'It hurts': Texas falters against West Virginia, heads back to Austin with sixth straight loss
MORGANTOWN, W. Va. — The final song on the soundtrack for Texas' 2021 football season will be a John Denver classic.
At the end of Saturday's 31-23 loss at West Virginia, players and coaches gathered in a corner of Milan Puskar Stadium for the traditional playing of "The Eyes of Texas." The only problem, though, was the school band was gathered in the upper decks. The sounds of their trumpets and flutes were easily drowned out by the announced crowd of 48,755.
So the Longhorns instead stood with their Horns up while facing a sea of West Virginia fans with their Horns down. Denver's 1971 hit "Take Me Home, Country Roads" blared over the loudspeakers as the Mountaineer diehards gleefully sang along.
That country road is taking Texas back to Austin with a 4-7 record and a 2-6 mark in Big 12 play. With only one game left, the Longhorns cannot reach the six-win threshold for bowl-eligibility.
"Every loss is disappointing, extremely disappointing," UT running back Keilan Robinson said. "It doesn't matter what's next, what's after that. Every loss is disappointing."
With both teams needing to win out to reach six wins, the game essentially came down to two snaps in the second half.
Near the end of the third quarter, West Virginia converted a third-and-18 play on a 19-yard pass by Jarret Doege. On the next drive, Doege hit Reese Smith for 20 yards on third-and-15.
West Virginia converted that first third-and-long just after Xavier Worthy's 52-yard touchdown catch pulled Texas to within 21-17 with 5:40 left in the third quarter. The Mountaineers scored a touchdown six plays later.
The third-and-15 came on the heels of Roschon Johnson trimming the lead to 28-23 on a six-yard run at the beginning of the fourth quarter. That first down set West Virginia up at its own 40. The Mountaineers eventually took an eight-point lead with 7:03 left on a 45-yard field goal.
"Clearly it's frustrating because I think we had the momentum, we were able to take it back and couldn't get off the field," Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said.
Said defensive lineman Ovie Oghoufo: "It hurts because it's like dang, we got them really backed up. Then they get it, so yeah, it hurts."
Texas still had two last-minute chances to tie the game. But a drive that reached West Virginia's 28 ended on an interception thrown by Casey Thompson, who had just replaced an injured Hudson Card, with 2:51 left. And then in the waning seconds, a hobbled Card re-entered the game to replace an injured Thompson, but UT's fate was sealed after it gained just four yards over Card's final three throws.
The eight-point loss extended UT's longest losing streak since the eight-game skid that ended the 1956 season. Five of the Longhorns' six losses have been by eight points or less.
"Part of it is, like, confusion for me because we have so much talent and we've shown how good we really are," Oghoufo said. "There's times where the scoreboard just doesn't play in our favor, or boom, we just let one off. It hurts because this team does have a lot of talent."
West Virginia struck first Saturday with a 20-yard touchdown catch by Sam James that capped the Mountaineers' first drive. For a while, that play itself was the envy of West Virginia's offensive counterparts.
Over its first four offensive possessions, Texas gained only 14 yards and failed to pick up a first down. The Longhorns dropped as many passes from Thompson (two) as they caught. The rushing attack was held to one yard over four attempts.
A sign of life was finally detected when Robinson scored on a 49-yard run with 8:34 left in the second quarter. Cameron Dicker also nailed a 50-yard field goal in the first half. Texas, however, was trailing 14-0 when Robinson found some running room and that long kick by Dicker was UT's response to West Virginia's third touchdown drive of the day.
"When we come out of the second half and do our thing, that's when we know what we could do," Worthy said. "We just need to execute that all four quarters."
Texas turned to Card after halftime. The Longhorns still struggled at times, but Card did direct two touchdown drives.
Robinson finished with 111 yards while Anthony Cook led the defense with eight tackles. Dicker's kick left him two field goals away from Phil Dawson's UT career record of 59. And Jordan Shipley is the only Longhorn who has caught more touchdowns in a season than Worthy, who scored for the 12th time on Saturday.
Texas closes out its first season under Sarkisian at home next Friday against Kansas State. The only way the Longhorns could still get invited to a bowl game is if they beat the Wildcats and then there aren't enough six-win teams in the country to fill the bowls.
"I think our future is very bright here," Sarkisian said. "I'm looking forward to the days when the ball game's done and we sing 'The Eyes of Texas' and not have to listen to their song."