West Virginia faces improving Texas
Three wins in the past four weeks have allowed Texas to finally find its footing and claw back to within one victory of bowl eligibility while cooling the hot seat for beleaguered coach Charlie Strong, at least for the time being.
Still, the Longhorns will need to play their best game of the season against No. 16 West Virginia on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, to keep the hard-fought momentum going and to augment their recent string of success against highly ranked teams. Texas has won four straight games against Associated Press Top-12 ranked teams, the second longest streak in the nation behind top-ranked Alabama.
West Virginia (7-1, 4-1 in Big 12) stands in the way of the Longhorns' attempt to add to that streak and is likely the most balanced team that Texas has faced in the past two seasons.
Dual-threat quarterback Skyler Howard directs a West Virginia attack that's ranked 10th in the nation (510.8 yards per game) in total offense.
“West Virginia is a great team and they are very balanced,” Strong said Monday during his regular media availability. “Howard does a great job of taking care of the ball and they don't turn it over very much as a team. I think we will play well because the team we are playing will have our players' attention and we play good at home. We've won two in a row — now let's go get this one.”
The Mountaineers are a sloppy, three-turnover, 37-20 loss on the road against No. 17 Oklahoma State on Oct. 29 from being undefeated. Those turnovers led to 17 points, a killer for a team that had been without a fumble or an interception in the two games prior to the defeat by the Cowboys.
West Virginia lost a fumble last week in a 48-21 blowout victory over hapless Kansas but looks to be back in the groove.
“The Oklahoma State game was decided in a few big plays,” Howard said. “I feel like we really didn't lose anything, and we didn't need to gain anything back. We are just playing ball, worrying about us, worrying about West Virginia. We approach this game like every other one — we are going to take what they give us and play what we see.”
Texas (5-4, 3-3 in Big 12) continues to improve after a stumbling start that saw it lose at California, at Oklahoma State, in Dallas against Oklahoma and at Kansas State. The Longhorns have dominated their four games at home, and were perhaps their most impressive in their 35-34 win against No. 8 Baylor on Oct. 29.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen recognizes the level of talent the Longhorns will bring to the field on Saturday.
“The thing that strikes me with this group is that they are incredibly competitive, just a very physical team,” Holgorsen said. “If the ball bounces a little bit different for Texas, you're sitting here looking at an 8-1 football team, and that's how we have to approach it.
“Texas is very well coached, and their kids are playing very hard and are continuously getting better and better and better,” Holgorsen added. “It will be as big a challenge as we've seen all year with their athleticism, their size, their physicality and the different looks that they'll give us.”
Stopping the Longhorns begins with slowing down running back D'Onta Foreman, who — at 249 pounds — continuously ran away from would-tacklers in Texas' 45-37 win at Texas Tech last week.
Foreman, who had 341 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Texas Tech, was named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week on Monday for the second straight week. He is the first Longhorns player to rack up 300-plus yards on the ground in one game since Ricky Williams amassed 350 yards against Iowa State in his Heisman Trophy season in 1998.
Foreman leads the nation in yards per game (180.8) and is second in total rushing yards (1,446).
“Man, he's the real deal,” Texas wide receiver Jake Oliver said about Foreman. “The stuff in the game doesn't even compare to what he does in practice. He's truly amazing every single day. As receivers, we don't just focus on catching the ball out there. We know he's going to bust big runs multiple times per game. Our job is to block on the perimeter for him and help on those big plays.”