Texas Kept Things Simple, Mainly On The Ground
According to Texas coach Tom Herman, a simple, run-based offensive plan was the best way to combat West Virginia’s odd 3-3-5 stack defense.
“I liken it to a defense preparing for a triple-option,” UT’s first-year coach said.
Saturday, the Longhorns were able to accomplish multiple missions with a 28-14 win over the Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Their 233 yards rushing were the most since a rout of San Jose State on Sept. 9.
And with a game with Texas Tech left to play, Texas is bowl eligible for the first time since 2014, and has a chance to finish with a 7-5 overall record, including a 6-3 mark in the Big 12.
“It was fantastic, the smiles on their faces” was how Herman described the scene in his locker room after the game. “We know we’ve got one left but this was a big one. We’ve got an opportunity to win seven games in the regular season, and that hasn’t happened here in a long time.
“They’re kids, and they’re kids that have been beat up the last couple of years.”
Said Texas cornerback Davante Davis, “The difference was, we finished. We got up and didn’t start killing ourselves.”
Indeed, Saturday’s victory provided a soothing salve for a season filled with near-misses. After opening the season with a shocking 51-41 loss to Maryland, the Longhorns also dropped heartbreakers to USC, 27-24 in double-overtime and Oklahoma State, 13-10 in overtime.
“(I’m) excited to see our plan be executed really, for what feels like the first time this season, maybe since the Kansas State game,” Texas coach Tom Herman said, referring to a 40-34 double-overtime win earlier this season. “I feel like we played a fairly complete game too.”
The Longhorns achieved this by bottling up WVU’s offense and moving the ball effectively against the Mountaineers’ stack defense, which Herman described as “foreign” and difficult to prepare for.
The Texas ground game boasted four runners with at least 27 yards, including backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who ran for 68 yards on nine carries after taking over for Shane Buechele on the Longhorns’ third series. Texas finished with 233 yards rushing, its most since running for 425 in a rout of San Jose State.
“He’s tough, he’s a competitor and he gives us a dimension in the run game,” Herman said of Ehlinger. “We knew it would be difficult to move the ball on this defense but we knew we had to make hay in the run game.”
The Longhorns’ defense also provided a big lift as it made a big goal line stand in the first quarter that ended with WVU losing Will Grier to a game-ending finger injury and turning a possible touchdown into a fumble and touchback.
The defense came up big again on a third-down fumble that Chris Nelson recovered inside the five-yard line, turning a tightening 21-14 lead into a 28-14 advantage with five minutes left.
But it was Ehlinger’s arm that gave the Longhorns a 14-0 advantage at halftime. The freshman threw touchdown passes of four and 20 yards in the second quarter. He finished 12-of-19 passing with one huge blemish.
With 5:29 left in the third quarter, he threw an interception that WVU cornerback Kenny Robinson returned 94 yards for a touchdown. Ehlinger was nearly sacked by WVU linebacker Dylan Tonkery and was attempting to throw the ball out of bounds to avoid the loss.
“It was a stupid play,” Ehlinger said. But, rather than hang his head, he fought back to lead two more scoring drives.
“I had to forget about it and move on, score again,” the freshman QB said.