The only Big 12 team that might love flashing “Horns Down” more than Oklahoma is West Virginia. For the Mountaineers, the hand gesture is the best way to mock their biggest conference rival: Texas.
West Virginia has faced the Longhorns just nine times in program history, and the Mountaineers didn’t join the Big 12 until 2012. Aside from the thrilling 2018 matchup in Austin that culminated in WVU quarterback Will Grier flashing “Horns Down” at the UT student section, nothing has elicited a bitter rivalry between the two teams like the ones Texas holds with Oklahoma and Texas A&M.
Longhorn fans and players may not think about West Virginia outside of the teams’ annual matchup, but the Mountaineers have chosen Texas to fill their void.
“I think it stems back to the fact that we don’t really have rivals anymore,” said Tyler Redding, the executive director of WVU’s official student section, the Mountaineer Maniacs. “When the Big East folded, we lost our rivals in Pitt and Virginia Tech and the games that we used to play against Penn State.”
Texas’ blue blood status and the “Horns Down” signal made the Longhorns an easy target, Redding said. West Virginia fans go all in because it gives them something to be excited about.
Saturday’s matchup against the Mountaineers will be just another must-win game for the Longhorns. Texas senior quarterback Sam Ehlinger won’t be thinking about the teams’ rivalry, or lack thereof, this weekend.
“We always enjoy competing against West Virginia. Incredible team,” Ehlinger said. “We look at every game as the next one. I don’t know in regards to rivalry what we think about that, but we know it’s another Big 12 game against a really good opponent.”
The rivalry may seem one-sided, but the Mountaineers lead the all-time series over Texas 5–4.
Even in Austin, West Virginia will be a challenge for the Longhorns. The Mountaineers have the No. 1-ranked defense in the Big 12, a solid head coach in Neal Brown and a playmaking quarterback in redshirt junior quarterback Jarret Doege.
West Virginia might play Texas harder than any of its other opponents this season, too.
It’s a common theme for the Longhorns, whom 11 college football teams consider a rival, according to a study done at the University of Memphis.
“I think that’s pretty cool that a lot of teams think that we’re rivals,” senior defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham said.“It’s kind of like a badge of honor for teams to hold us to that regard.”
Mountaineer fans can say their team was a catalyst that turned “Horns Down” into a penalty. During the 2018 matchup between Texas and West Virginia, officials penalized the team twice for flashing the hand gesture.
Conference officials announced at the 2019 Big 12 Media Days that referees would flag Big 12 players who flash the “Horns Down.” These regulations haven’t stopped fans from utilizing the gesture, especially not in West Virginia. The inverted Hook ‘Em Horns is a staple, from T-shirts to bumper stickers.
Other teams blast “Take Me Home, Country Roads” when they beat West Virginia, so “Horns Down” should be fair game, Redding said. He and a sprinkling of other Mountaineers fans will travel to Austin for the game Saturday, and “Horns Down” just might make an appearance.
“We were looking for not a rivalry because we’ll probably never be able to figure out a rivalry with someone that’s over a 1,000 miles or 800 miles away, but it’s just something that we’re trying to hold on to,” Redding said.