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The Texas Longhorns and Charlie Strong look to build off last weekend’s blowout win against Texas Tech when the Longhorns host the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday afternoon. Texas enters the game winners of two of its last three.
The Longhorns improved to 4-5 (3-3) with a 34-13 victory in Lubbock on Saturday night. Texas was finally able to get its rushing attack going, piling up 241 yards on the ground against the Red Raiders. Tyrone Swoopes had 228 more yards through the air in the victory. The Longhorn defense pitched a shutout in the second half en route to the three-touchdown win.
The Mountaineers had their four-game winning streak snapped on Saturday, losing 31-30 to No. 7 TCU at home. West Virginia led by as many as 13 points against the Horned Frogs, but couldn’t hold on and lost via a last-second field goal by Jaden Oberkrom of TCU. West Virginia’s most impressive victory was a 41-27 defeat of then-unbeaten Baylor three weeks ago. The Mountaineers currently sit at 6-3 (4-2) on the season. All three WVU losses came against teams that were ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game.
The road team has won both meetings since West Virginia moved to the Big 12 in 2012. Texas knocked off WVU 47-40 in overtime last season in Morgantown behind a strong performance from Case McCoy. The Horns were able to overcome a six-point halftime deficit and knotted the game up with an Anthony Fera field goal with 13 seconds left in regulation. McCoy found Alex De La Torre for the lone score in overtime. In 2012, current New York Jet Geno Smith led 8th-ranked West Virginia to a thrilling 48-45 win over No. 11 Texas. The Mountaineers torched the Texas defense for 460 yards in the shootout victory.
Here are a couple of things to look for in 2014’s matchup:
When Texas Has the Ball:
The Longhorns eclipsed 200 yards rushing for the first time this season in Saturday’s win over Texas Tech. The Horns averaged over five yards per carry against the Red Raiders, and for the first time all season, it seemed like the Texas offensive line was asserting its will against the opposing front seven. The big boys up front were able to create big holes for Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray all night long. The O-line was continuously able to get the second level of defenders to open up bigger lanes for the Longhorn running backs. For Texas to pull off the upset against West Virginia, the Longhorns need to put up similar numbers on the ground. The Mountaineer offense scores quickly and scores often, so the Horns have to be able to pound the ball on the ground in order to keep the WVU offense off the field.
Defensively, the Mountaineers are giving up an average of 26 points and 389 yards per game. West Virginia ranks second in the Big 12 against the pass, allowing just over 210 yards through the air per game. The biggest names on the Mountaineer defense are Nick Kwiatkoski and Karl Joseph, who rank one and two on the team in tackles with 69 and 62, respectively. Defensive End Shaq Riddick leads the team and ranks fifth in the conference with six sacks on the year, as well. As a team, however, West Virginia ranks 7th in the Big 12 with only 15 sacks in 2014. The Mountaineers have forced a league-worst eight takeaways, seven of which have been interceptions. WVU’s best defensive characteristic has been its ability to get opposing offenses off the field. The Mountaineers are allowing opponents to convert less than one-third of their third down tries. This success on third down has been crucial to the Mountaineers 6-3 record this season. Besides these outliers, West Virginia ranks near the middle of the conference in most major defensive categories.
Tyrone Swoopes has to play one of his best games if Texas has any chance to pull off the upset. The Mountaineers will probably be putting seven or eight defenders in the box in order to stop the running game, so the pressure will once again be on the sophomore quarterback. Swoopes was pretty solid against Texas Tech, going 13-25 for 228 yards and a touchdown. Swoopes did have a terrible fumble deep in Texas territory that was recovered in the end zone for a Red Raider touchdown. Besides that, however, the Whitewright native took good care of the football. He did miss some open receivers and failed to hit his guys in stride, but for the most part, Swoopes had a good bounce-back performance after the shutout loss to Kansas State.
WVU ranks last in the Big 12 in turnover margin (-12) so if the Longhorns can take care of the ball on offense, they should put themselves in good position to get a win. The offensive line needs to have a similar performance on Saturday to help the Longhorns establish their running game early. If the Texas rushing attack can go for another 200 yards, a lot of pressure will be taken off of Tyrone Swoopes and the deep pass over the top may come into play. The Mountaineer defense is way better than Texas Tech’s, but it is certainly not dominant by any means. West Virginia has the ability to put up points at will, so the Texas offense will have to find a way to light up the scoreboard in order to stay in the game. “Big Bertha” will need to be heard early and often if the Horns have a chance to compete for 60 minutes.
When Texas is on Defense:
The Longhorns will have a tough task stymieing the high-powered West Virginia offense. Senior quarterback Clint Trickett has been a nice surprise for Mountaineer fans in 2014. After sharing the job with Paul Millard last season, Millard has emerged as the leader of the WVU offense. The Florida State transfer leads the Big 12 with 2,925 passing yards and just over 325 yards per game. Trickett is coming off his worst game of the season, posting a season-low 162 yards and two interceptions in West Virginia’s loss to TCU. Despite the struggles against the Horned Frogs, Trickett has completed 68 percent of his passes on the year and leads a passing offense that ranks 11th in the country.
Trickett’s breakout season can be attributed to his weapons at the wide receiver position. His favorite target, Kevin White, has put up some ridiculous numbers in Head Coach Dana Holgerson’s spread attack. White ranks third in the nation in both receptions (75) and receiving yards (1,075). The senior has already tallied eight touchdowns on the year and averages over 14 yards per reception. After totaling 35 catches and 507 receiving yards in all of 2013, White’s emergence in 2014 has been the key to the success of the West Virginia offense. On the other side of the field, senior Mario Alford has 48 catches, 679 yards and 7 receiving touchdowns through nine games. The Mountaineer return man, Alford has already taken two kickoffs for touchdowns and ranks third in the Big 12 in all-purpose yards. Jordan Thompson is the only other Mountaineer receiver with multiple touchdown catches this season.
Out of the backfield, the Mountaineers possess a couple of running backs that split the workload. Wendell Smallwood leads the team with 540 rushing yards. Rushel Shell isn’t too far behind with 538 yards on the ground and a team-high six rushing touchdowns. West Virginia’s rushing offense averages just over 182 yards per game, good enough for fourth in the Big 12. The Mountaineers usually try to establish the ground game early to help take bring the safeties closer to the line of scrimmage in hopes of opening up the deep pass to White or Alford over the top. WVU only averages four yards per carry, but the Mountaineers still lead all Big 12 teams in rushing attempts on the season.
The Mountaineer offensive line has been the weak spot for this high-powered offense. Clint Trickett has been sacked 20 times through nine games. Overall, the Mountaineers have conceded 21 sacks, tied for 8th in the Big 12. When Trickett isn’t taking a sack, he is usually trying to evade pressure long enough for one of his receivers to create some separation downfield. The four yards per carry on the ground also signifies the offensive line struggles that West Virginia has had all year.
For Texas to slow down the WVU offense, the secondary has to have another big day. The Longhorns continue to lead the conference in pass defense, allowing just less than 180 yards per game through the air. With Trickett putting up 325 passing yards a game, something has to give on Saturday. Cornerbacks Quandre Diggs and Duke Thomas will need to have huge games to shut down White and Alford. Thomas has been struggling as of late with letting receivers get by him, so he’ll have to turn things around to help contain the WVU offense. I would love to see Diggs matched up with Kevin White all game long, but he’ll probably remain as the nickel corner position for most of the game. Diggs is Texas’s best cover man, and I would love to see the matchup of two future NFLers as much as possible. Texas’s success in the secondary can be largely credited to its front 4. The Longhorns are tied for the Big 12 lead with 27 sacks. West Virginia has had its struggles on the offensive line, so if the Horns can get to Clint Trickett, they can slow down the Mountaineer offensive attack.
The Longhorns are just 1-5 this season when allowing 20 points or more. Keeping the Mountaineers under that mark seems like a near-impossible task, as West Virginia has scored at least 23 in every game this season. Texas’s best defense this weekend could be its offense. If the Longhorns can convert on third downs and not give the ball away, Texas can control the time of possession statistic and keep Trickett and company off the field. I think Texas needs to have the ball for at least 33 minutes to have a chance to knock off the 23rd-ranked team in the nation.
Texas is coming off of an impressive road victory in which the Longhorns dominated in all three faucets of the game. The win against Texas Tech may have been Texas’s most complete game of the season since the week one blowout win against North Texas. However, this West Virginia team is way better than Texas Tech, and the Mountaineers won’t be playing with their third string quarterback.
I think this Texas defense will do a better job than most in containing West Virginia’s explosive offense and I expect the Horns to hold the Mountaineers below their season average of 36 points. However, I don’t think the Texas offense has enough firepower to hang with West Virginia. Tyrone Swoopes has been too inconsistent under center and the Texas offensive line just hasn’t shown me enough to feel confident against a ranked opponent. Despite the impressive win in Lubbock, I think this team takes another step back against the Mountaineers and I see the Longhorns suffering their sixth loss of 2014.
Prediction: West Virginia 31, Texas 20