There's a reason why conventional wisdom holds that turning the ball over on the road will result in losses -- five Texas Longhorns turnovers turned into 24 points for the West Virginia Mountaineers, negating an otherwise productive offensive performance in Morgantown and ending in a 38-20 loss.
After entering the game tied for sixth nationally with only seven turnovers on the season, everything fell apart on the road in an avalance of mistakes and penalties. The Longhorns are now 0-4 on the road this season, having been outscored150-30. According to the Longhorn Network, it's the first time since 1938 Texas has gone 0-4 in true road games.
The clincher came late in the third quarter when freshman kick returner Kris Boyd fumbled just before being tackled because he was holding the ball way too loosely, resuilting in a West Virginia recovery just outside the Texas red zone. A reeling defense managed to hold inside the five-yard line to force a 19-yard field goal, but the conversion pushed the deficit to two touchdowns against a team with no recent history of pulling off such comebacks.
Or did the clincher come with seven minutes left when redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard had West Virginia linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski read his eyes and jump a slant route for what amounted to a game-clinching interception?
On the previous Longhorns possession, head coach Charlie Strong opted to kick a short field goal down by 14 points. With nine and a half minutes left.
While scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion and field goal would have tied it up, the game management at that particular point seemed odd, though ultimately inconsequential because of the interception. But at least the game doesn't qualify as another loss of 20 points or more?
In the first half, a botched exchange between Heard and sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman squirted free from a pile and West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber returned it 42 yards for a touchdown and an 11-point swing.
Late in the half, a drive led by some tough running from junior quarterback Tyrone Swopes ended in the third-effort fumble that resulted in the long touchown catch by Jovon Durante. On that play, Texas freshman cornerback Davante Davis got beat and the safety help from sophomore Jason Hall was not only late because he was held in the middle of the field by West Virginia quarterback Skyler Howard, but also rendered ineffective because he took a poor angle that forced him to play the ball over his shoulder.
It didn't work and the result was crushing -- prior to the fumble, the Horns had been rumbling towards a score to cut the 14-10 lead. Instead, a false start penalty on 3rd and 1 forced a difficult down-and-distance for Swoopes, who lost the ball on a third effort instead of just going down and settling for a field goal.
So even though the Longhorns managed to score first, a blow that has determined which team would win in 21 of 22 games during the Charlie Strong era, there wasn't much time to feel good about that stat with so many costly gaffes and critical penalties. In all, Texas had five penalties for 39 yards in the first half.
The offense responded with a grueling 15-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half that took 6:21 off the clock, but it was a costly march -- senior running back Johnathan Gray suffered a foot injury that eventually resulted in his departure from the game, freshman right guard Patrick Vahe left the game with a knee injury, and sophomore running back D'Onta Foreman suffered what looked like a dislocated pinky.
Foreman eventually returned, but several other players also headed to the locker room in the early moments of the fourth quarter, including junior defensive tackle Paul Boyette and freshman cornerback Davante Davis.
The game looked like it might hinge on the offensive drive following the West Virginia field goal. A big 36-yard gain by the down on a tough catch by senior wide receiver Daje Johnson helped flip the field position, but Texas tried to throw the ball on 3rd and 6 in four-down territory. The resulting incomplete made the fourth-down play call much more difficult and Heard threw an interception in the end zone on a pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Armanti Foreman, who had a step on his defender.
Fortunately, the defense responded by forcing a three and out to decrease the signifcance of that failed drive and even ended up with good field position after a poor punt by Nick O'Toole. But Heard's interception and the resulting drive by West Virginia put the game out of reach for good.
With all the injuries and penalties and mistakes, it's hard to take many positive elements from the game, especially with bowl eligibility now depending on the incredibly unlikely possibility that this incredibly flawed team will find a way to beat Texas Tech at home on Thanksgiving and Baylor on the road the following week.
In all likelihood, the young players won't be able to benefit from 15 extra practices and a bowl game and recruiting efforts will have to succeed despite little offseason momentum as Strong faces continued questions about his long-term future in Austin.
Will that be as unpleasant as continued road disasters of varying terrible degrees?
Guess we'll just have to find out the hard way.