BEVO BEAT

Hillbilly havoc: Desperate Texas headed for chilly, wild time in Morgantown, W.V.

Posted November 17th, 2017

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People keep telling Tom Herman about how difficult life can be in Morgantown, W. Va.

“I don’t know,” the Texas head coach said this week. “I’ve never played there — or never coached there. It’ll be loud, I would imagine that.”

Oh, you have no idea, coach. Saturday will be an eye-opening experience for the native Californian now in his first season leading the Longhorns. At least Texas and West Virginia will kick at 11 a.m. Austin time, which beats playing there at night. That alone is a win. “Absolutely,” Herman said.

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These two have staged some wild games since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12. The 2012 matchup was one of the loudest, most raucous nights in recent Royal-Memorial Stadium history. The Horns won in Morgantown in 2013, but the price was two injured starters.

The West Virginia Mountaineers mascot, The Mountaineer, during the game against TCU at Mountaineer Field on October 22, 2016 in Morgantown, West Virginia. Joe Sargent/Getty Images

UT linebacker Breckyn Hager opined about his trip to Milan Puskar Stadium in 2015, although Herman probably wished he hadn’t.

“It was a bunch of hillbillies drinking moonshine,” Hager said Tuesday night. “I remember looking up, seeing someone with no teeth singing. I was all mad, about to cry, trying to block all of that stuff out and get to the locker room.”

The next day, while being interviewed on the American-Statesman’s “On Second Thought” podcast, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen responded in jest. “Well, you’re darn right I’m a hillbilly. I can’t own property, a big house in the hills of West Virginia, without considering myself a hillbilly,” he said.

Holgorsen consulted with Mother Nature to make certain it’ll be perfect couch-burning weather on Saturday. “We’re going to try to keep that temperature right at 35 degrees to make it as uncomfortable as possible,” he said.

John Denver provides the background music, but this is not a country road Texas (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) can go home on. The Mountaineers (7-3, 5-2) are looking for a place they belong, which is another rung higher on the postseason ladder.

“I can’t imagine what it would feel like to walk off that field without singing ‘(Take Me Home) Country Roads,’” West Virginia defensive lineman Reese Donahue said.

The Longhorns are the ones fighting for their postseason lives. Texas must either win Saturday or beat Texas Tech the day after Thanksgiving to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014.

“We just have to come out, focus, play physical, be electric and have some energy because we are not going to get it from the fans,” UT cornerback Antwaun Davis said.

Once again, the Longhorns are likely to play both quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger. But at least they’ll have some help. All-American left tackle Connor Williams, whose older brother is an offensive graduate assistant on Holgorsen’s staff, is scheduled to play for the first time since September.

Williams suffered a torn meniscus against USC on Sept. 16 and has been going through rehabilitation ever since.

Why would Williams, projected as a first-round draft pick by some, return to the field with just two games left in a .500 season? He wasn’t made available to reporters this week. Herman declined to say what his private conversations with Williams were like.

Texas All-American lineman Connor Williams will return to play for the first time since September against West Virginia.
Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman

Still, Texas will gladly take him. “Anything we can get out of him would be awesome,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said.

These are the same Longhorns that endured a frustrating 24-20 loss to the Mountaineers last season in Austin. Buechele threw for a season-high 318 yards and the defense forced four turnovers. Running back D’Onta Foreman had his 11th-consecutive 100-yard game.

But an exasperated Edwin Freeman couldn’t help himself afterward. “It’s heartbreaking,” the UT linebacker said.

Then-Texas coach Charlie Strong didn’t seem too worried about his future at the time. “I have a really good group of guys, and I know they’re going to play for me,” Strong said. The next week, Texas lost to Kansas.

Here’s a sobering thought for Herman, who came to UT with a 6-0 mark against ranked opponents and now sits at 6-4: He doesn’t know for sure whether this team, the same group of players that ultimately failed Strong, will show up and deliver in the final two games.

For the record, West Virginia is ranked 24th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, so this game would count on Herman’s record against ranked opponents. However, the Mountaineers are not in the College Football Playoff rankings.

West Virginia presents a far more challenging test for UT’s defense, which is now without cornerback Holton Hill (suspended) and nickel back P.J. Locke III and likely will be without backup corner Josh Thompson (concussion). Mountaineers quarterback Will Grier has thrown a Big 12-leading 34 touchdown passes while completing 64 percent of his passes. His 3,440 yards ranks third in the league.

Receiver David Sills V was named a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award. He’s caught 18 touchdown passes. As if that’s not enough, running back Justin Crawford ranks third in the Big 12 with 899 rushing yards. Texas will lean on freshman Daniel Young, who has 185 yards this season.

One thing to watch will be West Virginia’s tempo after halftime. The Mountaineers haven’t scored a single point after halftime the last two weeks. “I feel like sometimes we look like we’re the greatest offense to ever walk the planet,” WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “And then the next drive we look like the worst offense to ever play the game.”

At this point in the season, there are no tricks up anyone’s sleeve. Neither team can change its DNA in November.

The Longhorns know their season is teetering between progress and failure. That’s how it goes in a .500 season when you haven’t been to a bowl game in more than two years.

“What we do in the next two weeks will really say what direction we’re heading in,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said. “We’re talking about West Virginia. but I know what’s really on people’s minds. I get that part of it. I’m not naive. It’s going to be a collection of these last two ball games that will really put a stamp on the season.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

The post Hillbilly havoc: Desperate Texas headed for chilly, wild time in Morgantown, W.V. appeared first on Hook ‘Em.

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