Coaching decision bites Longhorns in loss to Mountaineers

Tyler Horka

The ball rested at the two-yard line late in the first half on Saturday. Nine seconds remained in the first half as Texas trailed No. 16 West Virginia 17–10 in front of 98,367 anxious fans.

The Texas offense huddled near the sideline, going over a possible play call. Most of the home fans implored head coach Charlie Strong to send that unit back onto the field. He didn’t. 

Instead, out trotted senior kicker Trent Domingue to tack on three points. The field goal pulled Texas within four points — the exact margin it ultimately fell by in a 24–20 defeat to the Mountaineers.

“You’d like to sit here and say you know what could have been,” Strong said. “But I’m glad we got the points where we were.”

Strong had other options than to settle for a field goal in that situation. He just didn’t utilize them. 

Junior running back D’Onta Foreman, who has built a Heisman Trophy resume with over 1,600 rushing yards this season, had 114 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in the first two quarters. All he needed were two more, but he didn’t get the ball handed to him. Texas also declined to use freshman receiver Collin Johnson — a 6-foot-6-inch redzone specialist — and senior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in his signature short-yardage package.

“There were a couple conversations and [we] just decided that was what was best at that point in the game,” offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert said. 

Whether kicking a field goal was Texas’ best option or not is a matter of opinion. But controversial coaching decisions have been more of a certainty than a judgment call in multiple Texas losses this season. 

Texas allowed a 50-plus yard rush on third down after punting back to California in the final minutes in week three. And when Texas faced fourth-and-one last week in Lubbock, the Texas coaching staff received criticism for not handing the ball to Foreman. Those cries were a bit subdued by the victory. But in losses, condemnation rings louder. 

“I definitely would’ve like to have gone for it,” Foreman said. “But I’m a team player. Whatever Coach Strong wants to do, I’m fine with that.”

The Longhorns now sit at 5–5, needing just one win to qualify for bowl season and two to finish above .500. Texas can still win out and finish with eight wins, the number many predicted Strong needs to keep his job.

To get there, Texas must find ways to win close games — and not leave Longhorn fans wondering what could’ve been, especially on coaching decisions.