Mountaineers, Longhorns battle for Big 12 supremacy
While the West Virginia Mountaineers found their stride last week in a blowout win over the Baylor Bears, the Texas Longhorns stumbled. UT’s loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys effectively ended its hopes for a bid to the College Football Playoff and showed some cracks in the Texas defense.
Now the two squads are meeting in a game that could go a long way towards determining the participants in the Big 12 title game. Both teams currently have one loss in conference play, and the winner of this game will also gain a head-to-head advantage over the loser.
WVU will have to pin its hopes on quarterback Will Grier to help engineer a minor upset in Austin.
West Virginia at Texas
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Texas -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas' physical running game
The Mountaineers have held up well against the run this year overall, giving up an average of 3.6 yards per attempt. However, they got abused on the ground three weeks ago in a loss to the Iowa State Cyclones as ISU running back David Montgomery and friends hammered out 244 yards on 47 carries.
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and RB Keontay Ingram are strong, physical runners who will force WVU to stiffen up – or risk getting run over.
2. Texas’ secondary vs. West Virginia’s receivers
UT’s defensive backs had their hands full last week with Oklahoma State’s receiving corps, led by Tylan Wallace and his 10 catches for 222 yards. It only gets tougher this week for the Longhorns, who will have to contend with WVU’s David Sills, Marcus Simms and Gary Jennings. Those three have combined for 99 catches that have gone for 1,542 yards and 19 touchdowns.
Sills is the Mountaineers' leading receiver (37 catches, 529 yards) and a touchdown machine. He has 27 of them over the last two seasons (20 games). Simms is the big-play threat with five catches for 30-plus yards already, including an 82-yard TD receptions against Kansas State. Jennings has two 100-yard games, including last week against Baylor in which he did it on just three catches (two of them going for TDs).
3. Kicking game
Both of these teams’ placekickers had games to forget last week. Texas’ Cameron Dicker missed two of his three field goal tries in a game that the Longhorns lost by three points. The stakes weren’t quite so high for West Virginia’s Evan Staley as his team cruised by Baylor, but he still missed two field goal attempts.
In a game projected to be as tight as this one, neither team can afford to leave points on the field.
This game will likely come down to one big question: How will Texas’ defense handle last week’s disappointment?
Coordinator Todd Orlando and his unit took fire this week after getting worked over by Oklahoma State last Saturday. UT’s defenders often appeared confused and off-kilter, culminating in a late meltdown by defensive end Breckyn Hager.
Expect a more focused effort from the D versus the Mountaineers on Saturday in Austin. A West Virginia turnover (Mountaineers have committed 11 in seven games) will likely make the difference in a nail-biting win for the home team.
Prediction: Texas 30, West Virginia 27
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.