Game Preview  Texas v. West Virginia

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Eric Gay/AP/Shutterstock (13400651j) Texas running back Bijan Robinson (5) runs against UTSA during an NCAA college football game, in Austin, Texas UTSA Texas Football, Austin, United States – 18 Sep 2022

Game Preview  Texas v. West Virginia

The Matchup

Texas (2-2) v. West Virginia (2-2)

When :October 1, 2022

Gametime: 6:30 PM

TV: FS1

What’s at Stake: It may be too early to call this a must-win game for the Longhorns, but not by much. If Texas can rebound from a difficult loss and perform well against West Virginia, some of the critics will be silenced, and the season can be salvaged in the Red River Showdown next week. On the other hand, lose to West Virginia, and it’s the same old Texas, and the heat under Steve Sarkisian’s seat will start to become uncomfortable.

When the Longhorns have the ball:  Quinn Ewers has missed the last two games after leaving the Alabama game with a shoulder injury, but his recovery has reportedly been faster than anticipated, and he could return to action this week. If Ewers is once again unable to play, Texas will turn to Hudson Card, who has started the last two games in his place. Card has performed well, making plays with his arm and scrambling ability. Sarkisian said this week that he believes Card played well enough to beat Tech last week, but “he is capable of more.”

Wide receiver Xavier Worthy left the game against Tech with a lower leg injury, but according to Sarkisian, he is day-to-day. Worthy’s return would boost the Texas offense, which struggled in his absence in the second half against the Red Raiders.

West Virginia is coming off a strong defensive performance, limiting Virginia Tech to only 228 total yards and 10 points. The Mountaineers have only allowed one touchdown in the previous two games. Texas’ strength on offense lies with its running game, but West Virginia held the Hokies to only 1.9 yards a carry last week. The Mountaineers’ interior defensive line of nose guard Jordan Jefferson and defensive tackle Dante Stills must be neutralized by the Longhorn offensive line if they hope to open holes for the Texas running game and provide protection for either of the possible starters at quarterback. The team that wins that battle could very well win the game.

Last week Texas only converted 3 of 9 third-down situations against Texas Tech and was unable to sustain drives in the second half. This allowed the Red Raiders to possess the ball and wear down the Longhorn defense.  To get back on track this week, the Texas offense must convert, complete drives, and put the pressure on the Mountaineers.

When West Virginia has the ball: The Texas defense reverted to form in crucial situations last week against Tech, and it cost the Longhorns the game. In spots, the defense performed very well; they held the Red Raiders to a 35% conversion rate on third down and got timely stops, including a goal-line stand early in the second half.  But the effort was incomplete and inconsistent.

The problem last week was fourth down. The Red Raiders attempted eight fourth-down conversions and were successful on 6. This approach upended expectations and forced the Texas defense to play more snaps when Tech should have been punting. Tech ran 96 offensive plays compared to only 60 for the Longhorn offense. This wore down the Texas defense and impaired their ability to get stops in critical situations.

If Texas is going to be a championship contender, they must overcome adversity and make the plays to close out games when they have leads. 

Quarterback JT Daniels leads the West Virginia offense. The Georgia transfer has completed 65% of his passes for 956 yards and 7 touchdowns with only 2 interceptions. Daniels is complemented by freshman running back CJ Donaldson, who has rushed for 100 yards in three games so far. The 240-pound back will present a physical challenge for the Longhorn defense. If West Virginia can establish a running game, it will be more difficult to get Daniels and the Mountaineers behind the chains and force them off the field.

The Mountaineers have converted 9 of 10 fourth down conversion attempts this season; Texas could see more aggressive decision-making this week.

Key Horns to Watch: Bijan Robinson may be the best running back in the nation, but his fumble in overtime last week was costly and effectively ended the Longhorns’ afternoon. Expect Robinson to be motivated to atone and have a big game against West Virginia’s highly regarded rush defense.

DeMarvion Overshown is the leader of the Horn’s defense and was forced to sit and watch for a half last week because of a targeting suspension. Texas lost the game, and the defense has taken the majority of the criticism; Overshown, and the Texas front will be primed and ready to prove they are more like the group that held Alabama to 20 points and less like the team that could not stop Tech last week.

The Bottom Line: West Virginia has a quality defensive group, but they will not be able to contain all of the weapons the Longhorns can bring to bear. The Mountaineers may score, but not enough points to win a shootout.  Texas wins and keeps hope alive.

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