AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas secondary has experienced issues this season, allowing some long completions and committing too many pass interference penalties.
But on Saturday, the Longhorns' defensive backs made critical plays. Texas stopped West Virginia on fourth-down passes into the end zone twice in the fourth quarter, enabling the No. 22 Longhorns to escape with a 17-13 victory.
Early in the quarter, when the Mountaineers faced fourth-and-1 at the Texas 16, they failed to convert when Jarret Doege’s pass to Mike O’Laughlin was broken up by B.J. Foster in the end zone.
Then, with less than five minutes remaining, Doege threw incomplete to Ali Jennings on fourth-and-1 at the Texas 8 with Chris Brown hounding the receiver.
“Hats off to the defense and their ability to get off the field,” Texas coach Tom Herman said.
Texas (5-2, 4-2 Big 12) overcame an offense that produced nearly 100 yards and 27 points fewer than its average.
Sam Ehlinger, typically the Longhorns’ offensive star, completed just 15 of 31 passes for 184 yards, but he connected with Brennan Eagles for a 7-yard touchdown in the first quarter and with Jake Smith for a 33-yard TD in the third. Freshman Bijan Robinson rushed for 113 yards on 12 carries for Texas.
Much of the discussion around Ehlinger this season is about unspecified injuries, or at least aches and pains, that seem to affect the accuracy of his passes, particularly down field. Ehlinger doesn’t say much about it.
“If I’m available, I’m always going to put my body on the line for my team,” Ehlinger said. “The natural breakdown of the body throughout the season is a natural progression.”
Texas had a sizeable edge in first-half yardage – 210-137 – but left the field with only a 10-7 lead.
On one second-quarter possession, Ehlinger underthrew Eagles, who was open for a possible touchdown. Right before the end of the half, Cameron Dicker missed wide left on a 48-yard field-goal attempt.
Ehlinger was more accurate when presented with an open receiver in the third quarter, connecting with Smith for the touchdown.
Doege completed 35 of 50 for 317 yards for West Virginia (4-3, 3-3) but failed to throw a touchdown. Texas limited West Virginia running back Leddie Brown to 47 yards, 69 fewer than his average, on 15 carries. He scored the Mountaineers' only touchdown on a 12-yard run in the first quarter.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown defended his decisions not to attempt field goals in the fourth.
“I don’t regret going for it, because there’s all kinds of data that says it’s the right thing to do, going for it,” Brown said. “In (the Big 12), you better score touchdowns down there to win. We’re going to be aggressive, but it’s on me, as in charge of the offense, and we’ve got to do a better job.”
In addition to thwarting West Virginia on fourth down in the final period, Texas made three third-down stops in the third quarter. Linebacker DeMarvion Overshown had a sack and forced a fumble on two of those plays.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers, who went 5-7 in 2019, including 3-6 in the Big 12, are a contender for most improved team in the league under second-year coach Brown. They began the game ranked fourth nationally in total defense (255.7 yards a game) and 19th in points allowed (19.8). The defense held up well considering that Texas came in averaging 44.3 points and 449.5 yards of offense. Texas gained 363 yards in this one. But the West Virginia offense failed to capitalize repeatedly on scoring opportunities.
Texas: Herman is still trying to steer the Longhorns back to the elite status they had more than 10 years ago under Mack Brown. Herman went 7-6, 10-4 and 8-5 in his first three seasons and then lost consecutive close games to TCU and Oklahoma in October. The game against West Virginia was a step forward coming a week after Texas beat then-No. 6 Oklahoma State for its first road victory against a top-10 team since 2010.
MORE ACTIVITY FOR ROBINSON?
Herman was asked if Robinson, the Texas running back, should have received more work, considering how well he played. He teamed with Ehlinger on a 35-yard pass play to ice the victory.
“He’s not used to a 20, 25-carry day,” Herman said. “We’ve got a very capable player alongside of him in Roschon Johnson, and we’ve also got another weapon in the backfield in the run game in our quarterback. It was not anything other than keeping him fresh and not putting too much weight on his shoulders.”
INJURIES TO WATCH
Texas has a bye next week, which comes at a good time. Starting nose tackle Keondre Coburn left the game with a sprained ankle, wideout Joshua Moore has a shoulder sprain, and punter Ryan Bujcevski suffered a knee injury.
The Longhorns have a chance to move up in the rankings with a win against a stout defense.
West Virginia plays host to TCU next Saturday. The Mountaineers beat TCU 20-17 last season in Morgantown.
Texas has a week off before facing Kansas in Lawrence on Nov. 21. The Longhorns, ranked No. 15 at the time, beat Kansas 50-48 last season in Austin.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25