7 Plays in 7 Days will highlight the seven most important plays from the West Virginia 2019 Football season, one day at a time. This is day one, the seventh most important play of the season.
Number 7: Sam James 44-yard touchdown reception versus no. 11 Texas
Fans might not remember, but West Virginia started the season 3-1, a homecoming matchup with then-no. 11 Texas was supposed to be the Mountaineers’ first real challenge of the season. The Longhorns came into Morgantown on Oct. 5 as 10.5 point favorites looking to spoil WVU’s homecoming celebrations as revenge for last year’s upset in Austin.
As double-digit home underdogs, the Mountaineers were not given much of a chance against the Longhorns, but that did not stop the WVU offense from getting off to a hot start.
On the first drive of the game, WVU quarterback Austin Kendall completed a few passes and the offense was helped out by a Texas penalty to find themselves at the Texas 44-yard line just a minute and a half into the game. That’s when Kendall uncorked a deep ball to redshirt freshman receiver Sam James, who made a spectacular catch in the endzone for an early WVU lead in front of 62,069 cheering Mountaineer fans.
While Texas eventually defeated WVU 42-31 this play is important because it demonstrates a few different things.
First, it showed the talent and potential that James has as a receiver. James finished the Texas game with six grabs for 66 yards and the touchdown. He separated himself as West Virginia’s number one receiving option throughout the season.
James led the Mountaineers with 69 receptions and 677 yards while scoring a pair of touchdowns. Head coach Neal Brown recognized James’ potential right away, saying he coaches James harder than anyone else on the team.
“I coach him harder than anybody on our team,” Brown said after the Texas Tech game. “I think he has a huge ceiling. I’ve coached him that way really since I got here and we went to winter workouts. … I think you have to coach your best players the hardest.”
James was named the Big 12 newcomer of the week twice, first following a nine catch, 155 yard performance against NC State and again after a 14 catch, 223 yard game against Texas Tech.
Second, this play showed that, under Neal Brown, WVU is not going to be intimidated by anyone, regardless of their record or ranking. Outside of blow-out losses against Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech, West Virginia was in every game they played this season.
The Mountaineers hung with Texas all the way until the fourth quarter when Kendall tossed a pair of interceptions that resulted in Longhorn touchdowns. To start the game, WVU matched Texas blow for blow, the score heading into the fourth quarter was Texas 21, WVU 17.
The team’s most recent win came when they were double-digit road underdogs to TCU, and their biggest win of the season came when they were double-digit road underdogs against then-no. 24 Kansas State, a game that will be featured more in-depth tomorrow.