Undefeated squads tangle in Big 12 Conference action this Saturday, as the eighth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers bring their high-octane offense to the Lone Star State to battle the 11th-ranked Texas Longhorns.
West Virginia is 4-0 after taking out Marshall (69-34), James Madison (41-12), Maryland (31-21) and Baylor (70-63). Last week's wild win over the Bears marked the first game the Mountaineers played in the Big 12, and the first of six games the team will play against foes that were, or are now, ranked among the Top-25. WVU is coached by Dana Holgorsen, who is no stranger to the Big 12 after previous stints as offensive coordinator at both Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.
Texas has also won its first four games of the 2012 campaign, getting past Wyoming (37-17), New Mexico (45-0), Ole Miss (66-31) and Oklahoma State (41-36), the last of course occurring last week against a league opponent. The Longhorns are led by coach Mack Brown, who is in his 15th year at the school, and has led them to a 145-39 record, and the 2005 BCS National Championship. Following this clash, UT will have its annual showdown with Oklahoma, and still has tough bouts with Baylor, TCU and Kansas State.
This game represents only the second meeting between these two schools, with WVU winning the first in Austin, 7-6, way back in 1956.
How crazy was last week's Big 12 debut for the Moutaineers? Well, of the 19 TDs scored in the game -- that's right 19! -- 16 of them came on drives that lasted fewer than three minutes. Heisman candidate Geno Smith had a field day against the porous BU defense, completing 45-of-51 passes for 656 yards and eight TDs. Six different receivers went over 100 yards in the game, including WVU standouts Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Bailey set a new school record with 303 yards and five TDs, while Austin settled for 215 yards and two scores on a team-high 14 receptions. RB Andrew Buie scored a couple of TDs as part of his 25-carry, 82-yard effort.
The West Virginia defense had virtually the same problem as Baylor's -- stopping the pass. BU quarterback Nick Florence threw for 581 yards and five TDs, hitting WR Terrance Williams a game-high 17 times for 314 yards and a pair of scores. When the dust had settled, the Mountaineers had allowed an even 700 total yards, but did manage to come up with an interception and three sacks. Isaiah Bruce led the WVU stand, what there was of one, with 13 tackles.
WVU has now scored 10 TDs in a game three times in its last five outings dating back to the 2012 Orange Bowl victory over Clemson, and the team comes into this clash averaging 53 points and nearly 600 total yards per contest. Smith, who is the clear front-runner in the race for this year's Heisman Trophy, is hitting the mark on 83.4 percent of his passes for 1,728 yards (432.0 ypg) with 20 TDs. Even more remarkable is the fact that he hasn't thrown an interception in 169 pass attempts. Taking full advantage of Smith's prowess under center are Austin and Bailey, the two combining for 89 catches, 1,195 yards and 17 TDs. Buie leads the ground attack with 226 yards and three scores, while Shawne Alston had found the end zone three times as well.
The Mountaineers are allowing 32.5 ppg this season, with opponents preferring to thrown the ball against them, resulting in 356.5 ypg and 10 TDs. Despite its warts, the defensive unit averages more than eight TFL per tilt, which includes a total of 13 sacks. Seven turnovers have been recorded as well, and Bruce continues to serve as high man on the team with his 43 total tackles.
Holgorsen knows his team will have its hands full with Texas this week.
"They are good on all three sides of the ball. They are still young, but have nine returning starters," He went on to say, "They do a great job of taking care of the ball. They do a great job of staying ahead of the chains. They have running backs in the backfield that are very athletic. Defensively, they are tremendous against the pass. We will have our hands full with them defensively."
While not as explosive as its counterpart in this one, the Texas offense has performed exceptionally well under the direction of sophomore QB David Ash, averaging 47.2 points and 495.8 yards per game. Ash has completed 78.0 percent of his throws for 1,007 yards (251.8 ypg), 10 TDs and only one interception. WR Jaxson Shipley has a team-high 17 receptions for 192 yards and four scores, while Mike Davis has 16 grabs for 243 yards and two TDs. The UT run game features a pair of talented backs in Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown, the two combining for 500 yards and eight TDs.
On the defensive side, the Longhorns have gotten production from a number of guys, notably Steve Edmond (32 tackles, one interception), Jackson Jeffcoat (25 tackles, eight TFL, three sacks, two forced fumbles), Kenny Vaccaro (25 tackles, two picks), Alex Okafor (four sacks, nine QB hurries) and Quandre Diggs (three interceptions, six passes defended). Collectively, the 'Horns are giving up 21 points and 390.2 yards per game, with foes splitting that yardage total rather evenly -- 180.0 ypg, four TDs rushing; 210.2 ypg and five TDs passing.
Last week's shootout with the Cowboys resulted in 77 points and 1,016 combined yards. Ash was highly efficient in completing 30-of-37 passes for 304 yards, three TDs, with Shipley, who finished with five grabs for 82 yards, on the receiving end of each scoring strike. RB Johnathan Gray was UT's leading rusher, rumbling his way to 68 yards on 12 carries, while Bergeron crossed the goal line twice as part of a grinding 15-carry, 48-yard effort.
Edmond served as the Longhorns' most active defender in the game, logging 10 stops, including two behind the line of scrimmage. In all, Texas tallied 13 TFL (four by Jeffcoat), but only two sacks. OSU ran for 275 yards and two TDs, while passing for 301 yards and another pair of scores.
After last week's slugfest with OSU, Ash was quick to point out the never-say- die attitude his team possesses.
"A righteous man falls down seven times and gets back up seven times. I think it showed that we have some resilience and that we've got some fight inside of us and we aren't going to lay down ever," He continued, "That's probably what I'm most proud of. Guys giving everything they have. If we had lost that game, I'd still be proud of those guys because we battled and we battled hard against a great team."