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West Virginia Defense Will Need Another Run Game Shutdown Against Texas



West Virginia is coming off of a stellar defensive performance against Virginia Tech, a victory in the Black Diamond rivalry where the Mountaineers held the Hokies to just 35 rushing yards.

Credit to defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley. He said the Mountaineers would be prepared for the Hokies’ potent offense, and they were.

Now, Lesley’s defense will have to do it again against Texas on Saturday night, where the Longhorns’ ground game, headlined by their tandem of three running backs and a pair of mobile quarterbacks, comes in averaging almost 166 yards per contest.

WVU Football Report Card: Defense Can’t Afford More Growing Pains

“The issue is you can only hold so many people in check, so you have to decide what is the best plan,” Lesley said. “There are times where the tendencies come back, or its based on personnel formation. We have to be able to adjust against a team like this.”

Texas’ trio of backs is led by Bijan Robinson, who has ran for 414 yards and seven touchdowns through four games. Roschon Johnson (146 yards, TD) and Keilan Robinson also make impacts in the backfield for the Longhorns.

Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian utilized all three players in his offense last week against Texas Tech in a multitude of different formations, a strategy West Virginia has seen multiple times this season.

“Sark is doing a nice job using all of those guys,” Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown said. “The whole room is talented. Bijon Robinson is good or better than any college football player in the country. Roschon Johnson is a physical runner. They’ve been using him a lot in the wildcat, too. Keilan Robinson can make you miss.”

Brown even gave an extra nod to Bijan Robinson, saying he remembers a 54-yard run that Robinson, a then-freshman, executed during the teams’ 2020 match-up, where Texas squeaked out a 17-13 victory. Robinson did not play in West Virginia’s win last season due to injury.

“He’s a five-tool player,” Brown said. “He really blocks well in pass protection, they even use him as a lead. They split him out wide in an empty formation. He’s an inside and outside runner that has the speed to hit the home run and the power to run inside. That kid is special.”

Speed is an asset that Lesley keyed on for the Longhorns’ offense as well. West Virginia has been able to contain the opposition in three of its four contests, with the exception of Kansas, where the Jayhawks rushed for 200 yards and four touchdowns.

The Mountaineer defense’s performances against Pittsburgh (76 rushing yards allowed), Towson (82) and Virginia Tech (35) have brought the season average down to 98.2 per game, good for third in the Big 12 and 25th in the FBS. If the trend continues, this would be the first time West Virginia has allowed less than 131.8 yards per game under Brown.

“Speed is speed,” Lesley said. “You can’t hit what you can’t catch. Texas creates space with speed, and that’s what gives us an issue. If you get space with speed, that’s where it becomes problematic. We have to limit space or stop the speed before it gets started.”

The Longhorns’ two stout quarterbacks, Hudson Cord and Quinn Ewers, have both seen time on the field this season due to Ewers sustaining an injury during Texas’ Week 2 contest against Alabama. After serving as the starter for the majority of last season, Cord served as the backup prior to Ewers being sidelined.

With both set to be ready to play Saturday night, Lesley and the Mountaineers will have to be prepared for a deep pass or a tuck-and-run, particularly on third down, which is something Sarkisian is known for. West Virginia is set up to defend the Longhorns’ multiple personnel packages, where the tight end will serve as a decoy.

“It’s a formation, shift, motion, or whatever it is,” Lesley said. “It’s confusing the eyes and getting the match-up that you feel is favorable. In their case, it’s not really that hard for them (because of the talent). That’s what they are – explosive, fast. They have a playmaking ability at almost every position.”

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