If the Bears are going to win, they need to find a way to keep Zach Maynard out of these types of situations.
Today we will take a look at a variety of stats pertaining to the Texas Longhorns. Some are good, but most will probably make us Cal fans nervous. My own prediction on how well we would do certainly declined after looking into these numbers, but we should still have a realistic shot at winning. At worst, this game will just be a repeat of the 2008 Sun Bowl (Oregon State defeated Pitt in a 3-0 barnburner). Now let's dive into some numbers!
1: Texas holds onto the ball for 34:03 minutes per game (3rd in the nation)
This is a team that thrives on running the football. As a result, they tend to dominate the time of possession. Against Kansas, they held onto the ball for over 44 minutes. Only twice all season did they lose the time of possession battle, in a 52-20 blowout win over Texas Tech (Texas' ToP: 28:54) and in a 5-17 los to Missouri (Texas' ToP: 29:30). As you may have guessed from this impressive ToP, Texas loves to run the ball. The Longhorns run an average of 46 times per game, with a respectable 4.56 yards per run.
This isn't the quick-scoring, run-for-20-yards-at-a-time Oregon offense, however. On 554 carries all year, the Longhorns only had 83 runs of more than 10 yards and 22 runs of over 20 yards (and the longest run of the year was only 55 yards). As a comparison, our sturdy Golden Bears ran the ball ran the ball 100 times fewer but had 70 10+ yard runs and 21 20+ yard runs. This is a run-up-the-gut, grind-it-out type of offense predicated on short and consistent gains. To win, the Bears will have to limit gains on first and second down to force third-and-long situations. Anything shorter than 3rd and 5 might as well be an automatic first down against this Texas offense.
As the season wore on, Texas lost top running backs Fozzy Whitaker, Malcolm Brown, and Joe Bergeron, but the running game remained nearly as effective thanks to the efforts of D.J. Monroe and Cody Johnson. Brown and Bergeron should be available to play in the Holiday Bowl, but their effectiveness remains unknown. Since midseason Brown has been slowed (literally--he has lost his explosive speed) with a case of turf toe. Bergeron, meanwhile, is nursing a hamstring injury. Texas has a stable of capable backups and we should not underestimate this rushing offense despite the injury woes.
Join us after the jump for more on the strengths and weaknesses of these Longhorns.
2: Texas converts 51.02% of red zone possessions into touchdowns (104th in the nation)
While Texas has an excellent field goal kicker in Justin Tucker (more on him later), they tend to struggle mightily on the first three downs in the red zone. While Texas runs on 62% of its plays, the Longhorns run on 75% of their red zone plays. On those passing plays, Case McCoy completes only 35% of his passes while David Ash completes 42%. McCoy tossed three TDs and one pick while Ash threw one of each. Even worse, they have combined for only 43 yards on 29 red zone passing attempts. Much like on the other 80 yards of the field, Texas is much better off putting the ball in the running backs' hands than relying on the QBs in the red zone.
Someone who has watched more than ten minutes of Texas football this season may be able to help explain why Texas comes away with no points on 27% of their red zone possessions (it's certainly not the kicker's fault). On 49 possessions, they scored 36 times. Two of these missed opportunities were missed field goals and two were interceptions. What happened on the other 9 possessions remains a mystery. Without more fine-grain data on Texas' red zone possessions, I'd guess that fumbles may be a problem in the red zone. The other option is that they attempt and fail to convert an unusually large number of fourth downs in the red zone. With a kicker who made 85% of his field goals this season, Texas would be silly to go for that many fourth downs. Alas, the mystery remains...
Now we move onto a couple of notable stats for the Texas defense
3: Texas has one of the best passing defense in the nation despite registering only 1.9 sacks per game (or 1 sack per 18 passing attempts)
Of all the stats we'll look at today, this one worries me the most. Texas has an excellent pass defense. They give up only 6.0 yards per pass (7th in the country), hold opponents to a 111.8 pass efficiency rating (14th in the country), and allow opponents to complete only 56.5% of their passes (27th in the country).
If Texas can force us into third and long, we might as well punt on third down. Passing on 3rd and 7+ is fruitless against this defense. On 75 passing attempts on 3rd and 7+, Texas gave up only 18 first downs. Feels bad man.
For this next one, you might want to sit down. Texas has notched a whopping 60 quarterback hurries this season. Let that number sink in for a moment. LSU and Alabama have pretty good defenses; they must have had at least 50 or so, right? How about 35 for 'Bama and 37 for LSU. Cal, by contrast, only had 6. That is either an error or we are DOOOOOOOOOOMED. Cfbstats.com does not allow you to sort teams based on hurries, but I guarantee Texas is near the top. Watch out for these guys getting after Maynard: LB Emmanuel Acho (7 hurries), DL Alex Okafor (13), DL Jackson Jeffcoat (7), and DL Kheeston Randall (6). I hope Coach Michalczik has some magic up his sleeve, because our O-line is going to be under siege all game. The only positive is that Texas doesn't often sack the opposing QB.
In summation, the Texas pass defense does absolutely everything but sack the opposing QB. Are you excited to see Maynard run for his life and throw to well covered receivers? Me neither.
4: Texas gives up 3.34 yards per carry (19th in the country)
Were you hoping that pass defense was the primary strength of the Texas defense? I'm afraid I have some bad news: the run D is just as stout. The only teams who ran well on the Texas D were Oklahoma State and Baylor, who relied on excellent passing games to open up some running room.
Remember how Texas "only" had 83 runs of 10+ yards and "only" 22 runs of 20+ yards? Well, they have only given up 42 runs of 10+ yards and 11 of 20+ yards (on 373 attempts). On top of that, they have only given up 14 rushing TDs all season (32nd in the nation).
The Stanford defense appears to be very similar, so if you want an estimate of how well we will do against Texas, assume we will do as well as we did against Stanford (which was just okay). Because we will not be able to rely consistently on the running game, we're going to need Maynard to move the chains for us. That, as we saw, will be a difficult process.
So what do we have so far? We have evidence of a solid Texas run game, a mediocre passing game, and a stellar defense. That certainly sounds like last year's Cal team. This game could turn into a defensive slugfest, which means this next and final stat may be pretty encouraging. At the very least, this should help the most pessimistic of us take a step back from the ledge.
5: Justin Tucker averages 38.5 yards per punt (98th in the nation)
If that sounds like a pretty low number, that's because it is. Bryan Anger, by contrast, boots the ball an average of 44.6 yards per punt. If there is a lone bright spot in the Texas punting game, it's that they force fair catches on 70% of punts. When the Longhorns do allow a return, however, they give up an average of 8.5 yards (meaning there's only a 30-yard difference in field position). When Texas allows a return, their coverage appears to be pretty iffy. Tucker tackled the returner on 7 of the Longhorns' opponents' 17 returns. When your punter is the guy making the tackle on 40% of returns, you have problems. The Longhorns avoided giving up a TD on punt returns, though.
If the Bears can keep the Texas running game in check, we may be able to take advantage and get some good field position for the offense. That, of course, hinges on some semblance of a return game, which we have lacked all season.
So what have we learned? Texas has an impenetrable defense, a consistent running game, and not much of a passing game. The Bears should match up well against the 'Horns while on defense, but our offense may struggle. Chances are good that this game comes down to who has better special teams and who has fewer turnovers.