Mountaineers Recover Against the Longhorns
After two straight losses that dealt a serious blow to their bowl hopes, West Virginia returned home to face Texas for possibly the last time as a conference opponent. True to form, the game featured a second-half comeback attempt by Texas. Late-game drama ensued after an uncharacteristically aggressive call by Head Coach Neal Brown to go for it on fourth down. In the end, though, the Mountaineers recover against the Longhorns. On Senior Day, West Virginia sang “Country Roads” after defeating the Longhorns 31-23.
Strong First-Half Start
The Mountaineers started off strong against a tumbling Longhorns team. Jarret Doege led West Virginia 75 yards over nine plays on the opening drive. He capped the drive with a 20-yard touchdown toss to Sam James to give the Mountaineers the early advantage.
West Virginia’s defense started just as strong. Through four Texas drives, they held the Longhorns to three-and-outs on each drive. In total, they surrendered just 14 yards in those four drives. During those drives, the West Virginia defense simply played sound defense. Indeed, they did not tally any sacks or tackles for losses. Instead, they just kept Texas to short gains and incomplete passes.
West Virginia took advantage of its strong defense by adding another touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter. Doege led another 75-yard drive, this time capping it with a 14-yard touchdown to Winston Wright in the back of the end zone.
Texas managed a touchdown in its fifth drive of the game, but the Mountaineers answered methodically. Doege marched West Virginia 82 yards over 12 plays spanning six minutes. This time, senior running back Leddie Brown punched in the score giving the Mountaineers a 21-7 lead. Texas, however, answered with a field goal to close the gap to 21-10 going into the locker room for the half.
Trading Blows in the Second Half
After the teams trade punts to begin the second half, Texas’ freshman Hudson Card closed the gap to 21-17 on a 52-yard strike to Xavier Worthy. The Mountaineers, however, refused to back down to the challenge. Doege led yet another 75-yard drive and restored the 11-point Mountaineer lead with a seven-yard dart to Sean Ryan.
Unfortunately, Texas’ offense found momentum by this point and returned serve with another quick drive. This time, the Longhorns marched 72 yards over three minutes. Roschon Johnson ended the drive with a six-yard touchdown scamper. Texas, however, failed to convert their two-point attempt, giving the Mountaineers a five-point advantage heading into the fourth.
The Mountaineers ate over five minutes off the clock on their next drive. While they couldn’t manage another touchdown, they did extend their lead to eight on a 45-yard field goal by Casey Legg. Coming back in to spell a shaken Card, Casey Thompson threw a pick deep in Mountaineer territory. Sean Mahone returned that pick to give West Virginia a good field position late in the game.
West Virginia dialed up six straight runs to eat clock. With 43 seconds left in the game and the Mountaineers facing fourth-and-five at the Texas 36, Coach Brown decided to dial up a pass play. Doege threw a nice strike to Isaiah Esdale in the end zone. Esdale, however, could not pull the ball in through traffic, giving Texas the ball with one final chance to knot the game.
West Virginia’s defense held strong, surrendering just four yards over those four final Longhorn plays. They cemented the 38-31 victory and, after dropping two straight, the Mountaineers recover against the Longhorns. Importantly, not only did West Virginia recover from the losses, but they also preserved a possible bowl appearance, needing just one win at Kansas to obtain eligibility.
Post-Game Stats and Notes
Several offensive players stood out as the Mountaineers recover against the Longhorns. First, Brown rushed 33 times for 158 yards and a touchdown. With that effort, Brown brought himself just 91 yards shy of his second-straight 1,000 yard rushing season. Second, Doege finished with 290 yards, three touchdowns, and no turnovers while completing over 60% of his passes. Finally, true freshman Kaden Prather showed his potential in his second straight game by finishing with 48 yards on four receptions.
Defensively, true freshman Saint McLeod had a big day at a position of need. West Virginia faced a lack of depth this offseason in its secondary. The concern grew over the year as injuries in the secondary piled up for the Mountaineers. McLeod offers some promise for the future as he finished with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Senior Josh Chandler-Semedo finished with nine tackles and split a sack with Edward Vesterinen. And Mahone added the interception mentioned above.
In total, the Mountaineers held the Longhorns to just 355 yards (only 152 through the air). West Virginia played particularly well on third down, giving up just two first downs in 10 attempts by Texas. If they can carry their momentum on both sides of the ball into Lawrence, the Mountaineers should finish the regular season with 6 wins and clinch a bowl berth to give the squad some extra practice time before the Winter layover.