No. 17 Texas played its best against the toughest opponents on its schedule this season, posting victories against USC, TCU and Oklahoma when all were in the Top 25.
Even so, the teams the Longhorns are expected to beat have given them the most trouble, as Texas coach Tom Herman continues to look for consistency.
Given the pattern, it would be no surprise the see the Longhorns back at a high level on Saturday afternoon when they host No. 12 West Virginia at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin.
West Virginia and Texas are tied for the conference lead with No. 7 Oklahoma heading into the final month of the season. Saturday’s dustup will act as a de facto Big 12 Championship elimination game.
Texas returns home after a 38-35 loss at Oklahoma State last Saturday that dropped it from sixth in the nation. The Longhorns (6-2, 4-1 in Big 12 play) allowed Oklahoma State four touchdowns and a field goal and 328 yards offense in the first two quarters in digging a huge hole from which it would not emerge.
Not even a gutsy second-half performance from quarterback Sam Ehlinger (283 yards and two touchdowns passing and two scores on the ground in the loss) and a late charge could save the Longhorns from the setback in Stillwater, which snapped a six-game winning streak for Texas.
Herman said he expects his team to bounce back well from the loss to Oklahoma State, saying the Longhorns can continue to define their season by the way they respond.
“We responded fantastically to the opening season loss (to Maryland),” Herman said. “I don’t think anybody can dispute that. And so this is very similar. So now, we’re going to figure out, you know, what’s really inside of our guys.
“I love the fact that one loss hurts that bad – we had guys in tears – and to think how far we’ve come where one loss matters that much, and it should, means we are heading in the right direction.”
West Virginia heads to Austin after a dominating home 58-14 win over Baylor last Thursday in which the Mountaineers (6-1, 4-1 in Big 12 play) racked up their highest total yardage output in a Big 12 game so far this year and its second-best overall performance of the season.
Quarterback Will Grier was his usual explosive self, passing for 353 yards and three TDs in the win while averaging 13 yards per pass attempt and nearly 21 yards on his 17 completions. The West Virginia ground game amassed 172 yards for its third-highest total of the season.
The Mountaineers even got a couple of big plays via the ground game: a 79-yard reverse by Tevin Bush and a 33-yard touchdown burst by Martell Petaway in the win. Both of those were the result of great blocking at the first and second levels of the defense.
“It’s not just the five guys up front, though they played about as good as they have all year,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “Our perimeter blocking was the best it’s been all year, too. That helps lead to explosive plays, not only in the pass game but the run game as well. I’m happy with where it’s at, and that’s just the way it’s got to be for us to be successful.”
Last year in Morgantown against Texas, Grier suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing hand during a first-quarter run and the Longhorns clinching their own bowl eligibility on the Mountaineers’ home field.
Now, the Mountaineers are chomping at the bit to enact a bit of road revenge. “This one is one we’ve been looking forward to for a while,”Holgorsen said. “It didn’t quite end the way we wanted it to last year, and we haven’t forgotten about that.”
Saturday’s contest will be the eighth all-time between West Virginia and Texas, with the Mountaineers holding a 4-3 edge. The teams first met in 1956 and resumed the series in 2012 when West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference.
Each school has won three games in the six meetings as Big 12 foes. West Virginia has won three of the four previous meetings played in Austin, including a 24-20 win in 2016.
–Field Level Media