Texas will tone down the tempo vs. WVU
MORGANTOWN - And now for something completely different.
A week after scoring 70 points, giving up 63 and being involved in a game with nearly a mile of total offense, West Virginia faces a far different and far more difficult test. On Saturday night, the No. 8 Mountaineers and No. 11 Texas match 4-0 records.
It won't be a home game, instead coming at 100,000-seat Texas Memorial Stadium.
It won't be against an underdog. Texas is an early touchdown favorite.
It won't be against a team that treats defense as almost an afterthought, as did Baylor last Saturday. The Longhorns give up just 21 points a game.
Most significantly, it won't be a race to see which team can blow a circuit in the scoreboard first.
Sure, it might wind up that way. Texas is averaging 47 points a game, after all, and West Virginia 53.
But it won't be the design of both teams to race to scoring records.
"This won't be a game like last week where both offenses take 90-some snaps,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. "Their philosophy differs, which is going to slow us down on offense.''
Indeed, while Texas scores a ton of points, it's not because the Longhorns play fast and furious. They run the ball, averaging 228 yards on the ground. They throw it well enough to push their total offense to nearly 500 yards.
But they do it without many of the fashionable tricks of the day.
"It's a good, talented Texas offense,'' Holgorsen said. "From a scheme standpoint, they're going to play conventional football, which is going to keep us off the field.''
Indeed, the way Texas plays offense, not defense, might be one of the most significant factors in holding West Virginia's offense to more pedestrian numbers than the 807 yards and 10 touchdowns it produced in Saturday's win over Baylor. Sure, the Texas defense is good, but one of the reasons is it isn't on the field for 90 plays.
In fact, the biggest question for West Virginia this week has little to do with its offense. The issue is whether a defense that was burned for 700 yards and 63 points by Baylor is at all equipped to handle Texas.
Actually, Holgorsen thinks his team might be better prepared to handle the Longhorns. After all, the issue with Baylor was the Bears throwing for 581 yards. Texas isn't likely to even attempt to do that.
"We probably match up a little bit better against them,'' Holgorsen said, referring to Texas. "We played well defensively against the run. [Baylor] had over 40 attempts and we held them to right around 2 yards a carry [actually 2.6 yards per try on 45 carries]. We played well. We were physical up front. We were happy with the way they played, but we still have to develop a little bit of depth there.''
Still, the overwhelming concern for West Virginia this week is improving on defense no matter who the opponent is.
"What happened was very evident,'' Holgorsen said. "We got them in third down plays and we just didn't make plays in the secondary. Our pass defense was atrocious.
"But the good news, if you're trying to find a positive in it, is our run defense was really good. And Texas is obviously going to try and establish the run.''
Of course, the Texas ground game and the Baylor running attack are different animals. Baylor does it as a diversion almost. Texas has a roster full of five-star running backs - consider that freshman Johnathan Gray is a five-star recruit who scored more touchdowns than any high school player in history, and he's listed third on the depth chart behind two other five-star recruits - and is commited to the run.
"It's a different kind of run game,'' Holgorsen said. "They're going to use tight ends and fullbacks and we're going to have to adjust some of the things we're doing defensively to be able to match up with that. And then when they do put the ball in the air we just have to do a better job of making plays on the ball.''
All things considered, Holgorsen said he could feel worse about his defense. In fact, he felt better about it Sunday after watching tape than he did in the aftermath on Saturday.
"I felt a lot better about it Sunday than I did Saturday night,'' Holgorsen said. "We played pretty good defense probably 75 percent of the time. But when you just let receivers get open and make plays and bust coverage with a couple of freshmen and they get chunks of yardage, it's obviously disheartening.
"We just have to get better at it. We've got to continue improving up front and then either get new guys in the secondary that make plays or we've got to get those guys more confident to make the plays.''
This is the first of two straight trips to Texas for the Mountaineers. A week from Saturday, WVU plays Texas Tech in Lubbock, a game that was announced Monday as a 3:30 p.m. kickoff start on ABC.
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.