By Ryan Decker, Originally published for West Virginia Illustrated
AUSTIN, Tx – After going two-straight games without turning the ball over earlier this season, No. 16 West Virginia (8-1) has caught the turnover bug in its last few contests.
The Mountaineers gave away the football four times in the previous two games, and turned the ball over four more times Saturday against Texas (5-5).
Luckily for West Virginia, the Longhorn offense turned it over three times themselves, and only scored once off a WVU loss of possession.
In a game that went down to the final play, West Virginia’s defense stood strong in all the important moments to keep the Mountaineers in the Big 12 Title hunt, winning 24-20 in Darrell K. Royal Stadium.
The two teams exchanged field goals on their first drives, and also exchanged turnovers midway through the opening period. Foreman fumbled on his own 17-yard line to set up WVU in good field position, just for Mountaineer running back Justin Crawford to give the ball right back to the Longhorns two plays later.
West Virginia, though, was the first to find the end zone as result of a lengthy, nine-play drive.
A quick pass to Daikiel Shorts later in the drive turned into a 17-yard gain due to a great second effort by the senior wideout.
Two plays later, Kennedy McKoy powered his way through a couple of arm tackles to put WVU out in front 10-3.
Despite WVU’s ability on that drive to work the ball through the air, it was the ground game that dictated much of the first half, especially for Texas.
Forty-six of the Longhorns 86 yards in the first quarter came on the ground, and they gained nearly 100 more on the ground in the second. The Longhorns totaled 218 yards on the ground for the game.
West Virginia, though also running the ball effectively, continued to get big plays with Howard dropping back to pass.
In the opening minute of the second quarter, Ka’Raun White hauled in a lofty throw from his quarterback while laying on his back in the end zone after being pushed down by the Texas defender covering him. The catch counted for 29 yards and six points.
WVU led 17-3.
UT got back to within seven points on a touchdown run by Shane Buechele from inside the red zone. His scoring run was set up by a 32-yard run from Foreman, his longest rush of the day
A short run by D’Onta Foreman later in the second quarter put him over the 100-yard mark for the eleventh-straight game, tying a school record set by Earl Campbell in 1977. Foreman finished the game with 167 yards rushing after totaling 115 in the first half.
He carried the ball eight times on the Longhorns next drive, which lasted 21 plays and used up nearly the entirety of the remaining clock in the first half. However, the lengthy possession stalled, resulting in just three points after a good defensive stand by the Mountaineers near the goal line. Justin Arndt made a diving play to deflect a potential touchdown pass on second down.
West Virginia led 17-10 heading into the break.
“We had a great first quarter,” Holgorsen told the FS1 sideline reporter at halftime. “Our guys are going to fight hard. We’ve got to fight this energy.”
West Virginia turned the ball over on its opening possession of the second half, but special teams made what could be considered the play of the game for the Mountaineers when Christian Brown blocked the field goal attempt that would’ve brought the Longhorns to within a single point.
Brown’s block that denied Texas three points translated into the Mountaineer offense scoring seven.
Howard scrambled for 13 yards to get the drive started, and then completed five of his passes, including a pitch and catch for 23 yards to Gibson on the left side that took WVU all the way down to the Texas three-yard line. McKoy punched it in on the next play, taking West Virginia’s lead over double digits at 24-13 midway through the third quarter.
McKoy, who totaled a career high in carries, rushed for 73 yards and two scores to lead an injured Mountaineer backfield.
Rasul Douglas picked off a pass from Buechele on the Longhorns’ ensuing drive. West Virginia’s quarterback gave the ball right back, though, throwing an interception in the end zone, continuing the trend of neither team being able to turn the opposing unit’s turnover into points.
Texas changed that, going 80 yards on nine plays in just over two minutes, scoring on a short pass to Collin Johnson, who made Antonio Crawford whiff on a tackle attempt, and was then able to go untouched for the score.
Howard’s accuracy continued to waiver in the second half, throwing his third interception of the day on the Mountaineers next possession.
He finished the game just 21-35 passing, for 269 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
Once again, though, the WVU defense came up big when it needed to. Kyzir White blitzed Buechele with no one but the QB in front of him, and laid a big hit on the sack, jarring the ball loose and picking it up to go down as Texas’ third turnover of the day.
WVU’s offense totaled just 32 yards in the final period, being relatively ineffective. Meanwhile, on the other side, the Longhorns tallied over 100 more yards in the final quarter, but like WVU, couldn’t put points on the board.
Following the Buechele fumble, Texas punted, turned the ball over on downs – completing a pass short of the first down marker – and failed to score on the final play of the game.
West Virginia hung on despite losing the turnover battle, and getting heavily out gained.
WVU takes on Oklahoma next Saturday at home. Time of kickoff has not yet been determined.