I remember watching the Texas defense stumble and struggle against Maryland in Week 1 with Kyle Crabbs. As we told one another frequently throughout the game: Texas is not back.
But my feeling when watching those early Texas games wasn't that Texas remains un-back because of their personnel or their coaching staff, as it had been in years past. It felt, even against Maryland, that the last missing ingredient was just some cohesion, some internal belief in the program. They were on the precipice.
Wins against a ranked USC team, a ranked TCU team, a tough Kansas State team (in Manhattan), and then a ranked Oklahoma team?
That's how you start believing in your program.
As others have correctly noted, Texas won't really be back until we expect them to win these games. That's the true mark of backness. But Texas has crawled themselves out of the hole of a "scrappy team," or a "tough out," or a "preseason sleeper." They're officially a heavyweight.
Texas v. Oklahoma
QB Sam Ehlinger had a great game, but the stars for the offense were receivers Collin Johnson and Lil'Jordan Humphrey. Humphrey, a junior, has widely suffered from inconsistency up to this season. Now, he's had at least four catches and 50 yards in every game thus far in 2018. He put out the best game of his career against the weak Oklahoma secondary: 8 receptions, 127 yards, and a touchdown -- not to mention, a throwing TD on a pop pass to Johnson.
When Humphrey is on, he uses his 6-foot-4, 220 pound frame to threaten defensive backs with strength and physicality in the contact window -- but he's a bursty player with more wiggle than you'd expect for that size. Texas runs him out of the slot a good deal, and he reminds me of Michigan's Amara Darboh in terms of his speed, size, and inconsistent hands.
Collin Johnson -- he for whom Trevor Sikkema stans -- probably translates better to the next level, given the current body of work for the two players. At 6'6 and 210 pounds, it's tough to think of a great comp for Johnson. He wins downfield in the vertical stem a lot, but it's the physicality with which he plays in the short areas that really impresses me. Johnson is the go-to receiver against man coverage for the Longhorns -- they fed him on third down slants because he can bully smaller corners, and has great instincts and length to reel in quick heaters.
Both Lil'Jordan and Johnson have another year of eligibility, and they likely wouldn't break into Round 1 or 2 consideration in this class. But they've both firmly put themselves on the NFL map, for whenever they decide to come out.
- I thought Texas secondary players S Brandon Jones and CB Kris Boyd both had strong days. Jones is an interchangable safety player who has taken a step forward in 2018, while Boyd continues to impress with the size and physicality NFL teams covet.
- Oklahoma WR Marquise Brown's lack of production across the intermediate levels of the field continues to worry me. How early can you draft a player of his mold? I don't see him as a Round 1 guy.
- Texas iOL Elijah Rodriguez and TE Andrew Beck both stood out to me as blockers in a big way. Beck especially is a hammer coming into the second level. He screams long-term TE2 for an NFL team that still relies on the run.
- Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray is a true sophomore, but I'm excited for when he comes out. That's a big boy.
West Virginia v. Kansas
Will Grier makes some really pretty throws, folks. He dropped a gorgeous dime to the back pylon for David Sills late, had a few beautiful sideline throws on the run, and delivered with great velocity into intermediate windows. He also impressed when he decided to tuck and run, doing well to maximize vertical yardage and protect his body.
But, for as much as we'd like to imagine that decision-making will improve with Will Grier, games like this will be cited for the next six months as evidence to the contrary.
Grier turned the ball over four times against the Jayhawks -- his fourth turnover was a fumble at midfield when West Virginia only led by seven in the third quarter. But these three interceptions illustrate clearly how Grier has too much trust in his arm, his receivers, or both: he is unwilling to eat plays and live to see the next down.
Quarterbacks in the NFL need to be poised, and I don't think Grier models poise. When pressure comes down the barrel, Grier will freeze and pray for a receiver to open instead of resetting or dumping the football off. He takes too many sacks by remaining statuesque in the pocket and, when scrambling, is prone to bad decisions.
- West Virginia WR David Sills V had an understandably quieter day, given Grier's struggles in the red zone, but I still love his catch radius ability -- and he seems to be growing in his YAC work
- WVU LT Yodny Cajuste looked predictably strong against Kansas' front line. His movement skills are solid.
- WVU LB David Long is the top LB prospect that nobody is talking about.
- Kansas S Hasan Defense (his name is defense!) had two of the three Grier picks. He seemed explosive and physical, and was asked to play man coverage a few times as well.
Iowa State v. Oklahoma State
A big upset win for Iowa State was powered by redshirt freshman QB Brock Purdy (real name!) after starter Zeb Noland was yanked following the opening series. A quick word about young Brock, who obviously won't be eligible until next season: he looked very, very comfortable throwing up the seam and attacking downfield windows. The sorta way you just don't expect from a young player.
HC Matt Campbell has been rotating QBs in his tenure with the Cyclones, trying to find his guy to take that next step forward in the Big 12. I think Purdy's that dude.
But back to Draft-eligible guys: I remain generally unimpressed by Oklahoma State RB Justice Hill. He's a highlight reel player: put together all of his best plays, and man he looks exciting -- but the full picture reveals some legitimate concerns.
He really doesn't make as many players miss as that highlight reel would lead you to believe -- he's willing to lower his shoulder into contact and fall forward, which you like to see of a smaller back, but he's unlikely to generate those extra couple yards of contact against NFL bodies.
With his explosiveness and body control, you'd like to see him play with better instincts and reflexes -- but he doesn't seem to have a great feel for creating in space. He turns around runs behind the line of scrimmage he has no business redirecting; he tries to run through secondary defenders when there's room to elude instead of truck. I'm just not sure about his natural mind and eyes for the game.
Hill isn't getting too many looks as a pass-catcher this season, either, which is a shame. He needs to evidence NFL ability there to be drafted at a premium. Jon Ledyard asked this week in the Slack thread: what makes Hill better than Memphis RB Darrell Henderson?
I don't think much does at all.
- Oklahoma State EDGE Jordan Brailford fell back to earth a little bit this week. His lack of flexibility showed up against the Iowa State tackles, who did well to shove him beyond the peak of the pocket and let their quarterback step up into space. I think he's more of a snap-jumper than he is explosive, which doesn't stay consistent week-to-week.
- Iowa State's defense lives and breathes on grit; I'm not sure there's an NFL athlete on the front seven. Braxton Lewis, who had a big INT late, might be the best bet. He plays their STAR position and brings nice movement skills to the underneath zones.
- The next good WR out of Oklahoma State? True sophomore Tylan Wallace had himself a ball game. A drop deep really hurt, but he looks like an excellent separator down the field with some burner speed.
- Iowa State WR Hakeem Butler: still good!
Baylor v. Kansas State
Man, I didn't even watch this game -- I only have so many eyes. I just wanted to share this with you.
Denzel Mims, baby.