MORGANTOWN - In an apparent taunt to the weather, some Texas Longhorn players spent much of warm-ups shirtless on a chilly November night at Milan Puskar Stadium. It was supposed to be a message.It appeared to be something else, though. WVU had UT, as it has had others this season. It appeared Texas, undefeated at 5-0 in Big 12 play, was going to be undressed by the homestanding Mountaineers before 58,570 and a Fox television audience.In the end, however, it was WVU that was once again exposed, losing 47-40 in overtime.Heading into the game, there were a few keys for WVU. First, it had to protect starting quarterback Clint Trickett. Texas was susceptible to the run, but had 48 hurries heading into the game.In that regard, the Mountaineers woefully failed. By halftime, Texas had six sacks. Trickett was knocked out before the end of the first quarter. At times he looked like a rag doll.Second, WVU had to stick to the ground. That was a toughie, considering the aforementioned pass rush, most of which was with a four-man rush.But the stats heading into the game showed that if you got past that UT front, there was daylight. The Longhorns were ranked No. 90 nationally in run defense heading into the game.It proved to make sense. Although WVU had minus-12 yards at the end of the first quarter, tailback Charles Sims had 93 yards and three touchdowns at game's end. Dreamius Smith had 24 and another score.
Next, the Mountaineers had to hold up against a UT backfield loaded with five-star backs. The hosts did that very well. At game's end, the Longhorns had but 152 rushing yards on a whopping 41 carries.Also, it seemed Texas was susceptible to a long special teams return. And nice returns WVU had, posting 81 yards on kickoff returns from Wendell Smallwood and 88 from Mario Alford.But the final Mountaineer goal, the most important one, was not reached. That was to rattle Longhorn quarterback Case McCoy.He was not spectacular on Saturday night. He never is.
McCoy, though, came through. He, and the Texas coaching staff.For some reason, a handful of WVU opponents have to learn on the field, rather than the film room, to throw the ball downfield.When the Longhorns did they were successful. Icky Banks was called for an interference call. Mike Davis went for 29 yards. When WVU seemingly had a Darwin Cook interception, K.J. Dillon was called for defensive holding. On third-and-14, Jaxon Shipley burned Cook. At game's end in overtime, Marcus Johnson was wide open for a 14-yard gain to the 5.
"We weren't able to make the plays when it counts," said WVU's Dana Holgorsen.McCoy ended up 27-of-49 with an interception for 283 yards and three TD passes. It was the key.In the press box on Saturday night, though, were representatives of the Texas and Pinstripe bowls. With the loss, WVU still has a good shot to land in either.Here's the deal: The Mountaineers have games at 2-7 Kansas and home against 1-8 Iowa State. They should win both. And it looks as if seven of the 10 Big 12 teams will make the bowl grade.The guess from here, at this late Saturday moment, has Baylor in the Fiesta, Texas in the Cotton, Oklahoma State in the Alamo, Oklahoma in the Buffalo Wild Wings and Texas Tech in the Holiday. That probably leaves WVU and Kansas State, which defeated Texas Tech on Saturday to move to 5-4. Odds are, the Texas Bowl would rather have K-State. So Mountaineer fans are staring at another Pinstripe Bowl against an American Conference team like Rutgers.Appealing? No. But it makes the most sense. The Texas Bowl is on Dec. 27 at Reliant Stadium in Houston against a Big Ten team (think Iowa). Few from West Virginia are going to fly out immediately after Christmas for a game the next day. The Pinstripe Bowl is on Dec. 28 in the Bronx. At least there's a bit of a chance for that bowl to sell some tickets to WVU fans.
The bowl picture, though, would have looked a lot brighter had the Mountaineers finished off Texas on one chilly November night.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.