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Texas Longhorns ground West Virginia Mountaineer offense in 33-16 win

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Welcome to the first winning streak of the Charlie Strong era.

Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

Finish. Beat a ranked team at home.

The Texas Longhorns hadn't been good at either one of those things entering a crucial game against the West Virginia Mountaineers in Austin on Saturday, but came out with a huge 33-16 win that represented the first defeat of a ranked opponent at home for Texas since beating Oklahoma State in 2008.

And the finish thing?

Part of finishing is avoiding the massive mistakes that make it difficult to win games and had mostly defined this Longhorns football team in its first attrition-filled season under head coach Charlie Strong.

Other than an interception thrown by Texas sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes in West Virginia territory late in the game, the Longhorns avoided those mistakes on offense, defense, and special teams.

Finally.

So it was a historic victory for the Longhorns in defeating a ranked opponent at home for the first time in six years and a historic victory in the Charlie Strong era because it represented the first time the team has won two games in a row under the new coach and the first time that the team avoided game-changing gaffes.

A Texas defense tasked with stopping big plays in the West Virginia passing game did exactly that despite star Mountaineer wide receiver Kevin White putting up 132 passing yards -- his longest went for 21 yards on the day and was the longest passing play for an offense that has produced them in bunches this season.

Against the unique 3-3-5 defense run by West Virginia, the Texas running game was working early in keying an 11-play, 90-yard drive on the first Longhorns possession that resulted in a two-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Geoff Swaim.

Through the rest of the first quarter, the game was mostly a battle of field position and stops as the Texas defense forced two field goal attempts, one of which was missed, until a 32-yard punt by the Mountaineers gave the Horns the football in West Virginia territory.

The offense quickly capitalized -- a solid run, a nine-yard gain to junior tight end MJ McFarland that featured a broken tackle, and the third-longest run of junior running back Johnathan Gray's career ended up as a massive 39-yard touchdown run quickly produced a key touchdown for the burnt orange and white.

On the day, Gray had one of his best performances of his Texas career and certainly his best this season in rushing for 101 yards on 10 carries and three touchdowns, including a 40-yard run and a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the game out of reach.

In between, Texas scored on a short Gray run after senior running back Malcolm Brown broke off a 25-yard run that was followed by the 40-yard effort by Gray and a pass interference penalty near the goal line.

After halftime, the Longhorns mostly failed to put the game away despite being given a number of short fields. Strong said after the game that he wanted to rely on the defense and it came up with big, with the only major mistake a 62-yard run by West Virginia running back Dreamius Smith after Texas went three and out following a safety.

The safety came from senior defensive end Cedric Reed, who turned in a breakout performance after watching his draft stock drop in recent weeks because of a lack of production.

No longer.

Reed came up with 12 big tackles on the day, four tackles for loss, three sacks, the safety, and a forced fumble on one of those sacks in the fourth quarter. Let's just say he made some money at a time when NFL executives were seriously questioning his playmaking ability.

Overall, the defense gave up 448 yards and three converted fourth downs, but came up big when it mattered, limiting West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett to 5.1 yards per attempt, intercepting him once, and never letting the Mountaineers get closer than 10 points after scoring two touchdowns in less than three minutes in the second quarter.

The win wasn't as comfortable as it could have been in the second half if the offense had been able to score another touchdown or two, but it was what amounts to a resounding victory for this team.

Heading to Stillwater next week, the Longhorns are one game away from bowl eligibility after coming out with an upset victory, the defense was tough and resilient, and the offense did enough early in the game to create all the necessary separation.

Other than a poor punt by senior punter Will Russ that got him benched for sophomore Michael Davidson the rest of the game, it was what approached a complete performance in all three phases.

It wasn't perfect, and the failures of the offense in the second half will come under some scrutiny in the coming days, but for now, Texas fans should indulge themselves in appreciating this victory for longer than the 24 hours that the team will allow itself.

This is progress. This is finishing. This is beating a ranked team at home.

Finally.

And this is what catharsis looks like.

charlie strong post game

Play this way against a flawed Oklahoma State team and Texas will be bowl eligible despite a less than 10% chance of doing so heading into the West Virginia game.