MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Milan Puskar Stadium will open its doors for the final time this season, when it welcomes fans into the 11th iteration of this Big 12 rivalry. The Mountaineers and Texas Longhorns are tied in the series 5-5, but this game, statistically, means more.
WVU head coach Neal Brown and UT head coach Steve Sarkisian have their teams clawing for bowl contention. Both teams are 4-6, and with only two games remaining in the season, a loss today would end the postseason hopes of one of these conference opponents. This match-up has never been an easy win, but there isn’t just a conference record on the line today.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) November 18, 2021
The Longhorns are on a five-game losing streak. Once Sarkisian’s team fell to No. 5 Oklahoma 55-48 on Oct. 9, it began a downhill spiral. The next week, while WVU was on its BYE, the Longhorns fell once more, this time to No. 12 Oklahoma State 32-24. The following week, as Texas took its respective BYE, WVU won its stunner 29-17 road victory over the TCU Horned Frogs. This was the point in the season when Mountaineer fans were feeling positive about the trajectory of the team, and it continued.
Week 9 presented WVU with a win 38-31, over Iowa State on Halloween weekend. Meanwhile, in Waco, Texas was busy losing to its third-straight ranked opponent, the No. 16 Baylor Bears, 31-24. When the Cyclones came to Austin the next week, the same configuration of players who had just lost to the Mountaineers the week prior beat this Texas team handedly, 30-7. To add insult to injury, last week, while WVU was playing one of the worst outings of its season in Manhattan, Ks., the Longhorns were doing the same. At home, UT took a 1-8 Kansas Jayhawks team to overtime, and eventually lost 57-56.
Sarkisian, 10 games into his career in Austin, is in re-building mode. He’s also without the team’s starting running back, Bijan Robinson, who suffered a season-ending injury in the Kansas loss. Up to this point, Robinson had lead the team with 11 rushing touchdowns, enough to tie him with WVU’s Leddie Brown and eight others for No. 23 in the country. His fifteen total touchdowns help the Texas Longhorns to No. 13 in the nation in scoring offense, and he’s attributed to an astounding 30 percent of the season’s scores.
Per game, Robinson is now a gaping hole in offensive coordinator Kyle Flood’s tactic. He racked up 1,127 rushing yards, which ranks No. 9 in the nation and third in the Big 12. Through 10 games, he also ranks No. 9 in the nation in yards per game (112.7) and No. 33 in rush yards per carry (5.78). He will most likely be replaced by junior Keilan Robinson, who has 194 rushing yards on 27 attempts for two touchdowns this season. The latter Robinson will enter Morgantown fresh off the COVID-19 reserve list.
Injuries have taken their toll ten-fold for the Mountaineers as well. Brown’s team has been consistently banged up, even looking back all the way to fall camp. Of note, the team is missing tight end Mike O’Laughlin, wide receiver Isaiah Esdale, linebacker Exree Loe, and cornerback Nicktroy Fortune. Others, like nose tackle Akheem Mesidor, QB2 Garrett Greene, wide receiver Sean Ryan, and defensive end Dante Stills, have all missed practice in the past few weeks for various small injuries, but are expected to see the field today. Brown calls it “cautious optimism”.
Depth is not a luxury that this West Virginia staff has on its side, and Mountaineer fans should expect to see fresh faces on the field today. Arizona transfer Scottie Young, who has spent the season at safety, finished the Kansas State game at linebacker, and true freshman safety Saint McLeod will get reps at SPEAR in lieu of redshirt junior Jackie Matthews.
As this game is every season, a win today won’t be easy for either team. They’re injured and gunning for bowl contention, but only one team will walk away with their postseason dreams intact. If you aren’t able to get down to Milan Puskar Stadium at 12 p.m. EST today for this electric match-up, check below for all other viewing options.
TV Channel: ESPN2
TV Crew: Anish Shroff (PBP), Mike Golic Jr. (analyst), Taylor McGregor (sideline)
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG
Radio Crew: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), Jed Drenning (sideline)
Local Channel: WVU Football Radio Affiliates
The stream will also be on the free WVU Gameday app in the Apple App Store and Google Play.
SIRIUS XM: Ch. 98 on Sirius radios and Ch. 200 on XM radios