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Saturday night’s game between the Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers featured the biggest, loudest, and rowdiest crowd I’ve ever seen at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium. As much flack as Texas fans get for not standing the whole game and not being particularly rowdy on a week to week basis, they show up for the big games. Last year’s unexpected barnburner against the BYU Cougars featured a loud crowd as well as the back and forth game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
But in a lifetime of going to Texas games in Austin, I’d never seen a crowd like the one last night that saw Texas lose 48-45. They were loud from the beginning, as soon as Geno Smith and the West Virginia offense took the field. The DKR crowd stayed enthusiastic even when the Longhorns fell behind 21-7 and in the 2nd quarter the Longhorns defense started getting pressure and getting sacks, with the crowd exploding on each hit. After cutting the lead down to 21-14, Texas had West Virginia pinned back close to the goal line. On a passing play where Smith dropped back almost into the endzone Alex Okafor took him down for a sack and the crowd erupted again. A few seconds later, they noticed the touchdown call and bedlam ensued. People were apoplectic.
For some reason, the officials decided to review the play despite how clear it looked on the replay. While the crowd tried to start a “Texas-Fight” chant, the stadium started playing the song “Jump Around” by House of Pain. As soon as they started playing it, the players on the Texas sidelines started dancing and jumping around like they were up against the stage at ACL. Here’s what it looked like on the broadcast.
It wasn’t just the Texas sideline. The crowd was so jacked up on energy and enthusiasm that had built up to that point, that everyone started jumping up and down and dancing. Look at this.
That was the student section, but I can tell you that it was the whole crowd. The boosters and donors in the alumni section were dancing too.
I’ve never seen anything like it.
Texas lost the game 48-45, but everyone is going to remember this game because of the unique atmosphere it brought to DKR. Sadly, it’ll also be remembered for the lost opportunities they had in this game. The biggest game-changer was when the Longhorns forced Smith to fumble for a 2nd time. In the 4th quarter, after turning the ball over on downs, the Longhorns recovered a fumble at the West Virginia 12 yard line. On 3rd down, quarterback David Ash made his only mistake of the game when he let the shotgun snap go right by him. He recovered the ball, but couldn’t do anything with it and was taken down for a 16 yard loss. Anthony Fera, the Houston native that transferred from Penn State, missed the ensuing field goal and that was essentially the beginning of the end for the Longhorns.
Overall, both sides of the ball played really well, but this game was defined by the mistakes on big plays, like Ash letting that fumble get by him. It’s not all on him. The coaches should have possibly called time out, the center could have done a better job on the snap. Ultimately, it reflects a big failure on the offense overall.
And then there are the defensive mistakes. Again, the defense actually played pretty well when you consider that they held West Virginia to 48 points, as they scored more than that twice this season, including last week against Baylor. Geno Smith had only been sacked four times coming into this game and he was sacked four times in the game. Texas also had several tackles for loss that WVU hadn’t allowed all year. The Longhorns forced two turnovers. The Mountaineers had only turned the ball over once in their previous four games, and that was in the opener.
Most importantly, Texas generated a pass rush. There were lots of times when they didn’t get to Smith and he still got hit hard. By the end of the 4th quarter, West Virginia gambled and started running the ball heavily. And it paid off. Of the 207 yards that Andrew Buie ran for against Texas (6.7 yards per carry!), exactly 100 of them came in the 4th quarter alone. Everyone is talking about Smith’s play and the explosiveness of Tavon Austin, but it was Buie that sealed the game.
If I’m Oklahoma, I’m working on screen passes and misdirection plays to take advantage of an almost overly aggressive pass rush. I’d also concentrate on the running game, but it’s doubtful that OU’s line will play as well as West Virginia’s. If I’m Oklahoma, I’m also really worried about the Texas offense because this game was further proof that the offense is carrying the defense on this team.
David Ash didn’t throw for as many touchdowns as Geno Smith, but threw for almost exactly as many yards, a higher percentage, a higher yards per attempt rate, and didn’t turn the ball over. Really Ash outplayed Smith in this game, because Texas always relies on the running game in the red zone and at the goal line.
Speaking of the running backs, as I said before this game, Texas would be fine without Malcolm Brown, but they would miss him. And they certainly did. As an every-down back, Brown is just on another level above the other three guys that touch the ball out of the backfield. Yes, Joe Bergeron scored, Johnathan Gray had some big runs and Daje Johnson had a big catch out of the backfield, but Brown’s combination of power and speed, as the kind of guys that can carry the ball 20+ times and wear down a defense, was missed in this game because, especially in the 4th quarter. If you don’t count the David Ash scrambles or the snap that got by him, Texas ran for less than 60 yards in the 2nd half. No way does that happen with Malcolm Brown in the game.
The Texas offense was short on mistakes. Off the top of my head, Ash’s bad snap, Marquise Goodwin’s fumble, and Joe Bergeron’s dropped pass on 4th down in the first half are the only ones that come to mind. And you can really credit those to a list of other factors not involving the player. The bad snap could be put on the coaches, Goodwin’s fumble was caused by a head injury, and Bergeron’s drop was on a broken play.
Admittedly, there were times when the Texas defense looked awful. When you score 45 points at home, win the turnover battle, and pressure the quarterback, you should win the game. But the Mountaineers rank 5th in the nation in points per game and 3rd in the nation in yards per game. There are two other Big 12 teams that rank similarly in both of those categories. They’ve beaten one already (Oklahoma State) and they play the other at home in two weeks (Baylor). Texas has time to improve and they really should do so against the Sooners this weekend.
The bottom line is that a successful Texas season didn’t hinder on the Longhorns winning this game. Let’s go back to the big four that we’ve been pushing all season: WVU, OU, TCU, and KSU. You could actually replace TCU with the Baylor Bears on that list because, as you’ll read in today’s Daily Six Shooter, the Horned Frogs are on the start of a big slide this season. Texas needs to go 2-2 for a shot at the BCS and possibly even compete for the conference championship. 1-3 would be a bit disappointing, but acceptable, 3-1 would be amazing and 4-0 is near impossible. Texas is 0-1 right now with a good chance at going 3-0 or 2-1 in the rest of those games.
This loss only hurts because of how close the game was and how great the crowd was. There were missed opportunities that hurt even more because a win would have put the Horns way ahead of their development schedule to be a top 10 team at 5-0. But if Texas can win four of their next five games and go into the final two weeks against TCU and Kansas State 8-2, or even better at 9-1, this could still be a successful season for Texas.
Now it’s time to go to Dallas and get back to work.