The 5-4 Texas Longhorns path to bowl eligibility by Saturday evening goes through a No. 11-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers team that may be the most complete unit Charlie Strong's bunch has seen all season.
Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia at 7-1 on the season by way of a balanced offensive attack that ranks 10th in yards per game nationally with 511 each time out, along with a versatile 3-3-5 stack defense that ranks 20th in scoring defense. From a sheer talent standpoint, the Mountaineers won’t be the most imposing unit Texas has seen thus far, but West Virginia is an extremely well-coached group featuring 20 fourth of fifth year players among the 22 starters, including 14 seniors. Texas will have to beat West Virginia because it won't beat itself, evident in the Mountaineers tying for 95th in penalties with 48. The youthful ‘Horns, on the other hand, have nearly 20 more penalties (67).
Pitted against a Texas defense that’s taken numerous strides under Strong’s guidance, West Virginia is unlikely to abuse the ‘Horns in one particular area, but will utilize the balance of 287.1 yards through the air and 223.6 yards on the ground per game. Senior quarterback Skyler Howard is playing as well as he ever has and is up over 2,500 total yards on the season, along with 22 total touchdowns. Aiding his passing prowess has been a trio of explosive receivers in Shelton Gipson, Daikeil Shorts and Da’Raun White, while WVU’s backfield will employ a running back by committee effort. Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell have combined for 1,090 yards and nine scores and Kennedy McCoy has added 386 yards on 9.0 yards per carry this season.
Defensively, West Virginia hasn’t been the most imposing in the front six, but there’s talent to note with lineman Noble Nwachukwu and middle linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton. The two will have their plates full in hopes of preventing D’Onta Foreman from gobbling up yards at will, as his done all season en route to 10 consecutive 100-yard games and an NCAA-leading 180.8 yards per game on the ground.
If Texas can keep West Virginia honest by finding success with Foreman, it should make Shane Buechele’s life in the pocket much easier. The Mountaineers have only 13 sacks on the season (T-110th) and that total seems unlikely to skyrocket against an increasingly physical Texas front.
This is a game that’s certainly winnable for Texas if it can continue to take the positive steps we’ve seen over the past month, but mistakes will need to be limited and the execution on both sides of the ball will need to be crisp. But for those who love stats that mean nothing once the game starts, Texas is 4-0 at DKR this season and has knocked off four straight AP top 12 opponents, while WVU is 0-2 in the blue helmet, white jersey and white pants uniforms they’ll feature in Austin on Saturday.
- Saturday will mark the sixth meeting between West Virginia in Texas.
- West Virginia leads the all-time series with a slight 3-2 edge.
- The ‘Horns and Mountaineers are each 2-2 since West Virginia joined the Big 12.
- West Virginia beat Texas 38-20 last season in Morgantown.
- Skyler Howard - the senior quarterback is a dual threat that’s playing as efficiently as ever, ranking 18th in the nation in completion percentage (65.1). Between his arm and legs, Howard has contributed 2,540 yards and 22 scores.
- Rasul Douglas - the senior cornerback is big, physical and is tied for second in the nation with five interceptions in eight games. Douglas is third on the team in tackles.
- The wide receiver corps - Whether it’s Daikeil Shorts, Shelton Gipson or Da’Raun White, the ‘Horns will have their hands full preventing the pass. The trip combines for 1,720 yards and 12 score, while Gipson ranks 8th nationally with 10.5 yards per catch.
- The ‘Horns are 4-0 at home this season.
- Texas has held each of its last four opponents below their scoring average.
- Offensively, Texas has produced six 500-yard games this season, tying for the most in school history along with the 2005 and 2009 teams.
- D’Onta Foreman has now rushed for at least 100 yards in 10 straight games. Earl Campbell’s record is 11.
- Texas has won four consecutive games against AP top 12 competition, which is the second longest streak in the nation behind Alabama.
- Shane Buechele is only 313 yards shy of tying Colt McCoy’s freshman passing record of 2,570 yards.
- Buechele’s next victory will make him the winningest freshman quarterback in Texas history with six wins.
- Tyrone Swoopes is 48 rushing yards shy of 1,000 for his career, which would place him alongside Vince Young and Colt McCoy as the only Texas quarterbacks to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more in a career.