Can The Mountaineers repeat 2018's trip to Austin?
After a momentum building win last weekend against the Kansas State Wildcats, WVU looks to string together back to back wins against top 25 opponents. This feat has not been accomplished since 2012, when the Mountaineers beat the 25th ranked Baylor Bears 70-63 and then followed that up by beating Texas 48-45. Although the team from 2012 is completely different than the team Neal Brown will put on the field Saturday, he can re-create those same results with this group of guys. We knew what needed to happen last week to get the job done and in all realities, it was an almost flawless performance. The defense bounced back from a game against Texas Tech that was not super appealing to the eye. Even though the Kansas State offense was well below full strength, we saw a glimpse of what this defense is capable of week in and week out. Also note that Tony Fields, who missed a little more than the second half of the previous game, was a critical part of the defensive success against the Wildcats. Offensively, we were able to see the potential this offense, and more specifically the receivers, has when firing on all cylinders. Higher catch percentages and better levels of confidence led to a 37 point performance for the good guys. Also, kudos goes to Leddie Brown and that offensive line for another great performance against a defense who continually sold out on the run all game long. Now it's time to look ahead to the tall task of marching into Austin and taking down the Longhorns who are starting to believe that they are "back" again. Let's look at some things that need to happen for the Mountaineers to get a win and keep the train rolling.
As far as the West Virginia defense is concerned, Texas will provide maybe the tallest task of the season. Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorn offense has shown the ability to score as many points as they need to win a game. They have also shown the ability to score those points in several different ways. The offensive line for Texas outsizes our defensive line significantly, and their receivers are much bigger than our secondary. If you pair those intangibles with a QB who is a dangerous dual threat, one would think it could spell disaster. Not quite the story when facing this WVU defense. The defense has been pretty remarkable compared to the past few seasons, and that is in big part to a change in scheme and mentality. The other big factor is personnel, in which you got a bunch of dudes who love to hit and tackle. The Stills brothers upfront will look to clog up that line of scrimmage as much as possible in hopes to create just enough disruption in the Texas run game. One lucky break for the Mountaineers is that Texas will be without their starting running back who is nursing a high ankle sprain. In reality that probably doesn't mean much though because Texas will just plug in another 4 or 5 star guy that can surely produce similar results. If we can find success along the line of scrimmage and force them to sling the ball around in the passing game, it will open up more opportunities to force turnovers. Although our secondary may be outmatched size wise, I think they outmatch the Longhorn receivers in athletic ability and heart. I really believe these guys just have a love for the game and getting better and that alone can fuel a person to play bigger than their opposition. My key to the defense comes back to Tony Fields. His role becomes huge in this game due to the fact that there is a mobile QB on the other side of the ball. Because when the defensive line can get pressure and the secondary locks down the receivers, he is one of the main guys we can look for to eliminate the Ehlinger scrambling.
Offensively the Mountaineers are going to be forced to throw against these guys. It's absolutely unavoidable to throw the ball at least 30-35 times in this game. The Texas defensive line is massive and just like Kansas State did last week, look for them to sell out against the run all day. This offensive line is gonna have a tough job with trying to clear running lanes for Brown and Sinkfield. The main goal is going to be to at least have enough run success to keep them honest a little bit, but expect to see limited running game success. Then we switch to the passing game. The receivers versus secondary matchup is pretty equal when you look at athleticism and speed. We also know that the Texas defense can give up a lot of points in a hurry. Provided Doege has some time in the pocket, he could potentially be looking at a career day in Austin. Realistically, for the Mountaineers to win this game, I think Doege will need something along the lines of 300+ passing yards and 4 TD's to bring a W back to Morgantown. If the receivers continue to show improvement in catching the ball and the play-calling can resemble the advancements made last Saturday, this WVU offense can win a shootout on Saturday.
The special teams is basically a tossup for the most part. Kicker wise, advantage goes to Texas with Dicker the Kicker. The Mountaineers will have the services of Casey Legg and in all honestly I think he should have been the guy before now. With kickoffs and punts, neither team has had any big success in the return game so it's a wash. The final matchup to look at from my eyes is Tom Herman versus Neal Brown. I am personally bias on this one a little bit because I definitely give the edge to Brown. Tom Herman has shown his ability to choke on the biggest stages, whereas Neal Brown aka Big Game Neal tends to end up on the winning side of big games. Overall, I look for this to be a very exciting game. I look for a back and forth game with the winner being decided in the last moments of the game.
My meaningless prediction for Saturday: 33-30 WVU, Casey Legg will hit a walk-off field goal as time expires to move the Mountaineers to 5-2 on the season.