Okay, so not “back back,” but close enough
They’re back in a bowl game, and honestly, at the end of any season, that’s about as much as you can ask for. Now I know the OrangeBlood faithful wanted an Ehlinger Heisman, an 11-0 season and a walloping of OWho, but that’s just not how the cookie crumbled this year. That’s alright though; things are looking up in Austin, and it all starts in Houston. That’s right, the Texas bowl, baby. This is what it’s all about now.
And this is a blast from the past! Mizzou used to be in the Big 12 before deserting to the SEC with A&M. The Longhorns are going to compete for a season above .500 against a team they used to slap up and down the conference. If the Longhorns can add a W to their record and finish the 2017 season 7-6, there will be a tinge of optimism in Austin. As noted in my appeal to the Iowa State Cyclones, all I want for Christmas is an 8-0 Big 12 bowl record.
Being a South Texas native, I know that it’s going to pain many people just to watch the Horns play in the Texas Bowl. It’s beneath us, isn’t it? Well, not anymore. As much as I miss Mack, the end of his tenure was like living with dementia. The Strong years weren’t much better; they were more transitional than anything else. But Herman’s back, and Texas is finally on its way to being back. And that’s what’s important.
Longhorns, meet your new enemy…
Mizzou comes into this game 7-5, but it’s definitely not an encouraging 7-5. Stop me when you hear a quality win… Missouri State, Idaho, Connecticut, Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Arkansas. Three of those teams didn’t have their original head coaches when the game was played. They other four are FCS Missouri State, an Idaho team joining the FCS next year, (3-9) UConn, and their toughest win, (5-7) Vandy. Although they’ve won 5 in a row, I’m not convinced the Tigers can make it 6.
That’s the good news. Here’s the bad news: statistically speaking, they’ve got us dominated. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ranks them 32nd in the country, to our 54th. The Tiger offense averages 512 yds/game, and S&P+ ranks their offensive efficiency and explosiveness at 8th and 6th respectively. They are fantastic running the ball, and as a team they average 5.3 yds/carry. Junior QB Drew Lock has a completion rate just under 60% and has a 3.3:1 TD:INT ratio. Additionally, Mizzou rolls out 3 WRs with 600+ yards on the season, giving Lock plenty of weapons. This Mizzou offense is definitely loaded, and it features an OC that is talented enough to replace Scott Frost at UCF.
But then again, what’s a 60% completion rate against Idaho? Not trying to challenge the strength of schedule of an SEC team, but let’s be honest, with the coaching turnover in the SEC this year, Mizzou definitely had an easier road to 7-5 than the Longhorns did to 6-6. Ehlinger’s completion rate isn’t that different at 56.5%, and although he’s INT prone, he’s also a true freshman and a rushing threat. So, with all this number talk, you might be wondering what we need to do to win. Glad you asked.
Cowboy Joe’s keys to Victory
Here’s how we light up the tower this December. We need the boys from San Jacinto street to play like… well, to play like its USC and not Texas Tech. Maybe they were tired, maybe they desperately needed a BYE week, but whatever they showed up to DKR with over Thanksgiving was just embarrassing. As someone who was in the stands, I can tell you personally it was pretty ugly. If the Orange and White (fight) can get their shit together and play like there’s something on the line, like they did with USC, this will be an absolute demolition job.
Next, the defense has to show up for 60 minutes. In every Longhorn victory this year, the defense has dominated the pace of play. Todd Orlando is an absolute wizard, and if the Texas defense can dominate this Mizzou offense, Ehlinger will eventually find his way into the endzone. This game will have to be played like the home OT loss vs. Oklahoma State: slow, deliberate, and with reckless abandon. Had Ehlinger not thrown that pick, the Longhorns would have (at least) walked off with a field goal and an OT victory. The USC game, another OT loss, showcased a Longhorn D-Line that controlled the line of scrimmage. Defensive discipline and strong play from Malik Jefferson will essentially ensure a W.
Lastly, Ehlinger needs to play above himself. This seems like a lot to ask, but given the circumstances, I think he can do it. The debate on Buechele vs. Ehlinger was a tough one, but his rushing ability aside, Tom Herman gave the nod to Ehlinger for a reason. If he can play like a junior in Houston, put past failures aside, and sling the ball around, we’ll be alright. The kid can run this offense to a T; I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s more mental than anything else. The numbers aren’t there yet, but I can’t get echoes and shadows of Colt McCoy out of my head whenever I see him drop back. If Sam and the Defense shows up, we win this game.