AUSTIN, Texas — In what feels like a consequential game for the Steve Sarkisian era, the Texas Longhorns are hosting the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium trying to improve on a 2-2 record following last week’s massively disappointing loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock.
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Sarkisian confirmed to Longhorn Network that redshirt freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers will be available, but won’t start. Ewers was a participant in pre-game warmups, showing improved velocity on his passes from two weeks ago, buoying hopes that he’ll start next week against Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.
Sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy (lower leg injury) and senior defensive lineman Moro Ojomo are both expected to start, according to Sarkisian. Worthy missed the second half of the Texas Tech game after battling through the injury he suffered on the second play from scrimmage, while Ojomo did not make the trip following an ankle sprain in practice. Ojomo did return to practice on Monday.
In warmups, Worthy looks like he’s moving at full speed while Ewers is still not a full velocity in this setting. Ewers also stopped throwing before the other quarterbacks.
West Virginia won the toss and chose to receive, hoping to become the third straight opponent to mount a long drive against Texas to open the game. A false start penalty before the first play put the Mountaineers behind the chains, but quarterback JT Daniels was able to find wide receiver Sam James wide open over the middle on second down as the Longhorns brought a blitz that failed to pressure the West Virginia passer.
After the play went for a 27-yard gain, Texas was able to force incomplete passes sandwiched around a two-yard completion to get off the field defensively.
Like the Mountaineers, the Longhorns were able to pick up a first down — a short pass to sophomore tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders that went for an 11-yard gain — but redshirt sophomore Hudson Card was sacked on third and long to force a punt deep in Texas territory following a false-start penalty. Worthy also limped off the field following the second-down play in a bad sign for Texas.
West Virginia started its second drive at the Texas 48-yard line. A big hit by Longhorns senior safety Anthony Cook forced an incompletion on 3rd and 2, forcing a fourth-down attempt that also hit the turf of Campbell-Williams Field. After Texas Tech was successful on 6-of-8 fourth downs last week, it was an important development for the Texas defense, especially having defenders in position to break up both pass attempts following the struggles to play sticky coverage in Lubbock.
The offense started the second drive well as Card scrambled to find Sanders for another 11-yard gain and then senior running back Roschon Johnson for 15 yards on a play that should have gone for a touchdown — Johnson was wide open on the wheel route, but had to dive to make the catch. After junior running back Bijan Robinson picked up a first down on three carries, Worthy caught a screen pass before Card took a big hit in the pocket and delivered a strike to Worthy for a 15-yard touchdown.
With a number of backups in the game, the Texas defense was able to force a third and long after swarming to the football on an outside run and a slip screen, but Daniels was able to deliver a dime under pressure against good coverage from Texas nickel back Jahdae Barron. On another third and long, sophomore Jack end Barryn Sorrell recorded his first sack since the season opener.
Strong blocks on a second-down screen pass to junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington produced a 31-yard gain, but Card wasn’t able to find Worthy on the ensuing shot play, overthrowing a wide-open Worthy down the seam. Sarkisian found a solution to the problem, however, dialing up a double pass for Worthy, who hit Sanders for a 33-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
The Longhorns ended the first quarter out-gaining the Mountaineers 136-57 and limiting West Virginia to only two first downs.
The Texas defense was able to force another punt on a dropped third-down pass, affording the offense a chance to consolidate momentum and put West Virginia in a deep hole. A 22-yard pass to Whittington and a check-down to Robinson that produced 24 yards after a big open-field block by redshirt freshman wide receiver Casey Cain put the Horns in position to do exactly that. After Cain drew a pass-interference penalty in the end zone, a Robinson run put Texas at the goal line to set up a touchdown run by the Texas star behind lead blocks from defensive tackles Byron Murphy and Keondre Coburn.
Sorrell recorded his second sack of the game after pressure by Coburn flushed Daniels, junior linebacker Jaylan Ford made a strong tackle on a short completion, and the Horns forced a fourth punt by the Mountaineers after senior cornerback D’Shawn Jamison broke up a long pass intended for Bryce Ford-Wheaton.
A bad snap over the head of Card slowed the Texas momentum as the Longhorns lost 10 yards on the play, but a facemask penalty on the Mountaineers bailed them out. The pendulum swung again, though, on the next play as Sanders was called for holding on a jet sweep to junior running back Keilan Robinson. And then again — Card found Robinson out of the backfield for a 16-yard gain that nearly doubled when West Virginia was called for a late hit out of bounds. Under pressure on the next play, Card climbed the pocket to hit Worthy for a 45-yard gain down to the Mountaineers 12-yard line. Then Card connected a wide-open Sanders for a 13-yard touchdown.
The West Virginia offense finally gained some rhythm in response, driving 83 yards in 13 plays, including a 4th and 10 conversion and a 3rd and 9 conversion before Daniels threw an 8-yard touchdown to Kaden Prather to cut the Texas lead to 28-7.
The Longhorns got off to a quick start after halftime, producing 26 yards on the first four plays before Card rolled left under pressure and launched a ball into the end zone targeting Worthy. A Mountaineers defender nearly came up with a leaping interception, but the ball bounced to Worthy, who finished the difficult diving catch for a 35-7 lead.
A holding penalty and a block in the back penalty put Texas in a 1st and 30 situation made worse when Card took a sack rolling right. On 3rd and 26, Card was forced out of the pocket and nearly connected with Worthy for a first down, but an underneath defender was able to break up the pass.
The third quarter ended with the Mountaineers on a grinding 17-play, 63-yard drive down to the Longhorns goal line that took nearly seven and a half minutes off the clock.
On the first play of the final quarter, Tony Mathis scored on a one-yard touchdown run to make it 35-14.
Card had a chance to hit a big play on first down when Johnson came open again on a wheel route from a two-back set, but Card’s throw wasn’t accurate. Fortunately for the Longhorns, Card bailed Texas out of the ensuing 3rd and 7 by scrambling for 17 yards. The Horns moved the steadily steadily after Card’s run until Worthy was stopped for a three-yard loss on a screen play, setting up 3rd and 6. Johnson ran hard to pick up a short gain and the Longhorns called a timeout while facing 4th and 4, eventually deciding to settle for a 45-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Bert Auburn.
A personal foul penalty on Texas defensive tackle T’Vondre Sweat moved West Virginia past midfield on another methodical drive as the Longhorns defense was content to allow short passes and then rally to the football. After converting a 3rd and 8 on a slant, the Mountaineers faced another third and long after an incomplete pass and tackle for loss by Ford. A 10-yard completion set up 4th and 2 with Daniels finding Mathis out of the backfield to move the chains. When junior cornerback Jahdae Barron was called for pass interference in the end zone, West Virginia was once again knocking on the Texas goal line. Pursuing a run by Mathis, junior cornerback Kitan Crawford ran into Ford and Mathis scored his second touchdown to end the 14-play, 75-yard drive with a 38-20 margin following a failed two-point conversion.
When the Mountaineers tried an onside kick and failed to recover it, the Longhorns were able to run out the final 4:25.