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Big 12 Football

Game Preview: #11 Texas vs West Virginia

Photo: Bethany Hocker-USA TODAY Sports

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After enjoying a much-needed bye week, the Texas Longhorns (3-1, 1-0) head East to face the West Virginia Mountaineers (3-1, 1-0) at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown in their first road game of the season.  Since joining the Big 12 Conference in 2012, these two teams have met seven times, with the Mountaineers holding a 4-3 edge.  West Virginia and Texas have played each other only once outside of conference play, with the Mountaineers beating the Longhorns 7-6 in Austin in 1956.

Morgantown is always a tough environment for opposing teams, but Tom Herman’s Longhorns have fared well in true conference road games, tallying a 6-2 record in these contests. Texas head coach Tom Herman knows that challenging stadiums and fan noise have an effect on the psyche of players, but preaches to them daily about “tuning out the noise.”

“I feel like our guys do as good of a job as I’ve been around of being able to tune out all of the distraction, whether it be in the routine, the noise of the crowd, anything like that, really focus in on their job,” Herman said.

Last season’s meeting in Austin ended in dramatic fashion, with West Virginia quarterback Will Grier successfully converting a two-point conversion with :16 left in the game to give the Mountaineers a 42-41 win over the Longhorns.  Prior to the bye week, the Longhorns defeated Oklahoma State in Austin 36-30. West Virginia also had a bye week last week, but defeated Kansas the week before in Lawrence, 29-24.

Saturday’s game will be televised on ABC with kickoff taking place at 2:30.

What: Texas Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (3-1, 1-0 Big-12)
When: Saturday, October 5, 2019
Time: 2:30 PM CST
Venue: Milan Puskar Stadium
Location: Morgantown, West Virginia
Television: ABC
The Line: Texas -11.5

Last Meeting Between the Two Teams: West Virginia defeated Texas 42-41 (November 2, 2018 – Austin, TX)
All-Time Series Record: West Virginia leads Texas 5-3

THE COACHES

West Virginia Mountaineers

Head Coach:  Neal Brown
Head Coaching Experience: 5th year as a head coach
Years as Head Coach at West Virginia:  1
Career Record:  38-17
Career Record at West Virginia:  3-1

Texas Longhorns

Head Coach:  Tom Herman
Head Coaching Experience: 5th year as a head coach
Years as Head Coach at Texas:  3
Career Record:  42-15
Career Record at Texas:  20-11

Neal Brown and the Air Raid

Neal Brown was hired by West Virginia following Dana Holgorsen’s departure for Houston. Brown left Troy University where he spent four seasons as head coach, and won 35 games during his tenure with the Trojans. His last three seasons with Troy included three straight 10-win seasons and three bowl wins, which were both the first in school history. Brown’s offensive mind is a product of the air-raid offense. He spent time in the Big 12 while serving as the offensive coordinator under Tommy Tubbberville at Texas Tech, and directed a hurry-up, spread offense that ranked 15th nationally in total offense. As a player he played quarterback at Kentucky under head coach Hal Mumme, who founded the air raid offense, and assistant Mike Leach.

West Virginia’s Offensive Strategy

While an uptempo passing game is the ideal for Brown, the reality is the Mountaineers will rely on the running game to try and open things up downfield. West Virginia’s offense has sputtered through the first four games of the season, particularly on the ground, averaging just 107 yards per game. Through the first two games, the Mountaineers tallied just 64 rushing yards. Texas ranks 40th in rush defense nationally, allowing just 122 yards per game.

The ‘Eers aren’t as fortunate to have Will Grier’s experience under center, and will start Oklahoma junior transfer Austin Kendall. Kendall appears to still be finding his rhythm in West Virginia’s system, which has been run-heavy through the first four games. He’s thrown for 861 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions on the season. If senior tailback Kennedy McCoy can get things moving, expect Texas’ injury-depleted secondary to be tested. The Longhorns give up 315 yards per game through the air, and West Virginia will attempt to exploit Texas’ inexperienced defensive backs. Statistically the Mountaineers have the worst offense in the Big 12, so the task could be tall  for Brown and company.

Ehlinger leads the way

Despite the injuries and slow-start to the Texas running game, Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has been the pillar for a steady and efficient offense. The junior leads a potent Longhorns offense which ranks 19th in the country in total offense. He has thrown 15 touchdowns through four games, which is good for 6th nationally, and is responsible for 309 passing yards per game (11th in the nation). Tim Beck’s offense is only as good as Ehlinger is, and that offense has been pretty good. Ehlinger has tossed at least three touchdowns in four straight games, making him the first Texas QB since Colt McCoy in 2008 to achieve that feat.

Injury Update

Before the season began, the Longhorns were dealing with a rash of injuries to starters. The running back corps suffered tremendously in this regard, but they appear to be regaining strength. Daniel Young and Kirk Johnson are back on the depth chart, respectively, behind Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson. Earlier in the week Tom Herman said that true freshman running back Jordan Whittington was starting to run on the ground after surgery to repair a previous sports hernia surgery. There was a sliver of hope that Whittington could be cleared for West Virginia, but that won’t happen. Whittington won’t make the trip to Morgantown and will continue his rehab in Austin.

On the defensive backs front, Texas will be without Josh Thompson, Jalen Green, and  Caden Sterns who will not make the trip to Morgantown. Texas fans should likely throw in safety Demarvion Overshown to that group, who is improving health-wise, but unlikely to travel with the team this week.

Senior wide receiver Collin Johnson’s hamstring appears to be improving and will be a game-time decision.

Summary

West Virginia has given the Longhorns fits since joining the Big 12, but Texas has won both of their conference road-opening games under head coach Tom Herman. On paper, the Longhorns should dominate the Mountaineers in almost every category, particularly on offense. Teams haven’t been successful running the ball against Todd Orlando’s defense this season, and there’s no reason to think West Virginia will on Saturday. If West Virginia wants to pull off the upset, they must have big plays on both sides of the ball.

Highlights from 2018’s Game

Statistical Comparison

WEST VIRGINIACATEGORYTEXAS
25Scoring Offense41.8
25.5Scoring Defense25.5
76First Downs108
88First Downs Allowed92
107.2Rushing Yards/Game165.5
172.5Rushing Defense/Game122
218.8Passing Yards/Game332.2
201.5Passing Defense/Game314.5
326Total Offense/Game497.8
374Total Defense/Game436.5
23.9Kick Return Average20.4
8.0Punt Return Average13.5
76-699Penalties - Yards71-587
12-13Field Goals - Attempts12-17
32:11Avg. Time of Possession31:48
63/139 (45%)3rd Down Offense57/130 (44%)
45/133 (34%)3rd Down Defense55/135 (41%)
9/13 (69%)4th Down Offense7/10 (70%)
5/15 (33%)4th Down Defense10/17 (59%)
45/50 (90%)Red Zone Offense25/32 (78%)
12/14 (86%)Red Zone Defense14/15 (93%)
+1Turnover Margin+2

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Aaron Carrara is the founder and publisher of HornSports and has covered University of Texas athletics since 2011. Aaron is a member of the Football Writer's Association of America and the U.S. Basketball Writer's Association and is a proud father to three boys.

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