Can Geno Smith lead West Virginia to win at Texas?
West Virginia officially christened its new home in the Big 12 with a 70-63 shootout victory over Baylor last Saturday. While last week was the first conference game of the year, playing at Texas is truly a “Welcome to the Big 12” moment. The Mountaineers last met the Longhorns in 1956 and their last game in the state of Texas came in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl.
Just like West Virginia, Texas built some momentum last week, beating Oklahoma State 41-36. The win in Stillwater was huge for the confidence of the Longhorns, especially sophomore quarterback David Ash.
The loser of this game isn’t out of the Big 12 title picture but this matchup will help provide some separation. With both teams ranked among the top 12, a loss would effectively end any hope of contending for a national title.
Storylines to Watch in West Virginia vs. Texas
West Virginia’s offense vs. Texas’ defense
Coming into the season, Texas was pegged as the Big 12’s best defense. So far, the Longhorns have yet to live up to the hype, allowing 390.3 yards per game and ranking 40th nationally in scoring defense. The secondary has been one of the defense’s biggest concerns through four games, as they rank 43rd nationally and have struggled to tackle. Oklahoma State had its way with this secondary last week, which is a concern for Texas against West Virginia. The Mountaineers run a similar offense and have more weapons than the Cowboys do this season. Quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin are three of college football’s top performers and won’t be easy to keep in check for all four quarters. Although the Longhorns can’t completely shut down the Mountaineers’ offense, they need to make them earn every yard and not allow any big plays.
Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor vs. West Virginia’s offensive line
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith hasn’t been stopped by anyone on its schedule this year, but Maryland managed to get some pressure on the senior and “held” him to 338 yards and three touchdowns. The Mountaineers’ offensive line was a concern last season and has yet to be tested by a strong defensive line. Texas will be one of the best defensive fronts West Virginia will play all year, with ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor both ranking as potential first-round picks in the NFL Draft. The key to keeping Smith in check starts up front, as the Longhorns need to pressure the quarterback and not allow him to get comfortable in the pocket. West Virginia needs to counter with quick passes but this offense also wants to take shots downfield, which means the line needs to keep Jeffcoat and Okafor out of the backfield.
Can West Virginia’s defense get stops against Texas?
Although Baylor’s offense is one of the best in the Big 12, West Virginia’s defensive effort left a lot to be desired last week. The Mountaineers aren’t going to completely shut down teams like Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech but tackling and getting into better positions on defense would cure a chunk of the errors. West Virginia’s defense will be under fire once again this Saturday, as Texas is one of the most-improved offenses in the nation. Quarterback David Ash ranks second nationally in passing efficiency, while the backfield is one of the deepest in college football. Despite Malcolm Brown’s ankle injury, the Longhorns can lean on Joe Bergeron and Johnathan Gray to lead the way on the ground. While Baylor’s offense was centered more on the pass, Texas brings more balance and an offensive line that is allowing just one sack per game. Playing a team that doesn’t throw 45 times a game will probably help West Virginia in terms of matchups, but this unit still has a lot of holes and is adapting to new co-coordinators Keith Patterson and Joe DeForest.
West Virginia’s offense enters Saturday matchup on fire. The Mountaineers lead the nation in passing offense and rank third nationally with an average of 53 points per game. However, Texas’ defense will be the toughest West Virginia has played this year, which will present plenty of challenges for the offense. Can the line keep Jeffcoat and Okafor from pressuring Smith in the pocket? Can the Mountaineers’ receivers get open against a secondary that’s capable of playing better than it has through the first four games?
While Texas is still finding its rhythm on defense, the offense has started to come into its own over the last few weeks. Quarterback David Ash is no longer a question mark, and the rushing attack is pounding opponents for 228 yards per game.
West Virginia will score, and quarterback Geno Smith will top 300 yards once again. However, Texas makes just enough stops on defense to win this game and keeps its national title hopes alive with a close victory over the Mountaineers.
Final Prediction: Texas 34, West Virginia 31
by Steven Lassan
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