Last year, a two-point conversion stood between Texas pulling off an impressive home win and a disappointing loss. Then West Virginia quarterback Will Grier lit up the Longhorn defense and scored on a scramble to win the game 42-41 for the Mountaineers. This year, Grier is gone, and Texas will travel to Morgantown, West Virginia, for the opportunity to win a second consecutive Big 12 game.
The Longhorn defense sustained several injuries last week against Oklahoma State, particularly in the secondary. This game represents a chance for the depth of the team to step up and get live ball action before next week’s high-stakes matchup with Oklahoma. Additionally, the offense can continue to fine-tune itself before the matchup, with junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger off to a scorching start this season.
Here’s how the second game of Big 12 play could go:
Texas wins if …
… the defense can pressure Austin Kendall early.
Former Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall has led the Mountaineers to a 3–1 start to the season. In the lone loss to Missouri, the junior was sacked three times and was pressured by the defensive line constantly, resulting in a subpar performance that included two interceptions. With West Virginia having the home-field advantage, Texas will have to make Kendall uncomfortable in the pocket if they want to dominate the game and make life easier on the secondary. With players such as senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach and freshman defensive lineman Keondre Coburn manning the line, this is possible to accomplish.
… playing on the road is a minor factor.
Last year, the Longhorns lost two games on the road and one at a neutral site. This year, the team has had the luxury of playing three home games in its first four. The one road game was against a Rice team that has yet to win a game this season. This game will be the first real road challenge for a team that will need to win several road games to achieve its goals. If the Longhorns can ignore the noise and play at the same level they have been this season, playing on the road should not be a problem against West Virginia.
Texas loses if …
… they can’t stop the West Virginia rushing attack.
With a depleted secondary, the best the team can hope for is a one-dimensional offense from the Mountaineers. However, if the rushing attack for West Virginia has a strong game, the defense will struggle all afternoon. Led by senior running back Kennedy McKoy, who scored in last week’s game against Kansas, and Kendall, who is not afraid to use his legs, the rushing offense could take advantage of the injuries on the Texas roster. Much like the game against Oklahoma State, the inability to control mobile quarterbacks and their running backs could result in a close game that does not fall in the Longhorns’ favor.
… the wide receivers cannot maintain level of play.
During senior Collin Johnson’s absence from the team due to a hamstring injury, several other receiving options have blossomed. Freshman Jake Smith has drawn comparisons to great Texas receivers of the past, sophomore Brennan Eagles has been scoring touchdowns nearly every game and senior Devin Duvernay has been added to the Biletnikoff Award’s watchlist for the nation’s best receiver following a strong start to the season. The trio has allowed the offense to not miss a beat with Johnson out, but should any of those players have an off day, the offense could become one-dimensional. That would give West Virginia the chance to pull off the upset.