Defense Can’t Bail Out Mountaineers For Third Straight Week

Defense Can’t Bail Out Mountaineers For Third Straight Week

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s defense bailed out its offense the last two weeks.

But against Texas, the third time failed to be a charm. The Longhorns amassed 420 yards of offense and were able to gradually wear on and wilt the unit as the Mountaineer offense continually misfired. While WVU punted on four consecutive drives after the injury to Will Grier, the defense continued to slug it out with a Texas team that used a punishing running game and solid situational offense on third down to create issues.

That came to a head on a handful of plays, when defenders chose to tackle with the shoulder as opposed to wrap. Corner Mike Daniels blew an open field tackle that led to a 7-0 UT lead, while a blown assignment allowed the next Texas score, a 20-yard TD catch by Chris Warren III that saw safety Toyous Avery lunge for the stop after the coverage issue.

West Virginia safety Kenny Robinson (2) skips out of a tackle attempt on an interception return for a touchdown

“The first touchdown we have a guy right there,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said. “Make them kick a field goal and it’s a different game. Instead they get momentum. (The second TD) we knew the play was coming. They get a false start and we told them it was coming. Don’t know what else to do. That’s bad on our part.”

Gibson was disappointed with the tackling, both overall and in the open field, and was displeased with West Virginia allowing Texas to convert a series of long third downs. The ‘Horns were just seven of 16 combined on third and fourth down, but more than half of those conversions came on the first two scoring drives. Texas was 5-for-5 in the situations; UT hit on a 50-yard pass on third and four to start the second quarter, and used quarterback Sam Ehlinger’s eight-yard run on fourth and two to set-up the initial score, a four-yard pass on third and goal for a 7-0 lead.

A possession later, the Longhorns converted a third and four via a nine-yard pass and a brutal third and nine situation in which Ehlinger was flushed by Dylan Tonkery. The linebacker missed the sack, however, and Ehlinger reversed field toward the UT sideline. Picking his way through a series of blocks, Ehlinger ran for 17 yards and a mammoth first down. Five plays later, West Virginia was down 14-0.

“They got some runs on us,” Gibson said. “The runs on third down killed us early. Not a whole lot to say. They were better than us. Nothing we can do now.”

West Virginia’s brightest moment came on Kenny Robinson’s 94-yard interception return off a horrid Ehlinger throw as he was being dragged down by Tonkery. The pass sailed to Robinson, who beat the entire Texas defense down the sideline, at one point avoiding a diving tackle attempt. The pick six, Robinson’s second one in four games, was the fourth-longest return in school history and trimmed the deficit to 14-7.

“That was a big play, obviously,” Gibson said. “I thought we swung the game a bit with that seven right there, then we gave up a cheap one.”

Gibson was referring to the two-play, 46-yard drive that pushed Teas’ lead back to 21-7 and put the Mountaineers in a hole from which they never emerged. The plays were simply runs by Texas’ Daniel Young and Kyle Porter, but they gained 36 and, off another missed tackle, 10 yards for an easy score. Taken individually, none of these plays crushed WVU’s ability to slow Texas. But collectively, combined with the offensive struggles, it spelled the fourth loss of the season.

“I thought the kids were ready to go,” Gibson said. “The kids had a good week. You can point to a lot of things.”