“I felt like we moved the ball well, but our drives stalled,” said head coach Dana Holgorsen immediately following West Virginia’s fourth loss of the season. “When you move the ball and don’t get points, it is tough.” Holgorsen made a good point. Taking advantage of a team’s scoring chances can be the difference in every game, and WVU had plenty of opportunities to leave Texas with another win.
With 3:20 left in the first quarter, Texas was leading 7-0 and just stopped Wendell Smallwood short of the goal line on third down. West Virginia immediately lined up to quick snap, and instead of Smallwood cutting into the end zone for the team’s first score, the referees stopped the game to review the previous third down play. After review it was made clear that Smallwood did not reach the end zone, but WVU's momentum was gone. Holgorsen gave the call to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line, but offensive lineman Russell Haughton-James was called for the false start. WVU did pick up three points after a Lambert field goal, but the team needed seven.
“It would have been seven points, so obviously it was a big deal,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “We got a field goal out of it, but we needed seven.” If the officials did not blow the play dead Smallwood would have walked into the end zone to tie the game on the abortive fourth down snap. Instead West Virginia took just three points, and the very next drive Texas scores another touchdown to build their lead to 11.
In the first quarter there were other chances to have put points on the board. A 57-yard field goal attempt was neutralized because of a delay of game penalty that forced WVU to punt, and a poorly hit 53-yard field goal sailed wide left. Lambert, who was four-for-four from over 50 yards coming into the game, had an off day. He missed a 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter, and finished the day just one-for-three.
With 9:03 left in the second quarter, Texas running back Johnathon Gray was hit by both Kyle Rose and Edward Muldrow at the line of scrimmage, and should have been dropped for no gain. Instead, neither defensive player brought Gray to the ground and the play turned into a 39-yard touchdown run.
“In the first half we came out sluggish and couldn’t stop the run,” said defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. “They controlled the line of scrimmage, and did what they wanted to do.” A prime example came on the drive after Gray’s touchdown. Gray, again, rushed the ball inside and broke for 40 yards. No combination of defensive players could stop the run in the first half. The Longhorns took everything they wanted on the ground, and controlled the game.
Yes, there was a major improvement with the defense in the second half, but the offense never caught up. By the time the offense began to click it was too late. Although, WVU did score two late touchdowns to close the score margin, Clint Trickett and the rest of the offense couldn't muster enough points to seriously threaten the Horns..
Early in the third quarter, Trickett overthrew an open Daikiel Shorts on a second-and-goal from the nine-yard line, and the offense stalled out. Two incomplete passes in a row turned the ball back over without adding any points for WVU, but of course the biggest missed play of the second half came on a safety, when Trickett was sacked before even having a chance to set his feet.
“We had a wide open receiver on a double move we just didn't have enough time to get it to him,” said Trickett after the game. “It would have been a 99-yard touchdown.” Trickett had less than three seconds before Cedric Reed blew up the offensive line to take down the quarterback. Kevin White admitted they had the coverage they wanted for the call, but Trickett just did not have the time to lay it out.
Every game has four or five plays that are considered “could have happened” plays, but those were the plays WVU needed to make - and have been making the past few weeks - to beat Texas.