(Photo Courtesy of (AP Photo/Chuck Burton))
Texas beat WVU to the punch in the first half, marching 75 yards in 7 plays for an opening drive touchdown. Most concerning was the way the Longhorns were able to carve the Mountaineer defense on the ground. Bijan Robinson got loose for a big 54 yard run to setup the TD pass from Sam Ehlinger to Brennan Eagles. Robinson made his presence known on the next drive, throwing three WVU defenders to the ground on an 18 yard scamper. West Virginia’s defense would settle in after this punch though and hold Texas to a punt. The 114 yards given up on the first two drives was almost half of WVU’s season average.
WVU was able to answer the Longhorn’s opening drive touchdown with a touchdown drive of their own. The drive was capped off by a 12 yard TD tote for Leddie Brown. Then, an old foe for the WVU offense reared its head with the Mountaineers only able to muster 9 yards rushing the rest of the half. Granted, Brown was still running for 3.4 yards per carry but the rest of the team managed just -10 yards on 6 carries. Jarret Doege and the receivers struggled early to complete passes in key situations to keep the sticks moving. Bailed out by a few Texas penalties to keep drives alive, the pass game could never get in a rhythm downfield and it showed with Doege averaging just 5 yards per attempt. After fireworks early, the game became a defensive battle with Texas leading at the half 10-7.
The second half brought much of the same defensive struggle as the last 20 minutes of the first. The Mountaineers dinked and dunked down the field for a Casey Legg field goal to tie the game. Texas answered with a touchdown drive capped off by a 33 yard pass from Ehlinger to Jake Smith on a busted coverage 3rd and 11 play. The field position battle was on, and WVU had the upper hand only needing to go 31 yards to setup a “would be” touchdown catch that Winston Wright Jr dropped in the end zone. WVU had to settle for another Legg field goal to bring the score to 17-13. To this point, WVU’s biggest offensive issue was converting third down plays as Texas loaded the box and the offensive line missed blocks.
Statistically, the Mountaineers dominated the 4th quarter. They just didn’t have any points to show for it. Two clock eating drives ended on downs inside the Texas 20 yard line. Blame play calling all you want, blame the refs, blame whoever. Fact of the matter is, West Virginia doesn’t have a player on the outside that can win one on one battles in order to convert the tough 3rd down plays. Three times WVU found themselves in a 3rd or 4th and short and had a receiver open enough and couldn’t complete the pass. And without an inside threat, defenses can stack the box and stop any attempt at a run on 3rd and manageable. Eventually players have to make plays, unfortunately enough of them weren’t made today. Texas held serve in the redzone, keeping the Mountaineers 1 for 5, and ultimately held on to win 17-13.
This wasn’t Doege’s greatest performance. But this was a performance I expect from a quarterback with almost 30 career starts. With a running game admittedly nonexistent, the junior signal caller kept the offense from being completely stagnant. Doege led drives down the field, in fact 5 of them got in the red zone. He had this team in position to make the plays to win. They just weren’t made. I trust our quarterback and you should too.
Running back: C
It’s hard to be this tough on the running backs with the loaded box and the pressure the Texas defense brought. However, there were some lanes (not many) or cutbacks that were missed. Sinkfield himself seemed timid to hit the hole. I know the offensive line struggled today, but 43 yards rushing isn’t 100% on the offensive line. It’s a team effort. There’s just not much to say, the running backs just didn’t do anything today.
It was nice to have some semblance of a receiving corps for at least a week. They disappeared again today. Wright’s dropped TD pass proved to be a killer. Mike O’Laughlin dropped a TD pass as well. Continually not winning one on one battles is killing the offense. Blame the refs all you want for a pass interference no call but too many times the receivers feel like there should be a call and quit on the route. There’s no reason to stop a route unless you’re tackled and that’s unacceptable. It’s more unacceptable than dropped passes. Effort should never be questioned.
Offensive Line: D
Along with the receivers, the offensive line took a step back as well. Ironically, Joseph Ossai was held in check. I’m not sure if the line didn’t expect as much pressure from the Texas defense or what, but there was a slew of missed assignments. It seemed this group couldn’t remember how to block most dangerous first and continually left the most dangerous man unblocked. Michael Brown wins the award for the all-time, awful play of the day. On a crucial 3rd down and short, Brown not only didn’t even make contact with the defender lined up over top of him, but he also didn’t make contact with anyone. This allowed Leddie Brown to get gobbled up for a loss in the backfield. If you whiff a block fine, but at lest find SOMEONE to hit.
Defensive Line: B
This was another blank day for the defensive line. Nothing bad, nothing great. I would expect this was part of the game plan with Ehlinger as the mobile threat. Ehlinger came into today leading the Longhorns in rushing but tallied just 39 yards. After the barrage of Bijan Robinson early, this unit settled down and made it tough for Texas to clip off any yardage. Outside of the opening drives of each half, was held largely in check, scoring just 3 of their 17 points.
Again, outside of the first drive, I think this was probably the second best game the linebackers have played all season. Dylan Tonkery had the game of his life. He and Tony Fields played their gaps to perfection and shut down the Texas rushing game to just 72 yards in the final 3 quarters. I’ll demote them one letter grade for a few missed open field tackles that gave Texas some chunk yardage and setup easier scores. Otherwise, this group is doing everything asked of them, week in and week out.
Defensive Backs: B
WVU’s secondary kept the theme of not allowing many yards after catch. I’d still say this was the worst game the secondary has played all year. It’s nice to have a defense so good that in their worst game, the opposing quarterback still had under 50% completion percentage and under 200 yards. A few gambling penalties and some bad angles on broken runs put this group to a B. I think this group is the hardest working group on the team and they simply don’t give up on any play.
Special Teams: C
WVU has found a reliable kicker and he goes by the name of Casey Legg. 2 for 2 on field goal attempts, each one hit pure. The tradeoff may be kickoffs as these don’t look quite as smooth as Evan Staley’s yet. The downfall was yet another muffed punt, luckily recovered by WVU. Small mistakes on special teams will add up eventually and it would be nice to play a clean game on that side of the ball.
Offensive Player of the Game: Isaiah Esdale
We’ve been searching for it all season and maybe it’s finally here? A reliable receiver to go get a one on one ball. Strong hands, power, big body, Esdale showed us what he was capable of. 6 grabs for 60 yards doesn’t pop off the stat sheet but a few of these were in big situations to keep drives alive. Esdale simply ripped a ball away from a defender. We haven’t seen that all season. Hopefully this continues through the rest of the season and WVU has a go to target.
Defensive Player of the Game: Dylan Tonkery
Tonkery made the most of his opportunity after Josh Chandler-Semedo’s injury. 7 tackles, 1 sack with a lot of them stopping extensive yardage with not much help behind him. Tonkery has played a lot in his 4 years in Morgantown but saw his playing time diminish early this year with the emergence of Tony Fields. He’s done absolutely everything the coaching staff has asked of him, moving positions and all. Today it paid off with potentially his best game of his career.
The Mountaineers will return home to host TCU next Saturday. Game time has yet to be announced. TCU hosts Texas Tech this afternoon.