio) led the Bearcats 17-7 in the second quarter before Cincinnati went on a 31-0 run to end the game. 

Enter SMU. The Mustangs went toe-to-toe with Maryland on the road in Week 3 after a strong start to the season, including a beatdown of future AAC opponent North Texas. Tanner Mordecai is playing well. Rashee Rice is the most prolific receiver in Texas through three games. The running attack features a deep stable of rushers. And the defense continues to improve. Turnovers cost the Mustangs against Maryland, but they look like a team that can put a scare in the conference favorites. 

Rice finds map to bowl berth: Break up the Owls! Rice entered the Week 3 contest against Louisiana as a 12-point underdog. The Owls ended up winning the game by 12 points. And the Owls did it their way. Rice won the time of possession battle by 2 to 1. Louisiana only managed nine first downs and 61 rushing yards in the entire game. The Rajin’ Cajuns quarterbacks combined to go 13 of 28 with no touchdowns and one interception. They only gained 175 yards of total offense on 43 plays. That’s Mike Bloomgren football. 

Offensively, Rice weathered three interceptions by TJ McMahon, who rebounded from a tough start to throw for three touchdowns and over 300 yards. His favorite receiver – former quarterback Luke McCaffrey – caught 10 passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Rice is now 2-1 on the season with a non-conference game against Houston remaining before C-USA play. The poor play from most of C-USA through three weeks of the season suggests that the Owls are on the right path to reach six wins and earn an elusive bowl invite. 

ONE QUESTION

Will any FBS team in Texas win a conference championship?

The 2021 season was solid for the FBS programs in Texas. Baylor won the Big 12. UTSA started 11-0 in the regular season before winning Conference USA for the first time in program history. Houston rode an 11-game regular season winning streak into the American Athletic Conference championship game against Cincinnati. But if the first three weeks of the season are any indication, Texas could be shut out of the conference championship picture in 2022. 

Let’s get the easy ones out of the way: Texas A&M isn’t competing for an SEC championship and Texas State won’t flirt with the top of the Sun Belt Conference in 2022. That leaves in-state teams vying for the American, C-USA, and Big 12 crowns. Baylor looks like it took a step backwards in year three under Dave Aranda due to a struggling passing attack. UTSA is off to a 1-2 start and will enter C-USA play without a few key pieces thanks to injury. Houston is also 1-2 with losses to Texas Tech and Kansas. There is time for each of those teams to rebound in conference play, but the trends don’t look promising. 

An argument could be made that UTSA in a poor C-USA and Texas in a wide-open Big 12 represent the Lone Star State’s best chances at a conference title in 2022. SMU might move up that list in the AAC, as well. 

ONE PREDICTION 

SMU wins a third-straight Iron Skillet: The Mustangs won the previous two Iron Skillets by beating TCU in 2019 and 2021. This game will look different than the previous 20, however, because Gary Patterson won’t be roaming the TCU sidelines as head coach or defensive coordinator. Instead, the head man in purple is a familiar face to the fans on The Hilltop – Sonny Dykes. The former SMU head coach gets an opportunity to roam the opposing sideline at Ford Stadium as he matches wits with his former offensive coordinator, and current SMU head coach, Rhett Lashlee. 

The early gambling line for this game is even money. Give me the Mustangs to win their third straight in this rivalry game. SMU has the better quarterback in Tanner Mordecai, regardless of who starts for TCU between Max Duggan and Chandler Morris. The Mustangs also possess the better defensive line. It’ll be fun. It’ll be intense. It’ll probably get a little chippy. But the home crowd and the incentive to beat your old boss – for Lashlee and most of the SMU roster – will be enough to push SMU to another win. The fact that TCU was given an off week so early in the season hurts the Horned Frogs. They needed another week of game action to build cohesion in a new offensive and defensive systems. 

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