WVU to host Texas tonight
MORGANTOWN – The Mountaineers of West Virginia have managed to stay relevant for another week.
The question now is, can the Mountaineers keep that little bit of momentum it gained with an overtime victory against TCU rolling when Texas comes to Morgantown for a night game at Mountaineer Field?
They’re certainly going to try.
The problem is, Texas might just be the hottest team in the Big 12 next to Baylor as the Longhorns have turned a 1-2 start into a five-game win streak and currently sit atop of the conference standings.
“Our guys are going to be pretty excited about the atmosphere that is going to be in Morgantown Saturday night,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It is going to be good for the fans, players, Morgantown and all of West Virginia.”
One way the Mountaineers could really get their faithful rowdy is overcoming their habit of slow starts.
Since West Virginia’s victory against Oklahoma State, it averages 2.5 points during the first quarter.
The Mountaineers did fix their habit, for at least one week, of not finishing out in the fourth quarter against the Horned Frogs. WVU scored 17 points in the fourth quarter.
“Things are starting to come together,” Holgorsen said of the offense. “You can easily go back just as much as you went forward so we need to get back to practice; building unity, continuity, trust and try to show improvement. That is what is important to me, and I think we accomplished that last week.”
Another thing the Mountaineers accomplished was dominance in the ground game.
Running back Charles Sims finished with a game-high 189 all-purpose yards.
His 154 rushing yards were the most ever against a Gary Patterson TCU defense and has now totaled 785 on the season.
“Our struggles last year were mainly because we could not run the ball very well,” Holgorsen said. “Going back and studying the tape last year against Texas, we ran the ball well.
“I think this year we are running the ball pretty well. What Texas is trying to do offensively is similar to what we are trying to do offensively.”
This matchup could prove for an old fashion ground-and-pound type of battle in a conference that is all about putting the ball in the air.
The Longhorns have just the personnel for it, too.
Johnathan Gray leads them with 724 rush yards, good for second in the conference. Through the past six games, Gray is averaging 104 y.p.g.
Not too far behind him is Malcolm Brown, who has seven rushing touchdowns and has an average of 97 yards in the past three games.
“They are a physical team,” Holgorsen said. “Probably the most physical team we have played up until this point. Texas has a lot of depth, as they have been preparing for Big 12 football for quite some time.”
On the flip side, Holgorsen would like to think the Mountaineers to be the most physical team Texas will play.
“We felt like we could be the more physical team, and we were (against TCU),” the West Virginia coach said. “It is going to have to happen again this week. Last year when we played Texas we won the game upfront. We will not win the game with skill guys, because (Texas is) very talented at those positions, as well as upfront. If you win the line you have a chance to win the game.”
The Mountaineers’ D-line, which limited TCU to 60 rush yards on 29 attempts, will have their hands full with the Longhorns as all five of their starting offensive lineman are back from last season.
That line has helped Texas rank third in the Big 12 and 29th nationally in rushing with 203 yards per game.
The most improved unit since the Longhorns’ dismal start is, without question, their defense.
Texas coach Mack Brown brought in Greg Robinson to take over as defensive coordinator after a 40-21 loss to BYU.
Since the hire, the Longhorns’ defense has cut the opposing offense’s rushing output by 183 yards per game and has recorded 18 sacks in their last five contests.
“They have simplified things,” Holgorsen said of the Longhorn’s D. “Before they would try different things on third down by getting into different fronts. It comes down to getting off blocks, holding your gaps, playing with effort, being physical and making tackles. They have gotten better in all those things.”
Things have simplified for the Mountaineers’ defense, too, as this week the unit has to only focus on one quarterback, Case McCoy, kid brother to former Longhorn Colt McCoy.
McCoy has gone 4-1 in five starts since he took over for an injured David Ash.
“I would say we have made improvement on all three sides of the ball,” Holgorsen said. “If people say we are playing at our highest level defensively I would beg to differ. You are looking at a team where improvement means something to them. They play with unity and want to continue to grow.
“We are not going to win the Big 12, and we understand that. We just want to improve and win the next game.”