UT’s Head Coach Confident Of ‘Horns, Wary Of WVU’s Offensive Talent
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Tom Herman recognizes Will Grier as the straw that stirs the drink.
Herman, in his first year mentoring the Texas program after being the hot hire of the offseason, didn’t exactly use the phrasing of one Reggie Jackson. But Herman recognized Grier’s impact on West Virginia, and what the nation’s third-ranked quarterback in terms of passing yardage has meant to the No. 24 Mountaineers.
“The quarterback is the gas that drives the engine on offense,” said Herman, whose Longhorns are 5-5 overall, 4-3 in the league. “He’s the (third) leading passer in the country. He’s along the lines of Mayfield and Hill in terms of he’s really, really accurate throwing the football. He’s a tremendous passer. But he can make you pay with his feet too. He’s as good as we’ve played, and we’ve played some really, really good ones.”
That’s Baker Mayfield and Kenny Hill, of Oklahoma and TCU, respectively. Grier has thrown for 3,440 yards this season, going over the 300-yard mark in all but one game. He’s on pace for 4,472 yards including a bowl, which would eclipse Geno Smith’s school record of 4,385 set in 2012. He also has 34 passing scores, good for second place currently and, again, on pace to pass Smith’s 42 in 2012. That’s heady, heady stuff.
The irony is that though Grier ranks third nationally in passing, he’s also third in his own conference, the Big 12 having swept the top four spots this week with OSU’s Mason Rudolph, Mayfield, Grier and Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek. There’s a very real chance Grier could fail to receive all-conference recognition and yet be among the top five signal callers nationally.
Herman is keenly aware of such, and the difficulties presented by WVU’s offense despite its second half lulls the last two weeks. David Sills, after all, leads the nation in touchdown receptions with 18 (and the Big 12 in scoring with 11.2 ppg), while Gary Jennings ranks third in the FBS in catches per game at 8.2. Add in Ka’Raun White, who has set carer highs in yardage in the last two games, and Justin Crawford’s 899 yards (3rd, Big 12), and the myriad of weapons available is impressive.
“(Grier’s) got some pretty talented guys around him,” Herman said. “He’s got the Sills kid who is leading the country in touchdown catches. He’s got a couple other receivers that are very high up in some categories. Defensively they have been running that 3-3 stack for quite some time so they know the strengths, the weaknesses, how to set different runs. They are very well-schooled in that defense. Those are the two big takeaways: How proficient the offense is with Will Grier at quarterback and Sills and White and Jennings on the outside, and then the defense and their overall understanding of their own scheme.”
Texas’ strength likes on the opposite side of the ball. Its defense is second in the Big 12 in points allowed at 21.9 per game, good for 32nd nationally. The Longhorns have been particularly stout against the run, foes garnering just 115 yards per game against a 4-3 look that features high-caliber line play. Texas could well make West Virginia a one dimensional team, testing whether the Mountaineers can generate enough in the passing game against UT’s weaker secondary. The ‘Horns pass defense has allowed 252.3 yards per game – or seven more yards than WVU’s. That’s the 101st-worst total in the FBS.
“I’ve been ecstatic about the effort and energy and intensity and physicality that we are playing with,” Herman said. “That is a major upgrade and a sense of ride that we are starting to take. I am proud of the way we have played defense after the first week of the season and I’m proud our guys on offense are battling every week to get better. We are now where we need to be. A lot of that is injuries and throwing new guys in there.
“We got good players. The overall buy-in and sense of pride (is good). When you start doing something as well as our defense has in terms of stopping the run, you start to wear that like a badge of honor and you want to make sure you continue to do it. Everybody on that defense is excited about the trajectory.”
After the 51-41 home loss to Maryland in the opener, UT has won five of nine, three of the four losses coming by a total of 11 points. The lone exception was a 24-7 loss to TCU. Texas forced OSU into overtime and lost by five to OU in the Red River rivalry.
“We realize the potential of this team, knowing that we lost by five points to one of the top two or three teams in the country,” Herman said. “We lost by a field goal in overtime to one of the top teams in the country. I think that desire to send those seniors out with a bang, as well as the confidence and hope that some of the games throughout the season have given us, I don’t see any issue keeping them motivated.”
It will be Texas’ third visit to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium, and the first ever for Herman, who spent 13 of his 19 seasons coaching in the state of Texas.
“I’ve never played or coached there,” Herman said of WVU. “I hear it will be loud, imagine that. Morgantown is a bit remote in terms of travel to get there. And they’re really good. I think the places that are really hard to play in this country usually revolve around teams that are really, really good.”