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Opponent Preview: West Virginia

The Mountaineers seek their third straight win in Austin

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 31 Kansas State at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, the Texas Longhorns knocked off Mike Gundy and the Oklahoma State Cowboys in Stillwater for the first time since 2014. Can they beat the West Virginia Mountaineers for the first time in Austin since 2014 this week? Head coach Neil Brown and the 4-2 Mountaineers look to play spoiler and squash Tom Herman’s hopes of a Big 12 title this Saturday. Here’s a preview of one of the sneaky good/sneaky bad teams in the conference:

West Virginia is led by redshirt junior quarterback Jarret Doege, who transferred from Bowling Green after the 2018 season and appeared in four games last year for the Mountaineers. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because his brother Seth Doege was the quarterback for Texas Tech under current WVU head coach Neil Brown from 2009 to 2012. If you forgot how his name is pronounced it’s DOE-GEE, not DOE-GIE, but you can call him by the latter if you’re so inclined.

Statistically, Doege is one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 this season, ranking second in passing yards (1,690), third in passing touchdowns (11), and has only tossed three interceptions this year. He’s thrown for over 300 yards in each of his past three games with six touchdowns and only one interception.

Neil Brown likes to set up Doege with quick and easy passes on hitch routes, slants, screens, and passes into the flat. Doege is more comfortable throwing a check down than taking a shot deep. His average yards per completion is around seven yards, which is sixth in the Big 12.

WVU loves to run a combination of bubble screens and swing screens out into the flat for easy completions. You’ll probably see an upwards of around five total screens against Texas, possibly more if they find success.

Chris Ash and the Horns defense will have to watch out for throws to the flat, which absolutely burned the Wildcats last week. Sometimes it will just be the tailback running out into the flat or Brown will send a wideout in motion.

If Doege finds success over the middle against the Texas linebackers, look for WVU to focus their attack on slant routes — two of West Virginia’s longest plays from scrimmage have come on those plays.

West Virginia will also run RPOs for Doege and have the tight end sneak out into the flat for an easy completion or have Doege find a receiver on a slant.

Doege has two big weaknesses — throwing under pressure and throwing the deep ball. I believe the key for Texas will be pressuring Doege because unlike most of the quarterbacks in the Big 12, Doege doesn’t have explosive athleticism to beat you with his legs if you can’t bring him down.

Oklahoma State’s gameplan against Doege was to blitz and blitz often and it worked, as the Cowboys sacked him five times in their 27-13 victory. But even more vital to their defensive success was putting Doege under pressure, where West Virginia’s offensive line struggled to pick up the blitz.

Sometimes it feels like Doege senses the blitz coming so he tries to get the ball out as fast as possible, but throws errant passes while doing so.

The majority of the big passing plays for Doege come on short completions that turn into big plays. In fact, his two longest completions of the year (70-yard touchdown pass to Winston Wright and 58-yard pass to Bryce Ford-Wheaton) came on slant routes that were no more than 10 yards down the field. Doege’s longest completion over 15 yards past the line of scrimmage was a 38-yard completion against Texas Tech. His longest touchdown throw from the line of scrimmage was this 33-yard touchdown pass against Kansas.

It’s hard to be accurate on deep throws when you have defenders in your face, but that’s not always the reason for Doege’s overthrows or underthrows.

West Virginia has allowed the second-most sacks in the Big 12 with 11 allowed this season. Meanwhile, the Horns defense is coming off a five-sack performance against Oklahoma State. Doege also has had some troubles securing the football, with the Mountaineers turning the ball over nine times this season. Texas forced three fumbles last week against the Cowboys and picked off Spencer Sanders once.

If Ash’s defense is really coming alive, they could be in for another impressive performance against Doege. But that’s just one part of the equation. The second part is West Virginia’s running game led by junior Leddie Brown.

Brown is second in the Big 12 in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns and averages about 5.5 yards per carry this season. He averages 21 attempts per game and West Virginia is 3-1 when Brown reaches the 100-yard mark. Neil Brown loves to call inside zone and stretch plays for the tailback, as the offense revolves around Brown and backup Alec Sinkfield. Brown is more of an in-between the tackles grit ’n grind runner while Sinkfield likes to bounce it outside and beat you with his speed.

Sinkfield has 301 rushing yards this season and while it might not seem like a lot, it’s good enough for eighth-most in the Big 12 and 17 more yards than Sam Ehlinger — who leads Texas in rushing. However, Sinkfield did fumble twice against Kansas State last week so Coach Brown might be cautious with the tailback especially since Texas forced three last week.

West Virginia seems content to handoff to Brown or Sinkfield on first and second down and make third downs manageable for Doege. It’s very similar to what Oklahoma State tried to do against Texas but the Horns defensive line was ready for it, holding Chuba Hubbard to just 72 yards.

One other thing to look out for is West Virginia’s use of motion and jet sweeps. Like literally every other Big 12 team, the Mountaineers will motion across a wideout and either pitch it to him or run a misdirection. Depending on the play call, it might just be a Brown carry or as I wrote earlier, a pass out to the motioned wideout in the flat.

Bottomline: Just like last week, Texas needs to shut down the run game and force Doege to beat you himself. The Horns should have no problem getting to Doege and if the quarterback is missing his throws, Texas should be able to make West Virginia a one-dimensional offense.

Don’t get me wrong — West Virginia has a stout rushing attack, but the best part of this team is their defense.

The Mountaineers are fourth in the nation in total yards per game (third if you exclude Wisconsin) and first in the Big 12, allowing only 255.7 total yards. They also lead the conference in passing yards (157.8) and rushing yards (97.8) allowed and give up only 19.8 points per game, behind only Oklahoma State.

They also have 20 sacks on the year, second best in the Big 12 and eighth in the country behind one of the best defensive lines Texas will face all year.

The Stills brothers, Dante and Darius, take up the middle and cause problems. And when I say problems, I mean problems.

The two of them have combined for 5.5 sacks and probably caused Charlie Brewer to contemplate retiring mid game against them. West Virginia also has an incredibly talented freshman defensive tackle by the name of Akheem Mesidor who has four sacks this season and will spell either of the Stills brothers. He also causes problems.

The Mountaineers are aided by Arizona transfer and linebacker Tony Fields II, who choose West Virginia over the Longhorns. Fields has been a superb addition to their linebacking core and leads the team with 53 tackles. He’s excellent in coverage, great at open field tackles, and it’s majestic watching him blitz.

There’s a 12-minute YouTube video of his performance against Baylor that is captivating to watch, but also stings every time you remember he could’ve been playing in burnt orange.

While their offense was able to move the ball against Kansas State, the defense was able to force three interceptions (including a pick six) — opposing teams average two turnovers in West Virginia’s four wins. Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger has already thrown five interceptions this year and can’t afford to toss number six against the Mountaineers. The Longhorns won the turnover battle in Stillwater and the Pokes paid for it, so Texas may need to win it again this Saturday to avoid an upset.

Now, you could make the argument that the West Virginia defense is still relatively untested this year, having yet to face Sam Ehlinger, Spencer Rattler, or Brock Purdy and Breece Hall. According to the strength of schedule rankings provided by TeamRankings, West Virginia has had the easiest schedule out of all the Big 12 teams. West Virginia is also 0-2 when on the road, losing to Oklahoma State (without Sanders) and Texas Tech.

Bottom line: Regardless of their schedule, West Virginia’s defensive line is serious and with the troubles Texas has had blocking, they can cause problems for Ehlinger. Texas has to avoid turning the ball over and find ways to get creative on offense like they did in the fourth quarter against the Pokes. Tom Herman and the Horns have no wiggle room if they wan’t to make an appearance in the Big 12 title game and this matchup looms as a letdown game if Texas doesn’t show up.