HAS VEGAS OVERREACTED
TO THE TEXAS DOWNTURN?
by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor
It's one thing to lose a step or two. It's another to fall off the map.
The Texas Longhorns went from being a Preseason Top Ten team...to responding well from an embarrassing performance vs. UCLA with a competitive loss to Oklahoma...to being almost a 10-point underdog on the road at Nebraska Saturday afternoon in a game that will be televised prominently by ABC.
Is Texas that bad? Is Nebraska that good? Those are the questions we'll be dealing with today.
First, notes on Texas:
*They had a bye last week, which gave them a chance to scout out Nebraska's 48-13 blowout win over Kansas State on Thursday Night (we'll run the numbers from that game in a moment).
*The bye week will also help them analyze want went wrong in the loss to Oklahoma. Texas was surprisingly optimistic after that loss because they believed they had fixed many of the problems present in the UCLA debacle. You'd think Texas had one the game the way the coaches and their most avid fans were talking.
*Texas is gradually figuring out how to run the ball. They found a new weapon in the Oklahoma game. Unfortunately, that weapon doesn't know how to pass-block yet, so coach Mack Brown was afraid to pull the trigger. A week of watching game films will help Brown get over that reticence, and will help all the backs learn more about pass blocking! It's a safe bet that Nebraska will be pressuring the quarterback!
*Texas isn't used to being embarrassed. If the two losses weren't enough, being BIG underdogs against a team they've owned in recent years has to really bug them. If the Longhorns are going to be motivated for a game, this is it. That may sound odd in the sport of college football, where motivation is always so huge. Texas has developed a very bad habit of thinking they can just show up and beat people. That's gone now. If this group doesn't play with emotion Saturday afternoon, there's no hope for anything big happening this year. Hello Alamo Bowl.
The bad news for Texas is that intangibles and anticipated improvement is all they have going for them. The stats and performance from the UCLA game were that bad. And, much of the Oklahoma game was too. Young quarterback Garrett Gilbert is still trying to figure out how to tame his strong arm. Receivers are still trying to figure out how to catch his passes instead of deflecting them to defenders. Vegas lines are based on perception and performance. The perception in the market right now is that Texas is almost a full TD worse than Nebraska on a neutral field. That's quite a leap from perceptions in August.
Now, let's talk about Nebraska. A week ago Thursday we asked if they had really accomplished anything important yet this season. The Huskers sure had a resounding answer for us!
NEBRASKA 48, KANSAS STATE 13
Total Yardage: Nebraska 587, Kansas State 315
Rushing Yardage: Nebraska 451, Kansas State 180
Passing Stats: Nebraska 6-10-0-136, Kansas State 19-27-1-135
Turnovers: Nebraska 0, Kansas State 1
Vegas Line: Nebraska by 10.5, total of 47
To the degree there's anything misleading in that whitewash, it's the fact that Nebraska broke some long quarterback runs. As Michigan showed, it's tough to do that against decent defenses who know the QB is a weapon. It's a strike against Kansas State that they didn't learn anything from the game films of Nebraska/Washington! South Dakota State did. Texas will, and has to plug a leak anyway that allowed a UCLA quarterback wearing a knee brace to race for a TD! Bye weeks plug leaks.
We should also point out that the Nebraska run defense isn't as good as last year's stop unit. Their man-monster in the middle is now playing for the Detroit Lions. What's left is still very good, but not historically great. That's why Kansas State could rush for 180 yards instead of something below 50. That gives Texas a chance to stay in the game by moving the chains on offense.
That being said, this is still a Nebraska team that's earned its role as favorite. They have big play potential. They hurt people. They're certainly A LOT more physically than the UCLA team that beat Texas up at the line. If the Horns just spent the last summer NOT getting ready for the season, then we'll see a replay of the UCLA mauling. Let's quickly review a two key numbers from that one:
UCLA 34, TEXAS 12
Rushing Yardage: UCLA 264, Texas 85
Turnovers: UCLA 2, Texas 5
This is why Texas needed to make adjustments during their bye week...
If you're losing at the point of attack, you have to go to higher risk plays to move the ball. The young Texas quarterback is still very mistake-prone on those higher risk plays. You run on Texas, you ALSO force turnovers from Texas and the game blows up.
Clearly...the team that outrushed Kansas State 451-180 can squash a team that was outrushed 264-85 by UCLA. It's very helpful that Kansas State actually hosted UCLA this year...in a game that was almost a dead heat until the final minute. We're dealing with a tight circle here...one that will choke Texas around the neck if they don't make the required changes.
In our view, the game will go one of two directions.
*Texas ISN'T able to make the needed adjustments in the run game on both sides of the ball, and Nebraska basically produces a replay of UCLA-Texas. Same kind of stat dominance. Same kind of turnover edge. Similar final score...which would mean a double digit cover for the hosts.
*Texas IS able to make adjustments thanks to the bye week, and we have an anything goes atmosphere that could match some of the underdog thrillers from across the college game from recent weeks. Maybe it looks like LSU/Florida, with the road dog stealing a win at the end. Maybe it looks like Michigan State/Michigan where the stud home quarterback isn't able to bust any long runs that matter and the road dog wins outright. Whatever...the talented dog is the right side and has upset potential.
Talk about volatility! That's the nature of college football. You saw games blow up last week...with some high profile upsets, but also some slaughters from quality teams who found an edge and kept pounding it until the game was over. This is why you don't play teasers in college football. But, it's also why you can REALLY step out with your betting units when you've found a big play.
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The high number of games missing the spread by a mile shows you how badly oddsmakers are floundering. They had the wrong team favored in Michigan State/Michigan. They underestimated South Carolina's upset potential vs. Alabama. They thought Miami was god's gift to football because a erratic quarterback occasionally finds open receivers deep. They may have missed Texas/Nebraska by at least a touchdown. THEY'VE DEFINITELY MISSED ONE SATURDAY GAME BY AT LEAST 10 POINTS!
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Back Saturday for our Ohio State/Wisconsin breakdown. Go take care of business now in Cincinnati/Louisville!
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