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On a five-game skid, Texas aims for a consistent and complete performance at West Virginia

Across the state of Texas, there's a little variance in how long a football game is supposed to be.

Junior high games feature four quarters that last from six to 10 minutes apiece. Quarters for varsity teams are 12 minutes long, unless it's a six-man game with 10-minute sessions. When players get to college, the length of quarters is extended to 15 minutes, the same as for the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Texans and the rest of the NFL.

While the length of the quarters might differ, the number of quarters doesn't. That rule is universal. The Texas Longhorns, however, have struggled with that four-quarter concept throughout their turbulent season.

"Everyone that knows football, it's not a secret: We have to play for four quarters," UT quarterback Casey Thompson said. "We have to be able to compete at a high level on offense and defense. I can't really tell you how many games this year that we've done that."

Steve Sarkisian has seen the Longhorns lose five straight games. "How we can try to find a way to re-create some of that stuff (from the solid season-opening win over Louisiana) moving forward is really probably the bigger question," the UT coach said this week. "How do we tie all three phases together to play complementary football to ultimately play complete football?"

When asked this week if his team had played a complete game yet, Texas coach Steve Sarkisian referenced the season-opening 38-18 win over Louisiana. There were some hiccups, but the Longhorns were mostly solid throughout a 20-point win over the Cajuns, who are No. 22 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Unfortunately for Texas, that game against Louisiana was on Sept. 4. The Longhorns (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) have played nine games since and have dropped their last five, the longest UT losing streak since 1956.

"How we can try to find a way to re-create some of that stuff (from the Louisiana game) moving forward is really probably the bigger question," Sarkisian said. "How do we tie all three phases together to play complementary football to ultimately play complete football?"

In each of those five straight losses, the story has been the same. Texas has played well at times but also stumbled through a forgettable quarter or half.

Against Oklahoma on Oct. 9, Texas led 41-23 with less than three minutes to go in the third quarter. The Sooners scored 32 of the final 39 points. 

Oklahoma wide receiver Marvin Mims reacts after making a touchdown catch in front of Texas defensive backs Darion Dunn and B.J. Foster during the fourth quarter of the Sooners' come-from-behind win at the Cotton Bowl in October.

Texas was up by eight when it took the first fourth-quarter snap of a game against Oklahoma State on Oct. 16. The Cowboys scored 16 points in the final frame and won 32-24.

In their next two games, the Longhorns went on the road and went into halftime with 14-10 and 7-3 leads. Baylor eventually erased an 11-point deficit in the second half of its 31-24 win. Iowa State scored three touchdowns in the third quarter of a 30-7 rout. 

"It's been extremely frustrating," defensive back Anthony Cook said. "I feel like it'd be easy to say one thing, but honestly I think it's a bunch of things we need to work on."

In last week's stunning loss to Kansas, Texas didn't fall flat in the fourth quarter. The Longhorns actually rallied and forced overtime in what would be a 57-56 defeat. But they trailed 14-0 and 35-14 at various points in the first half.

"We lost because the first 30 minutes of football was bad ball," Sarkisian said in his postgame press conference.

Kansas running back Devin Neal is lifted by offensive lineman Bryce Cabeldue after scoring a first-half touchdown in last week's 57-56 win over Texas. The Jayhawks hadn't beaten the Longhorns since 2016.

Even in some of its victories, Texas has struggled to put together complete games. The Longhorns yielded third-quarter touchdown passes of 69 and 75 yards to Texas Tech and a 99-yard drive in the fourth quarter against TCU.

When asked Tuesday what Texas needs to play consistently from the opening kickoff through the final seconds, Cook likened it to "a process." That process will involve a trip this weekend to West Virginia.

Like Texas, West Virginia is 4-6. Like Texas, West Virginia has lost five of its seven games in conference play. Like Texas, West Virginia must win the final two games on its schedule if it wants to qualify for a bowl game.

After beating West Virginia in both 2019 and 2020, Texas owns an all-time record of 5-5 against the Mountaineers. Road teams have won seven of the 10 matchups.

"I think they're probably a lot like us, wishing their record was different than it is, feeling that it maybe even should be better than it is," Sarkisian said. "We've got our work cut out for us Saturday in Morgantown."

Texas at West Virginia

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 99.3, 98.5, 1260