WVU runs over Texas in one-point thriller, 42-41

Caden Sterns (Will Gallagher/IT)
Caden Sterns (Will Gallagher/IT)

West Virginia QB Will Grier’s perfect 33-yard touchdown pass to Gary Jennings Jr. with 0:16 left gave Mountaineer head coach Dana Holgorsen the chance to go for two and the win. After several timeouts by both teams, Grier took the snap and ran to the end zone untouched to put WVU ahead by one to seal the 42-41 road victory for the No. 12 Mountaineers over the No. 15 Longhorns.

Grier’s winning run served as a fitting crescendo to a game filled with consistent struggles the Longhorns had defending the Mountaineer ground attack. Texas allowed seven yards per rush and 232 rushing yards total to a WVU team previously averaging 4.46 yards per carry and 147.9 rushing yards per game.

“From my vantage point, we were getting out of gaps on the inside zone, and on the outside zone, we weren’t flowing fast enough,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “We’ve got to get our assignments cleaned up.”

Texas’ inability to stop the run contributed to their inability to get off the field consistently on third down. West Virginia was 7-for-12 on third down attempts and was 6-for-9 in the first half.

Being unable to get off the field, paired with injuries to several contributors (Breckyn Hager – elbow, Davante Davis – shoulder/neck, Marqez Bimage – shoulder, Brandon Jones – ankle), wore down a Texas defense, and it showed in Texas’ propensity to miss tackles. This propensity was evident in Martell Pettaway’s 55-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

A vicious cycle resulted. Missed tackles led to that poor third down percentage, which led to fatigue, which led to WVU touchdowns. For the second straight week, Texas couldn’t bring opponents to the ground in spite of working on tackling to the ground every Tuesday in practice, and adding an emphasis on building a program of toughness.

“I don’t know,” senior Chris Nelson said when asked about the reason behind the tackling issues. “In Tuesday practices, we hit.”

The Mountaineers’ final scoring drive began with 2:34 on the clock and trailing 41-34. WVU got the ball back following sophomore Sam Ehlinger’s 48-yard touchdown pass to junior Devin Duvernay, who used a double move to get past the Mountaineer defense.

Instead of solely relying on the pass with an all-conference quarterback, Holgorsen used balanced play calling to move down the field on the winning drive. Before Grier’s touchdown pass to Jennings Jr., West Virginia called three running plays and three passing running plays in a two minute offense to move into position to win.

No plays went for a loss, limited pressure was put on Grier, and Texas had to respect both options with time running down.

“It was certainly a good chess match,” Herman said. “It was back and forth, but at the end of the day the combination of inside-outside zone with a stick draw and then great All-American quarterback, All-American receivers, it was a little bit too much for us to handle there at the end.”

Orlando’s pawns and knights couldn’t hold up to Holgorsen’s bishops and queens, especially on the final two-point conversion.

Three timeouts were used in total, one by WVU and two by Texas, prior to Grier’s three-yard two-point scamper. West Virginia lined up in an empty set with David Sills to the boundary one-on-one, and four receivers split wide.

When the snap went off uninterrupted, Grier looked to pass, then bounced outside where no Texas defender was in the area.

“I just tried to bull the center, but (Grier) was reading me,” Nelson said. “I was trying to figure out which way he was going, and he bounced it all the way outside. There was supposed to be an edge guy out there, but obviously there wasn’t.”

The 42 points by West Virginia wasted a 41 point performance by an Ehlinger-led offense where nearly every phase of the Texas offense was successful.

Ehlinger was 25-for-36 for 354 yards and three touchdowns, and added 52 yards and a score on the ground. Senior Tre Watson delivered his best game as a Longhorn rushing for 80 yards and a score and added a touchdown reception.

Junior Lil’Jordan Humphrey made several spectacular catches over shorter Mountaineer defenders. Several of his receptions were answered prayers for Ehlinger, moving Texas into the red zone. He had nine catches for 143 yards and a score, while Duvernay added 100 yards and a score of his own.

This was Texas’ first time with two 100-yard receivers since 2013.

The first half was a point away from being even. Each team was unable to stop the other and traded the lead with each score. Texas had 266 yards of total offense, but was outmatched by West Virginia’s 348.

The third quarter was silent for both teams, with Cameron Dicker’s 22-yard field goal as the only score. The teams traded scores in the fourth, and it appeared Ehlinger’s touchdown pass to Duvernay was enough to seal it, but the Texas defense failed to hold serve just as it had done in the previous 58 minutes.

“I really just hate for our offense to go out there and play the game that they did,” senior P.J. Locke said. “They played a heck of a game and us, as a defense, we couldn’t stop the run like we should have. We didn’t get takeaways and at the end of the day, those things play a big role in the game.”

With this loss, Texas drops to 6-3 and 4-2 in the Big 12 Conference. It loses the advantage it had following its win over Oklahoma, and now no longer controls its own destiny. Despite that, Herman showed optimism post-game for his team’s ability to continue to contend in the conference.

“The silver lining is that we play in the Big 12 and everybody plays everybody, Herman said. “We’re not out of any race at this point. We certainly don’t control our own destiny. We need a couple things to happen.”

Texas heads to Lubbock Saturday to take on Texas Tech.