5 ways No. 17 Texas can take down No. 13 West Virginia
By Steve Lansdale
Based on the college football playoff rankings, Saturday’s matchup between Texas and West Virginia should be one of the better games in the country — the Mountaineers sit at No. 13, and the Longhorns at No. 17. The teams are tied with Oklahoma atop the Big 12 standings, so to say the game has major ramifications would be an understatement.
So the goal — beat West Virginia — is clear. But the question is … how?
Match the Mountaineers’ intensity
The Longhorns got a touchdown run from a yard out from Daniel Young with 5:07 to ice a 28-14 victory in Morgantown, W.V., last year. Each team has plenty of other areas on which to focus, but rest assured, the Mountaineers remember the game that they felt got away last season.
“This one is one we've been looking forward to for a while,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “It didn't quite end the way we wanted it to last year, and we haven't forgotten about that. We're looking forward to going to Austin on Friday and playing this game on Saturday.”
In other words, the Mountaineers are going to hit the field in something of a frenzy Saturday. They already have enough going for them, with Heisman Trophy hopeful Will Grier leading an offense that is averaging nearly 40 points per game, entering the game with a 6-1 record and coming off a 58-14 laugher over Baylor last week. If the Longhorns don’t come out playing with the same energy, they could find themselves falling behind, and the Mountaineers are not a team that is likely to surrender an early lead.
Get the running game going — including with Sam Ehlinger
The Longhorns feature a balanced running game. Keontay Ingram (65.0 yards per game) and Tre Watson (43.2) are the top two threats on the ground, but they are followed by Ehlinger (34.6) — a fact that has not gone unnoticed by Holgorsen.
“(Sam) Ehlinger is coming into his own — he's really a fantastic football player,” Holgorsen said. “I thought he was good last year, it's just hard for true freshmen to play at a high level, but he got a lot of valuable experience last year. They run him a lot. He's heavily involved in their run game. He has scored eight touchdowns with his feet, so they rely on that, they've built their offense around it. It's no different than what Coach (Tom) Herman did at Houston, or even in his days at Ohio State, they always ran the quarterback, and he's good at it. He's 6-3, 225, and he looks every bit of it. He looks to me like he's much more comfortable in the pocket now. He's throwing the ball well and has made a lot of plays and extended a lot of plays against Oklahoma State last week. He looks comfortable doing so.”
Holgorsen is right — Ehlinger is throwing the ball well, especially to Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Colling Johnson, who are averaging 80.6 and 78.5 receiving yards per game, respectively. But if Ehlinger can run well enough to make the WVU defense worry about him as a rushing threat, the downfield coverage should soften a bit, helping both the running and passing attacks.
Don’t turn the ball over
It sounds pretty simple, and protecting the ball is a priority for every team. But the Longhorns have done a good job taking care of the ball — a trend the Mountaineers would like to end.
“It starts with the quarterback. He's doing a good job,” Holgorsen said. “They have six turnovers in eight games — that's pretty good. It starts with the quarterback, that quarterback has to have that trait. There are quarterbacks that do a good job with it, and there are quarterbacks that are pretty careless with the ball, so to speak. I think Ehlinger does a really good job with that, especially because they run him so much to not put that ball on the ground. He's a big, strong guy … and then making decisions as well — I think he's a smart player, and I think he's one that's extra careful with the football, as well … We've been getting some turnovers, I guess that hat has something to do with it. Hopefully, we can create a few of them … One reason why we dominated Baylor is because we created them, we didn't have any turnovers, we got five. I count turnover on downs as the same thing because it's all about field position, which we dominated … and then we dominated that stat, as well.”
WVU has intercepted 10 passes, and has recovered three fumbles by the opposition, but has forced 12. The Mountaineers will make every effort to add to those totals in an effort to slow the UT offense take the Texas crowd out of the game.
Start fast, get crowd in game
Speaking of the crowd … there aren’t many stadiums like Darrel K Royal—Memorial Stadium, which is one of eight in the country that can accommodate 100,000 or more fans. Holgorsen is well aware and has been preparing his team for the environment that awaits in Austin.
“It's a 100,000-seat stadium, that's a little different than most,” Holgorsen said. “I've seen that place really good. Most of our guys that are on our team understand that environment. We've played in those environments before, and it's one that we're excited about. We've had success down there, so our guys are going to be fired up about going. It's a nice place; Austin is a great city. The University of Texas has great tradition, great facilities, great location, really good weather, a lot of good stuff. It's fun to go there. I've been there a bunch; I bet I've coached there 10 times.”
That may be true, his players haven’t had that experience in front of a crowd that size (by comparison, WVU’s stadium seats just 60,000). If the Longhorns can start fast and give their fans a reason to get involved — loudly — it could go a long way toward making the environment hostile for the Mountaineers.
Contain David Sills V
West Virginia’s top receiver is not a guy teams eliminate, so keeping Sills in check, if not completely quiet, is a good goal. He’s tall (6-4), but not enormous in terms of bulk, tipping the scales at 210 pounds. He’s fast enough, but not a pure sprinter. He leads the team in receiving, but his stats are not eye-popping: 37 catches for 529 yards. What he does, however, is he runs great routes, catches absolutely everything near him and turns receptions into points, as nine of his catches have ended up in the end zone.
“Hand-eye coordination helps, obviously, but just body control more than anything,” Holgorsen said. “So, great receivers that can catch fade routes, and the touchdown aspect of it is extra-special, just based on the closer you get to the goal line, the less space there is, so you're going to be covered, and the great ones are guys that understand how to use body control, and that's technique because we coach the heck out of it to be able to position your body to catch it, and the defender can't. David is as good as I've ever seen at that. He's really good at it. I think there's a mentality that needs to exist to be able to score. We talk a lot about that, find guys that can score. You say, 'Duh, don't you want all your guys to be able to score?' There are guys that have a knack for scoring, and he's one of those guys that has a knack for scoring … He has a knack for scoring, and his body control (is) unbelievable. That doesn't just mean high-pointing it. That's 100 percent technique and body control.”