The first true road test of the season for the No. 11 Texas Longhorns had some of the makings of a trap game, and throughout the first three quarters, the action certainly fit that description.
However, as time went on, the Texas talent began to separate itself, and the score followed suit as the Longhorns pulled away late in Morgantown for a 42-31 win against the West Virginia Mountaineers to improve to 4-1 on the season and 2-0 in Big 12 play.
The game got off to less than ideal start for the Longhorns.
On the third play from scrimmage with West Virginia facing a 3rd and 5, Austin Kendall connection with T.J. Simmons for a six-yard gain, but after his helmet was ripped off as part of the play, another 15 yards were added as sophomore safety B.J. Foster, who has been sidelined since the LSU game with a hamstring injury, was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting the helmet-less Simmons.
On the ensuing play, sophomore cornerback D’Shawn Jamison gifted West Virginia with another 15 yards after being flagged for pass interference, and James made Texas pay for those penalties after beating Foster downfield for a 44-yard touchdown strike.
The first offensive series of the afternoon for Texas didn’t produce such favorable results.
Despite converting one third down, and then another, and then another, and then another as junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger utilized his legs and looked to senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay time and time again, Texas found itself faced with a 3rd and 8 just as the Horns were on the edge of the red zone. This time, though, Ehlinger’s pocket collapsed and Quondarius Qualls came up with a sack to force a 42-yard field goal attempt.
Seconds later, West Virginia’s homecoming crowd was sent into a frenzy as Cameron Dicker’s attempt sailed wide left.
However, on the first play on the ensuing series, redshirt freshman linebacker Ayodele Adoeye recorded his first career interception on a Kendall pass intended for Mike O’Laughlin, with Adeoye returning the ball nearly to where the previous drive ended inside West Virginia’s 30-yard line.
Two plays later, redshirt freshman Malcolm Epps snagged his first career touchdown, skying to pluck a 22-yard pass from Ehlinger to even the action at 7-7.
It wasn’t long before the Longhorns offense was back on the field, as Texas forced a quick three and out, thanks in large part to a jarring hit from Foster on running back Kennedy McKoy for a one-yard loss to force a third and long — a play that was reviewed for targeting before the call was reversed.
When the Texas offense did take the field, though, it did so in the shadow of its own goal line, as senior safety Brandon Jones didn’t field the punt before it was ultimately downed inside the Texas 1-yard line.
However, Texas needed just one play to provide itself with plenty of breathing room, as Ehlinger connected with Duvernay for a quick 37-yard gain. That was as much success as the Horns enjoyed that series, though, with as VanDarius Cowan exploded into the backfield to sack Ehlinger on the very next play, sending sophomore running back Keaontay Ingram to the sideline favoring the left side of his neck in the process, which ultimately led to the Longhorns punting the ball back to WVU.
After the teams exchanged three and outs, West Virginia’s offense looked much like it did on the opening series. After Leddie Brown turned his first carry into an 11-yard gain to move the chains on 1st and 10, Kendall connected with Simmons for a 44-yard catch-and-run — West Virginia’s second 44-yard gain through the air — to put the Mountaineers at the Texas 5-yard line.
Three plays later, a perfectly executed fake on 3rd and goal from the 1-yard line allowed Kendall to waltz into the end zone completely untouched to give West Virginia a 14-7 edge early in the second quarter.
Once again, the Texas offense responded to even the action.
As part of an 11-play, 69-yard drive that chewed up more than five minutes from the clock, senior running back Kirk Johnson notched his first official carry since November of 2015, picking up six yards on a 2nd and 10 that allowed Ehlinger to connect with freshman wide receiver Marcus Washington for a 14-yard gain on the following play. Johnson then picked up another six yards on the ground before freshman running back Roschon Johnson replaced him and did the same. And then, for the first time since the Texas Bowl in 2017, senior wide receiver John Burt found the end zone on the receiving end of a 13-yard pass from Ehlinger.
The Mountaineers offense continued to hum on its following drive.
Once again relying upon his legs, Kendall took off for a six-yard scramble on the first play, but sophomore linebacker Joseph Ossai gifted the Mountaineers with another 15 yards for unnecessary roughness as Kendall slid to the turf. Martell Pettaway added another 11 yards on the following play before Simmons torched the Texas secondary for another 21 yards to inch towards the red zone. Only three yards in three plays later, though, and it was Evan Staley whose field goal attempt was no good, with his 36-yard look missing wide right.
The next time out, the Texas offense needed half a dozen plays to cross pay dirt, as two rush attempts from Roschon Johnson and a 25-yard pitch-and-catch to junior tight end Cade Brewer down the sidelines chewed up more than half of the field. Then, after yet another remarkable diving grab from Duvernay, Ehlinger turned garbage into gold, scrambling out of a collapsing pocket and bulldozing his way into the end zone from 13-yards out to capture Texas’ first lead of the game, 21-14.
In no particular hurry, the West Virginia offense chewed up the remaining three-and-a-half minutes of the half, and did so to its own detriment. After methodically moving down the field, Kendall connected with James for a 14-yard gain to move the chains and put WVU at the Texas 30-yard line, but by that point, only four ticks remained on the clock, forcing a field goal attempts on 1st and 10.
And for the second time, Staley missed right, this time from 47 yards out, allowing the Longhorns to hold onto their 21-14 lead heading into the locker room.
Coming out of the break, neither offense seemed to want to remain on the field for long.
After deferring in the first half, the Texas offense quickly punted after picking up just one first down. West Virginia’s offense then enjoyed only one snap before heading back to the sidelines, as Jamison recorded his first career interception, winning a 50-50 ball against James and making a remarkable one-handed grab.
The Texas offense did nothing with the new opportunity, though, punting the ball back to the Mountaineers after a quick three-and-out before West Virginia returned the favor after digging itself into a 2nd and 21 situation courtesy of an Ossai tackle for loss and a false start.
Each team’s ensuing series produced similar results, with the Longhorns and Mountaineers exchanging punts. But then, in mimicking Kendall’s two previous picks, Ehlinger forced a deep pass into a heavy coverage on Burt on Texas’ first play, and Keith Washington came away with an interception, returning it 39 yards before an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Duvernay tacked on another 15 yards to allow WVU to set up shop from the Texas 14-yard line.
Only able to advance the ball two yards in three plays, though, thanks in large part to Jamison smothering James on a crossing route on 3rd and 10 for a short gain, West Virginia settled for a field goal to cut the Longhorns lead to 21-17 in the final minutes of the third quarter.
Texas took that 21-27 lead into the fourth quarter, but after sophomore wide receiver Brennan Eagles dropped a would be first down on 3rd and 8 on the first play of the quarter, the Horns, once again, punted the ball away.
Just three short plays later, though, Foster notched an acrobatic interception — Kendall’s third of the day — on 3rd and 1, bring Ehlinger and the offense back out in inside the West Virginia red zone.
The Longhorns looked to capitalize immediately, as Ehlinger tossed the ball up to Duvernay at the goal line, but the senior was unable to haul the pass in, marking the first dropped pass of his career. Duvernay made up for his mistake, however, taking a handoff on 3rd and 6 up the middle and sprinting in for a 13-yard touchdown run, making a would-be tackler miss along the way.
Then, in familiar fashion, with West Virginia trialing by two scores, Kendall tossed his fourth interception of the afternoon, though unlike his previous picks on the first play of the drive (twice) and third play, Jamison jumped the out route and notched his second interception f the game on West Virginia’s second play of the drive.
The latest pick marked the first time that Texas has recorded four interceptions in a single game since 2014, as noted by Longhorn Network’s Alex Loeb.
Roschon Johnson then got the Texas drive underway with an 11-yard run, but it wasn’t him, or Ingram, or Ehlinger, or Duvernay who ultimately ran the ball into the end zone to push Texas’ lead to a comfortable 35-17 — that was sophomore left tackle Samuel Cosmi, who lined up at tight end before hauling in a backwards pass from Ehlinger and put his footwork on display en route to a 12-yard touchdown run.
BIG MAN TD LET'S GET WEIRD MORGANTOWN pic.twitter.com/iaaF8wcNmL— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) October 5, 2019
West Virginia’s next drive looked promising, at least initially, as Simmons turned a reception on 2nd and 9 into a 25-yard pickup, but two incomplete passes from Kendall led to the Mountaineers punting the ball back to Texas, trailing 35-17 with under 10 minutes remaining.
Though the Texas offense spent its next series in clock-chewing mode, punting the ball away after spending nearly four minutes on just six plays, the Mountaineers continued to attack.
After the first play of the drive, a quick pass to Brown, netted just one yard, Kendall connected with Sean Ryan for a 39-yard strike, despite excellent coverage from Anthony Cook. Kendall then went back to Brown, this time picking up 13 yards in the process, and after Haskins hauled in a quick pass to pick up two yards, Simmons picked up the rest, making Jamison miss on a would-be tackle while running the rest of the way for a 19-yard score.
Trailing 35-24 with 3:56 remaining, West Virginia unsurprisingly attempted an onside kick, but Jordan Pouncey secured the kick to all but secure the Longhorns win.
But even then, Texas wasn’t done.
For the second time in as many games, Ehlinger officially sealed the deal with a big run on third down, this time turning a 3rd and 3 into a 23-yard touchdown run to push the lead back to a comfortable 42-24. This rushing score was not only Ehlinger’s second of the game, but the 21st of his career, which surpasses Colt McCoy for the fourth-most all-time by a Texas quarterback.
West Virginia did respond with Kendall connecting with Bryce Wheaton for a 12-yard touchdown with 48 seconds remaining, but the late score didn’t impact the already-decided outcome.
Statistically speaking, Ehlinger put forth his worst performance of the season with only 256 yards of offense, but he did add four touchdowns, included the noted 23-yard scramble to seal the win.
Roschon Johnson, on the other hand, enjoyed a career afternoon, rushing for 121 yards on 21 attempts as Ingram struggled (11 carries, 18 yards) and nursed a stinger. All told, Texas rushed for 216 yards and four scores on 46 attempts.
Duvernay, Ehlinger’s favorite target this season, led the Longhorns once again with six catches for 86 yards in addition to his 13-yard touchdown run. Aside from Epps (3 catches, 34 yards, 1 touchdown) and Jake Smith (3 catches, 23 yards), no Longhorns receiver caught more than a single pass.
Now 4-1, the Longhorns will turn their attention towards No. 6 Oklahoma and the Red River Showdown for what’s undeniably the biggest and most meaningful game remaining on Texas’ regular-season schedule.