The 2019 Texas Longhorns are one of the best college football teams in the country. They are big, they are tall, they are fast and they are well coached.
One of the things Texas does better than almost anyone else is convert on third down. Entering Saturday’s contest, the Longhorns were second in the nation in converting on third down. Trailing only Air Force, Texas has converted 59.6% of their third downs, 33 of 58. In contrast, WVU’s offense had only converted 39.68% of their third downs, 25 of 63.
In the first half of Saturday's 42-31 WVU defeat, Texas converted on six of their nine third downs, including four of five on their very first drive.
“Third downs killed us in the first half,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said following the game. “We played great football on first and second down, and that’s one of the best offenses in the country.”
The third downs Texas was converting on were not exactly easy either. All of the third downs the Longhorns faced in the first quarter were farther than seven yards.
“We were not good enough in the first half on third downs, not even close,” WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “We’re still in that mode where everybody tries to make all the plays. We still have to continue to get better at doing our job and knowing if we do our job then the plays will come.”
For the game, Texas converted on 10 of their 18 third downs. Nine of those conversions were with throws or runs by Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
“That’s the reason why he’s been an all-conference quarterback,” Brown said. “That’s why he’s in the Heisman Trophy conversation, he’s a big time player. (We) couldn’t get off the field and it hurts in the first half.”
One of the downfalls of failing to stop the opposing offense on third down is that it keeps a team's defense on the field longer. The Longhorns possessed the ball for 36 minutes, nearly 13 more than the Mountaineers.
“(Texas) hurt us in the run game once when we got tired,” Brown said. “They had the ball 13 more minutes than we did, a lot of that goes back to the first half when we couldn’t get off the field.”
Koenning said that he felt the WVU defense played well on certain drives and bad on others.
“It’s disappointing that you can play really well and then all of a sudden you can flip a switch and not do things well,” Koenning said. “I don’t understand how you can do things as good as anybody in the country and then the next drive you can completely screw it up, when it’s the same calls and it’s the same plays against the same calls. We have to play the pass better, we have to play the run better and we have to get way better.”
Senior cornerback Keith Washington III played as well as anyone on the Mountaineer defense, raking up three pass break-ups and an interception. He thought that West Virginia simply made too many mistakes.
“(Texas) completed a few first downs on us, but just a lot of mistakes on our end and stuff we gotta clean up going into the season.”
Senior defensive lineman Reuben Jones said that the defense simply needs to focus on what they can control.
“When you go on the field, just control what you can control,” Jones said. “If the ball’s on the 20, on the one, on the 50, on their 40, it doesn’t really matter. You just go out there and compete, that’s just what you do.”
WVU’s defense did have its moments in the game. The Mountaineers held Texas scoreless in the third quarter and had a series of five straight drives where they held the Longhorns scoreless.
“I feel like we fought,” Jones said. “I feel like we fought as a defense and as a team, but I also feel like there’s always things you can improve on week to week. We just expect to get better and I think that’s what we’re going to do on Monday, get better for the next week.”