The attitudes, the walk, the player and coach confidence. What a difference a week – and a win – makes. The place had the air and ambiance of a morgue before the victory over TCU last weekend. And why not? West Virginia's season, essentially given up for dead, did indeed appear on life support heading into the game in Ft. Worth. Nose tackle Shaq Rowell said what most wouldn't: That it was a must-win if the Mountaineers were to keep bowl hopes alive.
Well, four-plus quarters and a 30-27 overtime decision later, Texas comes into a night atmosphere in Morgantown the players are hoping is the best since WVU's 2011 game versus LSU in a match-up of the Big 12 leader against a suddenly mid-pack team that seems far more threatening than it did just four days ago.
"It was very needed and about time," back Cody Clay said of the TCU victory. "We needed a win and now we can concentrate on keeping the winning going. For me and the offense as a whole, we just stopped worrying and started playing. I know that is something we had been talking about, but last weekend we actually did it. It came at a time when needed a win as bad as you could need one."
And with that, everything changed. The media questions have transformed from a sort-of leading, ‘Where do we go from here?' style to a ‘How can you win this?' approach. There's suddenly this feel that just maybe West Virginia has a chance. Texas is certainly aware of the challenge; head coach Mack Brown has spent the week talking about the Mountaineer Field atmosphere. Media pundits in Austin have mentioned how this could be the major trap game for the ‘Horns, about how they have underachieved in contests just like this – on the road, at night, against a hostile crowd in an unfamiliar place.
"This is a different atmosphere (at night)," Rowell said. "I played at night in Texas last year and Oklahoma this year. Those guys are going to have to come in here and witness how Morgantown is at seven at night. It's going to be something special."
What the Longhorns probably aren't mentioning is that the combined record of teams they have defeated is just 18-32. Texas must still face No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Texas Tech and No. 6 Baylor. The Mountaineers? They've already run the gauntlet and come out with at least a fighting chance to turn the season into a positive with Kansas and Iowa State remaining. But the opportunity here and now is to make a bolder statement that could ever be done, even if WVU were to close with three straight wins after the UT contest.
"I could tell (Tuesday) at practice we have a lot more confidence," Clay said. "We played well, I thought, and we had a good time doing it. We need to remind ourselves that we are out here to have fun, and we have to keep doing that."
Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12) is a seven point favorite, a considerably tighter spread than the 13 which was given to WVU (4-5, 2-4) against TCU. It is the second straight nationally-televised night contest in the series. West Virginia won 48-45 at Texas last season in a battle of teams in the top 11. Both squads went south after the game, UT finishing 9-4 and WVU 7-6. Both again enter on winning notes, Texas on a streak and West Virginia on what it hopes becomes more than just a smudge.
"Ever since these guys played BYU and Ole Miss, they look like a completely different team," Rowell said. "You can tell coach Mack Brown lit a fire under those guys. Those guys are physical, and it's going to be a tough challenge for us. They are more polished than we are, winning the past five games in a row. They are undefeated in the Big 12. We have to prepare well."