- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Each week this season, we dug into the numbers to break down three stats that mattered for Texas. Now it’s time to step back and review five that defined the Longhorns’ 2013 campaign.
Once David Ash went down, Texas bought in big to a new identity as a physical offense powered by the run game. The Longhorns’ commitment to that philosophy was obvious in Big 12 play.
Since its Big 12 opener against Kansas State, Texas ranked in the top 30 in FBS in rushing yards and yards per rush. That’s because Texas was rushing the ball an average of 45 times per game, a rate that ranked 14th nationally.
The Longhorns were one of only 11 teams to surpass 150 rushing yards in eight conference games, a feat matched by no other Big 12 program. They ran the ball on first down nearly 70 percent of the time for a total of 888 rushing yards.
Credit a veteran offensive line that played at a steady, solid level and a talented trio of backs, but a lot more people deserve praise for that too. This isn’t the identity Texas expected to accept in 2013, but once it emerged it was embraced.
When Greg Robinson arrived in Austin, Texas’ defense was ranked No. 115 in the nation in total defense and No. 121 in rush defense through two games. The BYU game numbers were so outrageous that there was really nowhere to go but up for Robinson and this Longhorns’ defensive staff.
By Big 12 standards, Texas was statistically fairly average. In Robinson’s 10 games, the Longhorns ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring, total and rushing defense. They were the Big 12’s best in one key category: Sacks. Texas ranked among the 10 best nationally in that department with 37.
Texas’ final-season stats also show a marked improvement from 2012 in three areas: Scoring defense, yards per play and yards per attempt. If Oregon puts up 431 total yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl, though, Texas' defense will surpass the 2012 unit for most yards allowed per game in a season in school history.
Texas’ four losses came by a total of 85 points, the closest of the bunch a 19-point loss in Provo. When you’re losing by an average margin of three touchdowns, you’ve got issues.
Add it all up and you could argue the offense was more to blame: In losses, Texas was 21-of-68 on third-down conversions (30.9 percent) and scored touchdowns on seven drives and went three-and-out on 17. The Longhorns’ 1.16 points per drive in losses ranked No. 96 in FBS. You can’t score fewer than 17 points per game against four of your toughest opponents and win, plain and simple.
But here’s something else to consider: The Texas defense’s ratio of turnovers forced to touchdowns allowed was 20-17. That’s good. In losses? 4-16. When a game started slipping away, the Longhorns rarely got game-changing plays from their defense.
This is no surprise, really, but a narrative has started to emerge in the past week from Mack Brown’s backers: Texas couldn’t win more games because of its quarterback. While it’s undeniable that Case McCoy’s worst game came with the Big 12 title on the line in Waco, what do the numbers say?
First off, McCoy was never going to be the downfield passer Texas coaches needed when drawing up their new spread offense. His yards per attempt average of 6.04 ranked a brutal No. 114 in FBS. He had zero 300-yard games. This wasn’t that unexpected.
What was expected is that he could play caretaker, and he did so with success most of the season. McCoy went 5-0 in games when Texas rushed for more than 175 yards. Of his nine starts, only three came against top-40 scoring defenses.
McCoy was better than serviceable in most starts. He was fantastic against OU. And he struggled mightily against the elite defenses of OSU and Baylor. Isn’t that pretty much what most expected?
Can’t sum up this season without talking about the six-game win streak to start Big 12 play. Sure, only two of those wins came against teams that went on to become bowl-eligible, but to embark on that kind of a run after starting 1-2 was simply unexpected, especially when those two bowl teams -- Kansas State and Oklahoma -- have had Texas’ number for a while.
During that streak, the Longhorns averaged 35 points per game, gave up 21, had a top-25 defense in yardage allowed, a turnovers margin of plus-7 and a kicker who went 12-for-13 on his field goal attempts.
Texas was one of only 16 teams in FBS this season that managed to reel off six or more conference wins in a row this season. Funny thing is, Brown has now done that five times in the past decade.