The Texas Longhorns couldn’t overcome a horrid start offensively and the defense’s inability to force turnovers or get off the field, losing to the West Virginia Mountaineers 31-23 on Saturday in Morgantown as a late comeback fell short.
Sitting at 4-7 and 2-6 in Big 12 play, Texas is ensured a losing season and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 2016 thanks to a six-game losing streak unseen on the Forty Acres since 1956.
West Virginia took a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter after holding Texas to 11 total yards in the first quarter as the Longhorns went three and out on its three possessions in that quarter before going three and out for a fourth straight time.
An impotent passing game was the primary culprit, as junior quarterback Casey Thompson started 2-for-6 passing in echoes of the Iowa State game, but wasn’t helped by three early drops.
The running game eventually got on track first thanks to a 49-yard touchdown run by junior running back Keilan Robinson, who finished with nine carries for 111 yards.
In a recurring theme, however, the defense couldn’t help consolidate the momentum, allowing an 11-play, 80-yard drive to the Mountaineers as the pass defense struggled in man and zone coverage and the pass rush couldn’t take advantage of a weak West Virginia offensive line in pass protection.
A 50-yard field goal by senior kicker Cameron Dicker narrowed the margin to 21-13 at halftime as the Longhorns were out-gained 301-135 in the first half thanks to 249 passing yards by Mountaineers quarterback Jarrett Doege.
After Thompson went 4-for-12 passing for 29 yards in the opening 30 minutes, head coach Steve Sarkisian turned to redshirt freshman Hudson Card in the second half.
“It’s unfortunate Casey was not 100 percent coming into the game,” said Sarkisian. “I think that was evident — he just couldn’t throw the way I know he’s capable of throwing and that’s frustrating for him, it’s frustrating for us because I think we had some opportunities for some plays and then we didn’t catch the ball great early in the game either to help him out.”
Card came through with a 52-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Xavier Worthy on Card’s second possession. The perfectly thrown pass from Card was his best of the season and seemed to afford him the confidence he’s been missing since the performance against Arkansas that resulted in his benching.
Initially, the defense seemed to respond to the big play, sacking Doege on first and second down on the ensuing possession. But the pass defense couldn’t hold up on the back end, allowing West Virginia to convert on 3rd and 18 — a game-changing play followed by runs of 19 yards and 26 yards by Leddie Brown to set up a seven-yard touchdown pass following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the red zone on Texas super senior cornerback Darion Dunn.
The Mountaineers finished the game scoring four touchdowns on four red-zone trips.
The running game helped key another touchdown drive led by Card before another big third-down play by West Virginia sunk the Texas defense. On 3rd and 15, Texas defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski decided not to blitz, allowing Doege to stand in the pocket and deliver a 20-yard completion. After converting on 4th and 5, the Mountaineers were able to kick a 45-yard field goal to go up by eight points — Sarkisian had gone for two after the last Longhorns touchdown and failed.
Attempting to tie the game, Card was hit late and suffered an injured ankle as Texas faced a critical 3rd and 6. West Virginia stopped junior running back Roschon Johnson for a two-yard loss on third down and Thompson threw an interception on fourth down, so instead of a first down for roughing the passer, Texas needed a defensive stop to have a final chance to tie the game.
The Longhorns had a break when Neal Brown went for a game-ending touchdown on 4th and 5 from the Texas 36-yard line, but Thompson re-injured the thumb on his throwing hand under pressure on the ensuing drive’s first play. Hobbled by the ankle injury, Card wasn’t able to find Johnson on fourth down and the West Virginia was able to end the game with a single kneel down.
Ultimately, the poor start in the passing game and the inability to get off the field on third down — Texas allowed West Virginia to convert 12-of-20 third downs in the game — ended any hopes of bowl eligibility. Sarkisian blamed a pass rush that couldn’t force Doege to move in the pocket and the inability of the secondary to react to routes run to the first-down marker.
“We’ve got to continue to work on as our awareness, one, in the back end and, two, we’ve got to find a way to generate a pass rush on these obvious passing downs,” said Sarkisian.
Texas will have one final opportunity to improve in those areas as it honors the team’s seniors next Friday against Kansas State in Austin.