West Virginia football makes its first Big 12 road trip of the season on Saturday when it faces Texas at the Longhorns’ Darrell K. Royal Stadium. The game is set for 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
The Mountaineers have fought their way back to an even record after a dismal 0-2 start, and aim for their second win in a row over the Longhorns. Texas has similarly buffed its expectations after a difficult start, most recently falling to Texas Tech in a rivalry heartbreaker.
WVU is the lone team in the Big 12 that owns a winning record over the Longhorns, taking six of the 11 meetings between the two programs. That record gets even better in Austin, with four wins in six games at Memorial Stadium.
The Mountaineers closed out their home schedule in 2021 with a 31-23 victory over Texas, knocking the Longhorns out of bowl eligibility while staying alive for their eventual postseason berth.
Despite the lackluster finish to 2021, the Longhorns entered 2022 with high hopes. They received 164 votes in the preseason AP poll and snuck into the rankings after nearly knocking off No. 1 Alabama.
The Longhorn offense hit a road bump in that close loss, though, when it lost Quinn Ewers, its five-star freshman quarterback. Hudson Card, who played against West Virginia in 2021, has taken the snaps ever since, but Saturday’s starter is still to be named.
Here are the biggest storylines leading into Saturday’s game:
WVU will be ready for either quarterback
Ewers returned to practice before the Texas Tech game, but Card was still tapped to start while Ewers remained on the sideline in street clothes. This week has a similar story as Ewers continues to practice, but coach Steve Sarkisian has not yet named a starting quarterback.
“It’s still up in the air. They all practiced today. They practiced last week,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “I think we’ll know more as the week goes on.”
For WVU, it doesn’t matter who starts. Coach Neal Brown says they are both big talents, and they hold more similarities with one another than differences.
“Whoever plays, they’re going to play at a high level at quarterback,” Brown said.
Trench warfare in Texas
The offensive line battle is important in every football game, but it holds a special significance between these two particular squads.
WVU is currently one of the best teams in the nation in terms of rushing offense and defense, ranking in the top 25 in both statistical categories. Its running game has accounted for 44.38 percent of its yardage, the biggest proportion of the Neal Brown era by a wide margin (for reference, just 22.8 percent of WVU’s yards came on the ground in 2019, his first season.).
The Mountaineers have had plenty of stars come through to make this work, especially freshman CJ Donaldson. The former tight end is the Big 12’s fourth-leading rusher with 380 yards and six touchdowns after bursting on the scene in his debut against Pitt.
“CJ’s given a spark to that room and his production has been really impressive, especially being as young as he is with a big load coming at him,” Harrell said. “He’s not a fun guy to tackle so if you just give it to him, sooner or later he’s going to split a couple just because you get tired of running into 240 pounds over and over again.”
WVU’s run defense has stepped up as well, holding opponents to 393 yards on the ground (less than half of what the Mountaineers put up per game.). That number will be put to the test when it goes up against Texas, which features Heisman candidate Bijan Robinson, the Big 12’s second-leading ballcarrier.
“Bijan Robinson I think is probably as good or better than any college football player in the country,” Brown said. “And that whole room is talented. Roschon Johnson has played there, obviously a quarterback in high school, they’re using him a lot in the wildcat right now. He’s a physical runner and one of their best special teams players, which I think says a lot about him. And then Keilan Robinson is a guy that can make you miss.”
West Virginia and Texas kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET in Austin, Texas on FS1. Start your game day off with an all-new episode of The Neal Brown Show, featuring the head coach himself, on your local West Virginia Nexstar station at 9 a.m. ET. That is followed by a live hour of Mountaineer GameDay, the most fun pregame show in the Mountain State, at 10 a.m. ET.
When the first hour concludes, Mountaineer GameDay continues at 11 a.m. ET on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh with another live hour.