#13 West Virginia Mountaineers (6-1, 4-1)
#17 Texas Longhorns (6-2, 5-1)
Location: Austin, TX (Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium)
Announcers: Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt
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The Mountaineers travel to Texas to meet the Longhorns in a battle to set atop the Big 12 standings. West Virginia is 4-3 all-time versus Texas and 3-1 in Austin. Mountaineers lost the match-up in Morgantown last year 28-14 after winning the previous two meetings. WVU starting quarterback Will Grier left the game early with an injured hand and the Longhorns took advantage of a decimated Mountaineer squad.
Texas was riding high going into last week. They climbed all the way up to no. six in the rankings and was perceived to be playing their way into the College Football Playoffs before losing to Oklahoma State in Stillwater 38-35. Texas had a slow start and as a result, the Cowboys ran up an early 17-point lead and managed to fight off a second half comeback.
The Mountaineers on the other hand, bounced back in a big way after suffering their first loss of the season. WVU routed Baylor 58-14 last Thursday in Morgantown. The Mountaineer offense seemed to regain their swagger after putting up 41 first half points.
The Longhorn offense hasn’t been great during conference play, averaging just under 400 yards per game. However, they take care of the ball. Texas only has six turnovers on the year and three of those came in the opening season loss to Maryland.
Texas will be going up against an opportunistic defense. The Mountaineers lead the conference in forcing turnovers with 13 during Big 12 play; nine of them have been for interceptions by seven different players. It will be a big test for Sam Ehlinger. He has thrown thirteen touchdowns thus far to only two picks. Ehlinger has had some accuracy issues coming in 2018 throwing 63.5% of the year, but it’s a 6% improvement from last year.
The Longhorns haven’t had a strong running game this season. Freshman Keaontay Ingram was getting stronger as the season went along, getting the bulk of the carries and tallied 110 yards on the ground in the win over Baylor. Last week he ran for 52 yards on 11 carries; however, Texas abandoned the running game due to falling behind early.
Texas racked up 233 yards on the ground last year, but it might be tough to find lanes against the West Virginia defense. WVU has held three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing, and the last time they went up against a freshman featured back, he was held to just 65 yards.
Ehlinger has two big targets on the outside in Colin Johnson (6’6” 220-lbs) and Lil’Jordan Humphry (6’4” 225-lbs). They have both hauled in 46 passes this year, have over 600 yards receiving and have combined for nine touchdowns. An x-factor could be tight end Andrew Beck. He has 18 receptions on the year and is averaging a little over 10 yards per catch.
The Longhorns defense isn’t as stout as they were a year ago. This is due in large part of losing three players to the NFL Draft last year. Nonetheless, the Longhorns are in the top half the of the conference in total yards (4th/ 390.2), passing yards (3rd/242.4) and rushing yards per game (5th/ 147.8) during Big 12 competition.
Defensive end Charles Omenihu is stepping up and has been a menace in the backfield in the last four games. He’s gotten six sacks, 9.5 tackles for a loss and four quarterback hurries during that span. DE Breckyn Hager has been known more his antics on and off the field than his play. However, he can make impact plays. Linebacker Gary Johnson leads the team in tackles (56) and TFL’s (11.5).
The Texas secondary will have a big test going up against one of the best passing attacks in the country. Defensive backs Brandon Jones, PJ Locke, Kris Boyd and Caden Sterns will be tasked to slow the electrifying Mountaineer offense.
West Virginia starting fast might be the recipe to beat Texas in their house. They couldn’t overcome the early deficit last week and the Mountaineers are 5-0 when accumulating 300 or more yards in the first half.
After the worst offensive performance in over 20 years, WVU ran all over Baylor last week. With no room for error, the focus from the offense looks to be back and they are clicking on all cylinders. The big question will be, can they match the energy and effort that Texas is going to bring?
We’ll find out that out as the game goes underway; however, this teams appears to have learned from their debacle in Ames a couple of weeks ago.
The defense has been playing at a high level all season and appears to be getting stronger as the year goes along, despite having some key injuries. With the possibilities of LB’s Dylan Tonkery, Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns returning, they might continue to improve heading into their toughest portion of the schedule.
I expect West Virginia to come out with the same energy and focus they did against Baylor and come out of Austin with a win. I have the Mountaineers winning 30-27 but wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up winning by two or more possessions.
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