Texas Football: 5 overreactions from Longhorns’ escape vs. Houston

Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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Quinn Ewers, Texas football
Quinn Ewers, Texas football. Mandatory Credit: Maria Lysaker-USA TODAY Sports /

No. 8 Texas football and head coach Steve Sarkisian nearly suffered their second upset loss in as many games in the last few weeks against head coach Dana Holgorsen and the Houston Cougars on the road at TDECU Stadium on Oct. 21. Texas barely escaped Houston this weekend by a score of 31-24.

Houston had a chance to even up the game late in the fourth quarter on a drive where they got into the red zone. But a controversial spot on a third-down running play for the Cougars where it looked like they moved the chains wound up putting them in a fourth-and-short situation to decide the game.

Overreactions following Texas football’s one-score win vs. Houston in Week 8

The Cougars came up short on the fourth-and-inches play where Houston quarterback Donovan Smith had a pass to wide receiver Stephon Johnson Jr. that foolishly targeted Jahdae Barron. That fourth-down stop ultimately sealed the win for the Longhorns.

To say that the Longhorns have a lot to work on in practice and the film room this week is an understatement. Texas also has a bevy of injuries heading into the Week 9 matchup at home against the BYU Cougars.

Here are five overreactions following the Longhorns’ narrow escape on the road against Houston on Oct. 21.

The 3-3-5 defense will continue to haunt Sarkisian this season

It’s been said repeatedly in the last couple of seasons for the Longhorns that the 3-3-5 defensive scheme with the three-high safety look is Sark’s kryptonite. Texas’ inability to hit the downfield throws and the inconsistency from the interior offensive line from a physical perspective has caused the Longhorns problems against the 3-3-5 defense in the last couple of years.

That was the case again when Houston adjusted to play more three-high safety looks instead of their base 4-2-5 defensive scheme against the Longhorns on Saturday. Houston didn’t like their matchups in one-on-one man coverage against the multitude of Texas weapons in the receiving corps.

It also obviously didn’t help that Texas suffered many injuries that limited how they could attack Houston. Senior center Jake Majors played against the Cougars despite suffering an ankle injury in the loss to the Oklahoma Sooners two weeks ago in the Red River Rivalry game.

But you could tell Majors was still limited with the ankle injury as he could get the same leverage against the more compact Houston interior defensive linemen than what we’re usually accustomed to seeing from him this season before the injury. Junior guard Hayden Conner also wasn’t consistently moving the Houston defensive linemen off the football in run blocking this weekend.

The inside zone is a common way to exploit the 3-3-5 defense due to the lack of size at the second and third levels. But Texas doesn’t have the physicality to reach those second and third levels along the interior offensive line consistently in Big 12 play.

Thus, true freshman running back CJ Baxter Jr. and redshirt sophomore Jonathon Brooks had to make multiple defenders miss and fight for extra yards to create successful plays on the ground for Texas down the stretch.

Texas also didn’t attack Houston over the top to create explosive plays. The Longhorns had to rely on a limited zone ground game and underneath passes for most of the second half.

The offense did succeed once Texas wore down Houston’s defensive front, which lacks meaningful depth. That’s largely what created the game-winning 16-yard touchdown run through the inside gap from Baxter in the fourth quarter.

Texas’ struggles on the ground against the 3-3-5 defense can be summed up with two key situational stats in Big 12 play this year. Texas averages 3.5 yards per carry and 1.9 yards after catch per carry in Big 12 play this season. Both of those situational stats against the 3-3-5 defense rank in the bottom two in the Big 12.

Sark and the Longhorns must figure out this issue against the 3-3-5 defense since there are some good teams this team will face down the stretch. Iowa State namely pioneered much of the modern 3-3-5 defense in the Big 12. The Longhorns face Iowa State on the road in mid-November.

TCU can also run an effective version of the three-high safety defense, and they face the Longhorns in Fort Worth in mid-November.