Texas West Virginia Football

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (11) celebrates a touchdown against West Virginia.

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia University football team perhaps sent a message to the rest of the Big 12 on Saturday stating it is no pushover, but in the end No. 11 Texas was just too much to handle for the Mountaineers.

WVU quarterback Austin Kendall threw four interceptions — three in the second half — as the Longhorns pulled away in the final two quarters for a 42-31 win at Milan Puskar Stadium.

West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) got the ball to start the game and wasted little time letting Texas know it had a battle on its hands Saturday afternoon. Kendall, a redshirt junior quarterback, completed all four of his pass attempts on the opening drive, including a 44-yard touchdown to redshirt freshman receiver Sam James.

Texas’ first turn with the ball was a frustrating one for the West Virginia defense. The Longhorns (4-1, 2-0 Big 12) covered four third downs of at least 7 yards and took 6:55 off the clock, but kicker Cameron Dicker’s 42-yard field goal attempt missed wide left.

On the very next play, Kendall made a bad throw and Texas’ Adeoye Ayodele was there to grab an interception. Two plays after that, Texas junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger fired a 22-yard touchdown pass to receiver Malcolm Epps, and the extra point tied the score 7-7.

Both West Virginia and Texas traded punts for the rest of the first quarter, but WVU’s first possession of the second quarter proved valuable. After sophomore running back Leddie Brown’s 11-yard run put the Mountaineers into Texas territory, Kendall found receiver T.J. Simmons over the middle for a 44-yard pass after Simmons spun out of a tackle and ran to the UT 5-yard line.

Texas stuffed WVU at the goal line on the next two plays, but on third down Kendall kept the ball on a run-pass option and fooled nearly everybody in the stadium as he walked in for a touchdown to give the Mountaineers a 14-7 lead.

The Longhorns again had an answer, however. Texas got the ball after Kendall’s touchdown and marched down the field, mostly by way of the legs of running back Roschon Johnson, to set up a 13-yard touchdown pass that again tied the game.

West Virginia sputtered on its next drive before kicker Evan Staley missed a 36-yard field goal attempt.

Texas took its first lead of the game just before the end of the second quarter. The Longhorns worked fast, moving 80 yards on six plays with an Ehlinger 13-yard run up the middle for a touchdown capping the drive and giving Texas a 21-14 lead. WVU got the ball with 3:28 to play in the half, but after driving to the Texas 30-yard line, Staley missed another field goal attempt — this one as time expired in the half.

“I thought we were successful in the first half,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “We knew that it was going to be a game where we had to throw. There’s a reason why they have one of the better run defenses in the country. We’ve got to do a better job, but some of that is them and the size and length and quality of player they have on defense.”

Action slowed considerably early in the third quarter for both Texas and West Virginia, but after another Kendall interception, it was WVU’s turn for a turnover. Ehlinger’s pass on first-and-10 from his own 23-yard line late in the third quarter was underthrown and off target, which allowed WVU cornerback Keith Washington to make an easy interception.

Washington returned the ball deep in Texas territory, and a personal foul against the Longhorns set West Virginia up to start the drive at the UT 14-yard line. All the Mountaineers could manage was a field goal, however, and the game went into the fourth quarter with Texas leading 21-17.

West Virginia’s first two drives of the fourth quarter both ended with Kendall throwing interceptions, and Texas’ first two drives of the quarter both started as a result of those interceptions and ended with touchdowns.

Texas receiver Devin Duvernay took a handoff and ran 13 yards to put the Longhorns ahead 28-17, then after a poor throw ended with the ball in UT’s hands again, Texas coach Tom Herman went digging in the playbook. What he came up with was a backward pass to an eligible lineman. Ehlinger took the snap, turned and threw to left tackle Samuel Cosmi, who rumbled to the pylon for a touchdown.

“They hurt us in the run game once we got tired,” Brown said. “If you look at it, yards per play, we were well ahead of them.”

The Mountaineers got late touchdowns on a 19-yard pass from Kendall to Simmons and a 12-yarder from Kendall to Bryce Wheaton to set the final score.

For the game, Kendall finished 31 of 46 passing for 367 yards with three touchdowns and four interceptions. His Texas counterpart, Ehlinger, completed 18 of 33 pass attempts for 211 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also ran nine times for 45 yards and two scores.

“Really, we just lost one-on-one battles,” Brown said. “This game, in a lot of ways, came down to how I thought it would. It’s a one-on-one game, and we lost some of those. Some of that is on us as coaches. We’ve got to do a better job of putting our guys in positions where they can be successful. We need to run the ball better, especially in the third quarter.”

As a team, Texas ran for 216 yards against WVU, led by a 121-yard effort from Johnson. For WVU, senior Kennedy McKoy finished as the team’s leading rusher with 30 yards on six carries.

“It felt like we could wear them down in the run game a little bit,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “That was a very complex defensive scheme that took us a while to get used to. Obviously, with two weeks to prepare, there were a lot of different things. I thought our offensive line adjust well, as did the offensive staff in terms of what we kind of started majoring in. I felt like our strength and conditioning took over in the fourth quarter. We were playing really fast and really hard in a game that was very hard-fought.”

Contact Tom Bragg at tom.bragg@wvgazettemail.com or 304-348-4871. Follow him on Twitter @TomBraggSports. Read Tom’s WVU sports blog at http://blogs.wvgazettemail.com/wvu/