“Here we go again.”
The defining phrase for several years under Mack Brown and Charlie Strong for the Texas Longhorns might need a tombstone soon.
On Saturday in Morgantown, the No. 11 Longhorns got off to a slow start against the West Virginia Mountaineers and it looked like it might be one of those games.
There were early penalties and injuries in front of a hostile crowd that reached full throat following a touchdown on the first drive by West Virginia.
These aren’t your old Longhorns
After gutting out an ugly victory over Oklahoma State before the bye week, Texas did the same thing against West Virginia. The players said all the right things before a contest with the potential to be a trap game, consistently speaking in the voice of the cultures. That’s culture. Alignment.
So when things got tough, the Horns relied on their training and played for each other, as they’ve been doing consistently now for some time.
Sophomore kicker Cameron Dicker missed a field goal on the first offensive drive, a 16-play slog that gained only 51 yards and covered nearly seven minutes, but the defense responded with an interception by redshirt freshman linebacker Ayodele Adeoye, then scored on the drive’s second play thanks to a 22-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger to redshirt freshman wide receiver Malcolm Epps.
The offense responded to the second West Virginia touchdown by finding the end zone, too, then did the same thing after a missed field goal.
In the second half, the offense struggled, with Ehlinger’s poor decision to throw into triple coverage resulting in his second interception of the season. The defense stepped up, though, holding the Mountaineers to a field goal to maintain the lead and then giving the offense a short field following another interception.
The offense converted before the fourth interception for the Longhorns helped the offense essentially seal the game.
In the end, there wasn’t much drama in the final 10 minutes.
The secondary stepped up for Texas
To the extent that numbers like total offense or passing yards allowed matter — they don’t really, at all, except to troglodytes — the Longhorns entered the game as a terrible defense against opposing aerial attacks.
The legitimate concern was regarding the group’s health and an early injury to sophomore safety BJ Foster when he led with his helmet at full speed on a tackle made things look bleak.
Fortunately for the Horns, the Mountaineers offense lost most of its explosiveness from last season and the Texas secondary responded to the opportunity.
Sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison made his claim to a starting cornerback role with by far the best game of his career. As a tackler, Jamison was solid against the run and the pass, but it was his ball skills and explosiveness that were on full display.
The first interception of his career will long live in the annals of Texas history as one of the most athletic plays anyone will ever see. On a jump ball thrown by West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall, his intended target Sam James had both hands on the football. Jamison had one hand on it at full extension only because he timed his jump perfectly.
Against all odds, Jamison came down with the football, then continued to play well, breaking on a long throw from Kendall outside the hash mark to come down with another.
On the other side, sophomore Anthony Cook played a solid game, too, a critical development for his confidence with a much greater challenge looming next week against the Sooners.
Even maligned sophomore cornerback Kobe Boyce broke up a pass late once the outcome was already decided.
The tackling was suspect at times, but given all the injuries and the nature of defending Big 12 offenses, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has something to build on heading into the Cotton Bowl.
The Horns avoided the worst-case injury scenario
The early sense that it might be one of those games was exacerbated by two key players getting banged up, including Foster and sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram, who left the game in the first half when he suffered a stinger on a blitz pickup when the defender led with his helmet. Junior safety Chris Brown needed medical attention for a thigh contusion, too.
With previous injuries to sophomore cornerback Jalen Green, sophomore safety DeMarvion Overshown, and junior Josh Thompson, Texas couldn’t afford any more significant injuries at the position. The running back room is getting more healthy, with senior Kirk Johnson receiving his first carry since 2015 and freshman Jordan Whittington getting closer to a return, but Ingram was just starting to get into a rhythm in the last two games.
Fortunately, the injury news ended up avoiding the worst-case scenario — Foster returned to the game late in the first half and Ingram started the second half after an X-ray for his stinger came up negative. Ingram ultimately gave way to freshman running back Roschon Johnson after struggling, but the fact that he returned to the game suggests that he’ll be available next week.
Time to take a deep breath and get ready for the Sooners.