- Carter Strickland, Reporter, HornsNation
Storylines for the Longhorns as they face West Virginia on Saturday:
1. Brown Out
Texas will be without Malcolm Brown, its leading rusher against what could be the most explosive offensive team it plays all season. But if ever there were a spot where Texas could afford and injury it is at running back. And if ever there were a time it would be now. West Virginia is terrible on defense. Couple that with the fact that freshman Johnathan Gray has started to find his way and you have what is the best possible scenario for Texas.
Gray proved he was ready by rushing for 45 yards on the second to last touchdown drive in the game for Texas. In that drive, and others, he handled the Wild position, waited for holes to develop and showed his explosiveness.
Pus, and this might be the biggest thing to co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, Gray understands the situation and what it calls for.
"He just wasn't out there playing and running the ball," Harsin said. "He really understood what needed to happen. Ball security was huge in those types of situations. As the game went on, he got more and more carries. You could feel he started to get into a rhythm. You could feel he was seeing what the defense was giving him, got better and better as the game went on. I think great running backs do that."
2. Heisman hype
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is so over the Geno Smith Heisman hype. That might be because he played into the Robert Griffin III hype and was quickly torched by it. But he has shied away from any Heisman talk when it comes to this year’s frontrunner.
Instead Diaz has turned the hype around and used it as a carrot for his players.
"The film doesn't lie. It's obvious the guy is a great quarterback," Diaz said. "Make a play on him, that's a tape that people are going to be watching. You want to make plays against great players if you want to prove you can play at the next level. I think our guys will understand that, and I think that will be important to them."
3. X factor
In the past two weeks Texas has scored a defensive touchdown and a special teams touchdown. It might take more of the same for the Longhorns to produce enough numbers to keep up with and/or put away West Virginia.
While the Mountaineers have yet to throw an interception they do not appear to be very stout in kick coverage. West Virginia is 69th nationally, allowing 21.33 yards per return. What bodes well for Texas is that D.J. Monroe, who had 100-yard return last week, will get a chance in the return game. West Virginia only has seven touchbacks in 36 kicks.
4. Red zone realities
Texas’ defense has become a victim of the big play. There is no denying that. But it has also learned how to play big in the red zone.
It’s the latter fact that has Diaz somewhat less concerned about his defense than the average person looking at the stats or the players for that matter.
"What you're trying to explain to the guys, No. 1 sort of philosophy, our creed of how we play defense -- if you don't give up long touchdowns, play great defense in the red zone, don't worry about surrendering yards," Diaz said. "In this day and age, yards are going to happen. These offenses are going to get yards. You will win if you deny them points."
That is what Texas did against Oklahoma State. Five trips into the red zone resulted in three field goals and two touchdowns. Those are numbers Texas can live with. But WVU is more efficient in the red zone than OSU. The Mountaineers have scored 15 touchdowns in 17 trips to the red zone. Oklahoma State has 20 touchdowns in 25 trips.
"It's not always pretty to watch," Diaz said. "There's a million mistakes we made to help them get down the field. But if you have the resolve, you can keep somebody out of your end zone."
On the flip side, Texas has been efficient as well. The Longhorns, the worst red zone offense in the Big 12 last year, has 18 touchdowns in 22 red zone trips. Texas has only failed to score twice in the red zone. One was a missed field goal. The other was a kneel down at the end of the Ole Miss game.
5. Swagger factor
The Texas defense has been beaten up on the field and off. Missed tackles have led to dead-on hits from the media and fans. Now the defense has to deal with the number one scoring offense in the country and the nation’s top passer.
And, believe it or not, Quandre Diggs said confidence, or the lack thereof, is not a problem.
"I feel like the guys on defense are always going to have confidence," the sophomore cornerback said. "That's one of the things, we have a lot of swagger on defense.
"It's going to take a lot, you know, to bring us guys down. We hear the talk. We hear all that. At the same time we're very focused. We're just ready for the challenge," he continued. "I'm the type of guy, you know, I love challenges. That's just the way I'm made. I'm a competitor. I'm going to go out and compete each and every day."