Austin, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - With their recent four-game win streak now a memory, the 24th-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers hit the road to tangle with the Texas Longhorns in a Big 12 Conference clash on Saturday afternoon.
West Virginia dropped a heartbreaking 31-30 decision to visiting TCU last weekend, marking the team's first setback since a 45-33 home loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 20. The only other defeat for coach Dana Holgorsen's squad came in the season opener against Alabama, 33-23. WVU's remaining regular-season games after this one include a visit from Kansas State on Nov. 20, and a trip to Iowa State nine days later.
Texas has struggled in the first year of head coach Charlie Strong's tenure, winning only four of its nine games, which includes a 3-3 league ledger. The Longhorns have not won consecutive games all season, but they have another shot at doing just that after beating Texas Tech in Lubbock last Saturday, 34-13. UT needs two wins in its final three games to become bowl eligible, a task that won't be easily achieved as in addition to this tilt, the 'Horns will also take on Oklahoma State and TCU.
West Virginia leads the all-time series with Texas, 2-1, with both of its victories taking place in Austin. The Longhorns picked up their lone victory last year in Morgantown, 47-40 (OT).
The Mountaineers (36.1 ppg, 508.2 ypg) have enjoyed great success on offense this season, thanks in large part to the play of quarterback Clint Trickett. The former Florida State Seminole has completed 67.5 percent of his passes for nearly 3,000 yards, 18 TDs and only seven INTs. Kevin White has clearly been Trickett's favorite target, as he has hauled in 75 balls for 1,075 yards and eight scores. Mario Alford has seven TD receptions as part of his 48-catch, 679-yard campaign. As for the WVU rushing attack, both Wendell Smallwood and Rushel Shell have amassed more than 500 yards, with the latter crossing the goal line six times.
Defensively, the Mountaineers are giving up 25.7 points and 389.0 yards per contest, with their effort against the pass (212.6 ypg, No. 2 in the Big 12) being the stronger aspect of their stance. Nick Kwiatkoski and Karl Joseph rank one-two on the team's tackles list with 69 and 62, respectively, with the former also leading the way with 9.0 TFL. As a collective unit, West Virginia has logged only 15 sacks and eight takeaways, seven of which have been INTs.
Turnovers killed the Mountaineers last week against TCU, as the home team squandered a 30-21 lead in the fourth quarter by coughing the ball up five times in all (three fumbles, two INTs). Trickett threw for only 162 yards and a TD, and White was limited to only three catches for 28 yards, marking his second straight sub par showing (three rec., 27 yards versus Oklahoma State). Dreamius Smith was the most productive rusher with 70 yards and a score, while Smallwood added 64 yards on a team-high 15 carries.
West Virginia's defensive effort last week was impressive, as it held the high-powered Horned Frogs to 389 yards, including a mere 166 through the air. TCU, which came into the contest as the highest-scoring team in the nation, did manage to churn out 223 yards and score three TDs on the ground. Kwiatkoski and Shaq Riddick both tallied seven stops in the contest for the Mountaineers, and Terrell Chestnut returned a fumble 35 yards for a TD midway through the second quarter.
Holgorsen put the blame on himself following the setback, particularly with regard to the lackluster offensive effort.
"I take responsibility for what happened offensively," said Holgorsen. "It was bad. It was not acceptable."
Texas has failed to produce on offense this season, as least with regard to the gaudy numbers some of the other teams in the Big 12 have. Scoring 22.2 ppg while tallying a rather pedestrian 149.1 ypg on the ground and 212.6 ypg through the air, it's no wonder the Longhorns are below the break-even point on the season.
Tyrone Swoopes took over for injured starter David Ash in week one, and has completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 1,723 yards, nine TDs and only five INTs. The pass-catching tandem of Jaxon Shipley and John Harris have tried to do their best to keep the 'Horns moving in the right direction, as they have combined for 99 grabs, 1,314 yards and seven scores, six of which belong to Harris. The run game features a pair of backs with at least 446 yards, as Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray have combined for 235 of the team's 338 total carries, scoring nine TDs along the way.
Led by the highly-productive Jordan Hicks (115 tackles, nine TFL, two INTs), Texas is permitting only 23.1 ppg behind typical outputs of 175.1 ypg via the run and 177.3 ypg by way of the pass, the latter figure ranking as the lowest yield in the Big 12. The 'Horns have surrendered only eight aerial scores, second-fewest in the league, and their 27 sacks are tied with Baylor for the most in the conference heading into this week's action. UT also ranks among the league leaders in red-zone defense (.750).
Texas led Texas Tech, 17-13 at the half last week, and then scored 17 unanswered points to put the game away. Swoopes threw for 228 yards and a TD, but completed only 13-of-25 passes, and he was sacked three times. Harris certainly made the most of his opportunities, turning five grabs into 165 yards, while the run game got going behind a season-high 116-yard, two-TD effort from Brown. Gray tacked on 77 yards and a score of his own.
Texas Tech did not score an offensive TD last week, getting its only six- pointer on a fumble recovery in the end zone. The Red Raiders were credited with only 381 total yards (156 rushing, 225 passing), but they turned the ball over twice and failed to come away with point on three of their four trips to the red zone. Steve Edmond paced the UT defense with 15 tackles, including the team's only sack, while Hicks finished with 10 stops.
While it's obvious Texas hasn't performed up to its own lofty standard this season, Strong, for the most part, appreciates the effort his team is putting forth.
"I said, told them before the game, "what team is it that shows up today? Is it going to be a team that plays with a lot of passion, a lot of confidence? A team that has a lot of pride and just understands what we gotta go get done?" We talk about there's four games left, one down, three more to go, have West Virginia at home next week, and it's great to get this win and now we get on back home and get ready to play West Virginia."