The West Virginia Mountaineers are set to welcome the Texas Longhorns to Morgantown this Saturday. The game kicks off at noon and it will be broadcasted nationally on ESPN. The Mountaineers lead the head to head series 3-2 since joining the Big 12 back in 2012.
The Mountaineers enter this matchup at 7-3 after narrowly escaping the white wizard last week in Manhattan, Kansas. The Longhorns roll in at 5-5 after a sloppy win against the Jayhawks. For the Mountaineers, their Big 12 title hopes are still alive, but they will need some help. On the other hand, Texas finds themselves one win away from bowl eligibility. Reaching the postseason is something that Tom Herman so desperately needs in order to show tangible signs of improvement from last season.
DATE & TIME: SAT, NOV 18, 11:00 PM CT
LOCATION: Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV)
FORECAST: Low 50s, 50% Chance of Rain
BETTING LINE: West Virginia -3
West Virginia (7-3, 5-2)
The Mountaineers have flown under the radar in the Big 12 throughout the year. Now, they find themselves with an opportunity to sneak into the conference championship if a few things go their way. Led by gunslinger Will Grier, this West Virginia team can beat anyone on any given Saturday.
The Florida transfer has had a phenomenal junior year. Grier has thrown for nearly 3500 yards, adding 34 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions. Perhaps, a big reason for Grier’s success is the talented receiving core around him. The trio of David Sills, Ka’Raun White, and Gary Jennings makes up one of the best receiving units in the nation. David Sills, who leads the nation with 18 touchdowns on the season, headlines the receiving core.
Don’t be mistaken however, this mountaineer offense can run the ball too. Senior Justin Crawford is the primary option among a stable of solid running backs. Crawford has 900 rushing yards with seven touchdowns on the year. His backup Kennedy McKoy is no slouch either. McKoy has added over 400 yards on the ground to help round out the Mountaineer backfield.
After a shaky start, the West Virginia defense has hit their stride in the last few weeks. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has done a tremendous job despite replacing so many starters from last year. Gibson now finds himself as a Broyles Award candidate as this Mountaineer defense seems to improve every week. This defensive attack is led by David Long and Kyzir White.
West Virginia has surpassed expectations this year. If they are able to take care of business this weekend, it will set up for a showdown next week in Norman against the Oklahoma Sooners. However, the Mountaineers cannot afford to look ahead as a very competitive Texas team comes to town.
Texas (5-5, 4-3)
Texas is coming off of a home win against the Kansas Jayhawks which put the Longhorns back on the winning track. After numerous close losses against ranked opponents throughout the year, the Longhorns now have yet another opportunity to get Tom Herman’s first signature win at Texas.
Texas’ best unit is their defense. The Longhorns are only giving up 21 points per game since the start of Big 12 play. The defense is led by Malik Jefferson, DeShon Elliot, and Poona Ford. Unfortunately for Texas, junior defensive back Holton Hill was suspended for the remainder of the year following the TCU loss. Hill was the Longhorns best player, and was emerging as a potential first round draft pick in some mock drafts. Hill’s absence was fully evident against Kansas last Saturday. Junior Davante Davis filled in for Hill and the Jayhawks took full advantage. The Longhorns now have a gaping hole in their secondary. If they are not able to patch it quickly, Will Grier and the Mountaineers will torch the Longhorn secondary.
The Longhorn offense has been abysmal throughout the year. Injuries to the quarterbacks and offensive line have plagued this Texas offense. On a positive note for Texas, All American lineman Connor Williams is expected to be available Saturday. Williams injured his knee against USC and has been out ever since. If Williams is able to be his normal self this Saturday, Texas may be able to generate some life on offense.
Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger are both cleared to play against the Mountaineers. Last week Buechele looked solid going up against a bad Kansas team. Buechele went 22 of 32 for 249 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tom Herman plans to determine his quarterbacks’ playing time based on the matchup for the rest of the year, as neither quarterback has been able to fully seize the job.
Texas’ run game has been nonexistent throughout most of the year. It appears that freshmen Danny Young and Toniel Carter have become the primary backs for the Longhorns. Former starter, Kyle Porter, has become buried in the rotation, and Chris Warren III seems to be transitioning to tight end. Danny Young and Toniel Carter have looked very serviceable throughout the last couple of weeks. With Connor Williams expected to be back in the lineup this week, Texas may be able to establish a running game against the Mountaineers.
WVU Keys to the Game
Pressure Buechele – Shane Buechele is a dangerous quarterback when he has time to sit in the pocket and carve up defenses. Against a prolific pass rush however, Buechele is a severe liability. If the mountaineers are able to make Buechele uncomfortable, it will be another long day for the Longhorn offense.
Attack The Secondary – The Texas Longhorn secondary was probably the best in the Big 12 all year. However, the suspension of Holton Hill has changed the entire outlook of the secondary. Davante Davis has filled in for Hill. Still being rusty, Davis is playing nowhere near the level of Holton Hill yet. Will Grier need to take advantage of the newly formed gaping hole in the Longhorn secondary.
Protect The Football – West Virginia will need to avoid turnovers at all cost this Saturday. The Texas Longhorns are known for forcing turnovers and creating points off of them. Last week the Longhorns forced four turnovers against Kansas, including a pick six by Antwan Davis. West Virginia needs to take care of the ball if they want to avoid the upset.
UT Keys to the Game
Ride Connor Williams – Connor Williams was Texas’ best player prior to his injury. The All American’s presence can change the entire dynamic of the offensive line. The Longhorns will need to run behind Williams in an effort to establish a running game. If Williams can step up and give the quarterbacks some time, Texas has a real shot in this one.
Start Fast – Texas cannot afford to play from behind on the road with their struggling offense. The Longhorns need to make some early stops and get on the scoreboard quickly to set the tone for the rest of the game.
Finish – Texas has been so close to pulling off the upset in numerous marquee matchups this year. It always seems as if Texas finds a way to blow games late in the fourth quarter. Clutch play starts with the quarterback so Buechele and Ehlinger will need to play their best game for 60 minutes. If Texas can produce some good quarterback play, they will be in business.
West Virginia is favored by three heading into this matchup. I think that line is right on the money. Will Grier’s offense is just a little better than Malik Jefferson’s defense, and that will be the difference in the end. I expect the Mountaineers to win a close one by pulling away in the fourth quarter.
WVU 31 Texas 28. Cue Country Roads.