Eyes around the nation will be on Morgantown when West Virginia hosts the No. 11 Texas Longhorns at Milan Puskar Stadium.
This will be the ninth meeting between the two programs since their first matchup in 1956 — a 7-6 victory for the Mountaineers in Austin. Since joining the Big 12, they have met a total of seven times, with the Mountaineers holding a 4-3 advantage over the Longhorns in that span.
Both teams are currently 3-1, although they’ve taken vastly different paths to get there. Besides their two wins over Group of Five schools Louisiana Tech and Rice, Texas has faced two ranked opponents. Their first, a home contest against No. 5 LSU, saw the Longhorns fall in a shootout to the Tigers despite a 401-yard, 4-touchdown performance from quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Two weeks later, they got back on track to steal a win at home against Oklahoma State.
On the other hand, Texas will be West Virginia’s first ranked opponent this season.
For Mountaineer fans all over, this game has been circled on the calendar since last year’s wild finish in Austin. With a nearly all-new team, though, Neal Brown’s focus is on the present and not the past.
“West Virginia had a good win against them last year,” Brown said. “But I don’t think that’ll have any bearing whatsoever when we line up and kick this thing off on Saturday.”
This mentality extends to his locker room, as well. There are several returners on this year’s squad, like Colton McKivitz, but many of those players had a small impact on last year’s game.
“It’s kind of just been this year’s mentality,” McKivitz said. “I know it’s a completely different team, so it’s not really been brought up of last year’s success…so I think we’re just looking forward to this week and preparing for Texas.”
Brown will be facing off against Tom Herman, who is in his third year at Texas.
A potential old-fashioned Big 12 shootout
The Longhorns boast one of the top offenses in the nation, and the one that Brown says is their toughest to defend all year. Sam Ehlinger is inching up the Heisman Trophy watchlists, throwing a conference-high 15 touchdowns so far. A big, athletic quarterback from Austin, Ehlinger put up 354 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Mountaineers last year.
Ehlinger has a lot of explosives weapons to throw to including wide receiver Devin Duvernay, who leads the conference in receptions.
“I think he’s special, he’s a tough kid,” Brown said. “I think he’s improved his passing ability, he’s been extremely accurate thus far. He’s a tough tackle.”
While the Mountaineer offense hasn’t exactly exploded their way through 2019, they have a shot this week to change that.
Quarterback Austin Kendall has yet to throw for 300 yards for West Virginia this season — although he has the chance to hit that mark this week against the worst pass defense in the Big 12. This also provides an opportunity for receivers like Sam James to make those coveted explosive plays about which Brown has preached.
“We didn’t have enough explosive plays, we’ve got to be able to get explosive plays,” Brown said of his team’s performance at Kansas. “We’ve got to be able to generate explosive plays as we get into our league schedule.”
Two young defenses
Texas will be up against a youthful West Virginia defense who has shown growth so far this season. The Mountaineer defensive line is among the best-performing in the Big 12, with the Stills brothers — Darius and Dante — sitting at or near the top of the conference sack standings.
West Virginia has three seniors starting in the secondary but a lot of underclassmen behind them. That’s not indicative of their performance, though, as defensive coordinator Vic Koenning says the whole position group has progressed really well.
The Longhorns are in a similar situation, however Brown says they boast a lot more depth in their secondary.
“They play a lot of different guys,” Brown said. “They’ve had some injuries there, but they’ve got a lot of depth — and I can’t tell a whole lot of difference between their ones and their twos. I think they’re really talented.”
Texas also has a lot of speed in the box. Their sack leaders happen to be linebackers — freshman Juwan Mitchell and sophomore Joseph Ossai both have a pair of sacks so far this season.
How to watch:
This game will be televised nationally on ABC, and will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET. Be sure to start your Saturday off with us on Mountaineer GameDay, which starts at 10 a.m.! (check your local listings)