Sat 11/9 7:00 PM ET
Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
TCU 30-27 W
Kansas 35-13 W
Series: WVU 2-0
First Meeting: 1956
Last Meeting: 2012
MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
Texas came into the season with the goal of running more up-tempo offense and spreading the ball across the field in its passing game, but injuries at the quarterback spot and the reemergence of its running game have made the 'Horns a ground power again. That's the primo match-up for West Virginia in this game -- slowing the talented stable of UT backs and making Case McCoy beat it through the air.
The duo of Jonathan Gray (724 yards, 4.8 per carry) and Malcolm Brown (353 yards, 4.3, 7 TDs) puts the 'Horns in the best of all possible worlds. Brown gets enough carries to keep Gray fresh, and is also a workhorse in the red zone. They help power a UT attack that is averaging 203 yards per game on the ground. That performance has, in turn, helped McCoy, who has a passer rating of nearly 123. However, he's not likely to win the game on his own, so if WVU can keep Gray and Brown in check (say, no +20 yard runs and an average of around 3.5 or so), it's not likely that McCoy will be able to throw the Mountaineers down to defeat.
A year ago, WVU was able to get Texas away from its running game somewhat, which was a large, if unnoticed, factor in the win. While the 'Horns did record 135 yards on the ground, they averaged only 3.5 yards per carry. The Mountaineers held Joe Bergeron (since moved to a supporting role this year) to only 2.6 yards per tote, and Gray had only 14 carries.
* * *
No discussion of this game would be complete without an examination of the kickoff time. The WVU campus has been buzzing since word came out that the game would be under the lights, as if that staked the Mountaineers to a 21-0 lead. Is there a significant after dark boost for West Virginia?
From a logcial perspective, the answer would be no. Other than the lighting, there's no significant difference to day vs. night, but try telling that to college players, who seem to positively thrum with energy when kickoff comes after sundown. Perhaps part of that, at least psychologically, is the knowledge that the game is usually on a major national broadcast outlet. But there's something else, maybe some primal instinct that ties into hunting under the stars or playing in the lighted arena when all else is dark, that gives everyone an edge. Or maybe it's just the chance for a few more tailgate libations.
Now, for the facts. WVU is 52-40-1 in night games since 1980. It is just 6-9 since 2000, and 4-6 under Dana Holgorsen.
A NUMBER WORTH COUNTING
It's a single digit -- five -- but it cuts both ways as we examine the significance of Texas' Big 12 wins.
Of course, most disinterested observers would add WVU as just another opponent in that string before UT gets down to its final three games, where the foes sport a 22-3 overall mark. But (again, that word) the Longhorns probably haven't faced any of the lower division teams with so much on the line, and in what promises to be a hyper environment.
While the last three games will tell the ultimate tale for Texas in 2013, this game just might be an indicator of if it is up for the challenge. West Virginia hasn't been a juggernaut by any means this year, but it figures to give the visitors its strongest test out of any of the lower division teams this year. If Texas is looking past WVU, it could be in for a surprise.
BEER OF THE WEEK
I ran into a new one last week in Fort Worth, on what turned out to be one of the best football weekends of my life. The brew that added enjoyment to the pigskin party is produced by Rahr & Sons, a local microbrewery heading for its tenth anniversary.
First, at our hotel, there was Rahr's Red on tap. It wasn't the same as many other reds I've had. It was definitely smoother than the average red, but it was still a full-bodied beer with lots of flavor. Later, I came across the Blonde Lager, which also was distinctive. It had much more bite that your standard craft lager, and was a great complement to our steak dinner. The brewery produces a number of seasonal drafts as well, and I'll be searching for a spot that carries more of them the next time we are in the Metroplex.
Further research on the brewery revealed that the founder is an alumnus of TCU, which made enjoying a pint while toasting the Mountaineers' victory all the sweeter in retrospect.
ONE MORE THING...
A lot of the outlook of this game seems to be built around a false perception. The early buzz on Texas, after it lost two consecutive games, was that the Longhorns were ripe for the taking. Even after UT righted its season with a big win over Oklahoma and reeled off five consecutive victories, a lot of Mountaineer fans seem to be thinking that WVU's one win over TCU somehow matches that string. Unfortunately, it doesn't.
I'm not here to downgrade West Virginia's victory last week. It was sorely needed, and important for this team. However, it was a battle of 3-5 squads -- neither one of which has the talent of the Longhorns. Last year, WVU was able to exceed UT's star power with three shiny standouts of its own, but it has no such matches this season.
I know that many will point to WVU's win over Oklahoma State as justification to expect a similar result against the 'Horns, but that was a game in which the Mountaineers got a lot of help. Cowboy drops and missed receivers probably kept 21 points off the board for the visitors, and allowed West Virginia to earn the biggest upset win in the Big 12 this year.
I'm not saying West Virginia can't win. A night game, a rushing defense that has played well at times, and an offense that shows signs of improvment give WVU hope. But this is a far different Texas team than the one that lost to BYU and Ole Miss back in September, and analyzing this game based on those two-month old results is going to result in erroneous conclusions.