The season has started turning back in the Texas Longhorns’ favor in recent weeks, with Tom Herman’s team notching back-to-back wins over Baylor and No. 6 Oklahoma State to climb back into the AP Top 25. But there’s still plenty of football to be played and Texas will continue to be tested, including the Horns’ Saturday morning meeting with a 4-2 West Virginia squad.
The Burnt Orange Nation staff got together to discuss what Texas must do to ensure that they’re the team improving to 5-2.
Suddenly, Texas is 4-2, ranked, and in control of its destiny within the conference. Did the win over then-No. 6. OSU change your perception of this season and Texas’ potential?
Gerald — I think it confirmed what I thought about the team: they’re a good, not great team. The only advantage of that is the fact that I don’t think there’s a great team in the Big 12 this year. I think there might be another loss on the schedule, potentially in the conference championship game, but more likely Kansas State or Iowa State.
Seahorn — The game in Stillwater showed me that the team hasn’t given up on the season, but I’m still weary of the team’s overall potential as far as making a run at the Big 12 title. Personally I still think this team will drop another game between now and the end of the regular season.
Cameron — You could make the argument that Texas should be 6-0 so last week’s win doesn’t change my perception of the season. It was Big 12 Championship or bust for me so unless Texas can win out, this will be a very underwhelming year for Texas football.
Cody — I think it was Texas’ most difficult remaining game and yes, the win puts Texas in position to win and get into the Big 12 title game, so there’s clearly some reason for optimism about the rest of the season. That said, I think WVU is really solid, ISU is probably going to be tough, as will KSU, so I’m not convinced that Texas will run the table — and even one more loss might force a burnt orange meltdown amongst the fans.
At this point in the season, this Texas team — with its fair share of problems — is what it is. Of the problems that have plagued the Horns to this point, which is the most critical to address if Texas is going to continue building momentum in the coming weeks?
Gerald — The offensive line. I think you can tie all of Texas’s offensive issues to the struggles on the offensive line. Whether it’s the run game or some of Sam’s struggles, I think the offensive line has a lot to say about the remaining games.
Seahorn — Offensive inconsistency and particularly the offensive line’s struggles from week-to-week. It’s clear at this point Sam Ehlinger is going to have to will this team to Dallas, but if they don’t do a better job of protecting him it won’t happen.
Cameron — I’m not sure how much longer Texas can rely on Sam Ehlinger without having a run game. I understand the Longhorns have injuries and inexperience in the trenches but the Horns leading rusher is Ehlinger with only 284 yards. Now with Keaontay Ingram out with an ankle injury, Texas needs Roschon Johnson of Bijan Robinson to step up.
Cody — I think it’s the penalties and turnovers. Save for a win over a bad Baylor team, Texas hasn’t been able to get out of its own way in league action, committing 35 penalties for 420 yards, along with seven turnovers against TTU, TCU, OU, and OSU. Of course, Texas dropped two of those contests and needed double-digit second-half comebacks to win the other two. That’s simply not a recipe for consistent success.
Leddie Brown has been a clear strength for WVU, totaling 694 yards and eight touchdowns through six games. After Texas limited Chuba Hubbard to only 72 yards and 25 carries, can Chris Ash’s defense follow that up with another strong showing against one of the nation’s leading rushers?
Gerald — This is a group that I think really excels against the run. Holding Hubbard to 2.9 yards per carry, I think Ash will use a similar scheme to force the game onto Jarrett Doege to win. Which, in my mind, is a recipe for a win on the defensive side of the ball.
Seahorn — The defense has now shown two years in a row that they are capable of shutting down a quality Oklahoma State run game, so I’m not ruling out the possibility that they can string two strong performances together in that area.
Cameron — After getting gashed by T.J. Pledger and the Sooners, the Texas rushing defense has been impeccable. Holding Hubbard to 72 yards is incredible and don’t forget the leader rusher for Baylor was John Lovett with 21 yards. Maybe it’s mistrusted confidence but I think the Horns will keep Brown in check on Saturday.
Cody — WVU has some weapons in the passing game, as well, but it seemed part of the strategy vs. OSU was to shut down the running game entirely and force a one-dimensional OSU to beat you. I trust Jarrett Doege and and that core less than Spencer Sanders, Tylan Wallace, and that core, so I expect a similar strategy.
We haven’t really seen a standout showing from the skill positions since early in the season. Whether it’s a running back, receiver, or tight end, who do you expect to to find some rhythm and fill that production void on Saturday?
Gerald — I think Bijan Robinson showed that he’s on a quick path to being the No. 1 RB for Texas. I really think to exploit WVU’s aggression and work around the OL issues, Texas will try to get him into the flats via screens and short passes and let him make people miss.
Seahorn — Two guys I’m keeping my eyes on as the season progresses is Jake Smith and Jared Wiley. For Smith it’s only been a matter of getting healthy and I think as long as he is in the lineup he has a chance to make an impact. Wiley on the other hand has been a bit handcuffed due to limited usage and it’s been a bit of a head scratcher despite his talent and ability being evident in small sample sizes.
Cameron — I’m not sure Texas will be able to establish any rhythm running the ball against West Virginia’s defensive line so it’ll have to the wide receiving crops. Yurcich found creative ways to get the ball to Jake Smith and Joshua Moore against Oklahoma State and will need to do it again.
Cody — I want to say Bijan Robinson with Keaontay Ingram out with an ankle injury, but WVU’s front is really solid, so I think Jake Smith builds on his 70-yard performance last week.
What are your three keys to the game for Texas to come out on top?
Gerald — Limit negative plays offensively. Win one-on-one matchups on both sides of the passing game. No dumb special teams mistakes.
Seahorn — Protect 11, establish the run game, limit explosive plays defensively.
Cameron — Don’t turn the ball over, pressure Doege, and find ways to create big plays.
Cody — Don’t commit so many costly penalties, especially in key moments. Prevent WVU from gashing you with big chunk plays. Keep Sam Ehlinger upright.
Prediction time: Does Texas make it three straight or does Tom Herman’s team suffer a big-game hangover loss?
Gerald — I think Texas probably comes out with a win that feels better than it looks on the scoreboard, 31-21.
Seahorn — The offensive struggles in Stillwater are still fresh on my mind and I think WVU’s defensive front will give Texas enough issues to get them a close win on Saturday. 28-24 WVU.
Cameron — West Virginia is 0-2 on the road and has the worst strength schedule out of all the Big 12 teams. They still can give me the Horns a scare if Texas shows up sleep-walking but I think they’ll get it done. Texas 31, West Virginia 17
Cody — I think we’ll see a fair amount of offensive fireworks, but Texas has just a bit more in the tank. Texas - 41, WVU - 31.