MORGANTOWN — West Virginia University football coach Neal Brown knew the questions were coming after the Mountaineers’ 42-31 loss Saturday against visiting No. 11 Texas.
It was the game West Virginia had opportunities in, but also a game in which redshirt junior quarterback Austin Kendall threw four interceptions — including three in the second half.
So during his postgame press conference, and before anyone could ask the first-year Mountaineer coach about the performance of his quarterback against the Longhorns, Brown offered his take on how Kendall did against Texas.
“You all are going to want to talk about these four interceptions, [but] that’s the best game he has played without watching it on tape,” Brown said. “The first interception he threw was his fault — he read the wrong guy. The next three — two of them were in the receivers hands and the third one we had the wrong route. I thought he did some really good things.”
Kendall finished the game 31 of 46 passing for 367 yards and three touchdowns — two of those coming late in the fourth quarter — while also throwing the four interceptions.
Texas was able to capitalize on three of the four Kendall interceptions Saturday. The Longhorns turned his first-quarter mistake into a touchdown and did the same with both fourth-quarter interceptions.
“We played great defense in the second half,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “The offense kind of sputtered around in those first couple drives, but we had the lead at halftime and never gave it up. I thought our guys responded well to some early adversity.”
A LID ON EHLINGER
Texas junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger did not have his best game Saturday against WVU, and part of that was due to the Mountaineers’ making a concerted effort to slow him down.
Known as a dual-threat quarterback who can hurt opposing teams with his arm and his legs, WVU limited Ehlinger to just 211 passing yards with two touchdowns and one interception. West Virginia kept a lid on Ehlinger’s running ability, for the most part, until a late 23-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. For the game, Ehlinger finished with 45 rushing yards on nine carries.
“I really thought he only hurt us a couple times running,” Brown said. “They got into it where they were running the clock out, and they ran that zone follow play. That’s a really tough play to defend.
“My biggest concern coming into the game on Tuesday was [Ehlinger] dropping back to pass and running for first downs. That didn’t really happen as much. I think we did a better job than I thought we would coming into the game.”
For as well as West Virginia’s defense played at times Saturday, third down was usually not one of those times.
Texas faced 18 third downs against WVU and converted 10 of those attempts. The Longhorns moved the chains four times on their opening drive on third down, each time with more than 7 yards needed for a first down.
“Third downs killed us in the first half,” Brown said. “We played great football on first and second down, and that’s one of the best offenses in the country. It’s the reason why [Ehlinger] is an all-conference quarterback, and it’s why he’s in the Heisman Trophy conversation. He’s a big-time player, but we couldn’t get off the field and that hurt us.”
Not being able to get off the field meant more snaps and a larger disparity in time of possession between WVU and Texas. The Longhorns ran 82 plays Saturday and held the ball for 36:04. WVU, meanwhile, ran just 69 plays and had possession for 23:56.
“It was almost a flip of the Kansas game,” Brown said. “They had the ball 13 more minutes than we did. A lot of it goes back to the first half when we couldn’t get off the field, and we had that run in the third quarter where we couldn’t get anything going offensively.
“I’m disappointed we lost, obviously, but not disappointed in how we played. I think we’re making some strides. We have to play smarter, we have to do a better job coaching and our details have got to get better. There are some things that are going to make our staff and our players sick when they watch the game [film] tomorrow.”