MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia coach Neal Brown is well versed on his offense’s struggles to make impressive plays downfield.
No. 11 Texas, with all its injuries in the secondary, will give the Mountaineers an opportunity to fix that problem Saturday, at least temporarily.
“We’ve got to be more productive in our explosive plays,” Brown said. “That’s something we’ve got to improve on.”
West Virginia quarterback Austin Kendall has become adept at the dink and dunk — passes that don’t result in a ton of yards. For whatever reason his long passes aren’t finding their intended targets.
Kendall is averaging nine yards per completion and West Virginia ranks 127th out of 130 Bowl Subdivision teams in that category.
Brown doesn’t just want improvement in downfield passing, but longer runs, too.
In a 29-24 win at Kansas two weeks ago, West Virginia ran 85 offensive plays. Two went longer than 20 yards, both of them runs.
“You’ve got to be able to break tackles,” Brown said. “You’ve got to be about getting north and south after the catch. That’s something we’ve got to be able to do to move the chains.”
West Virginia (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) is last in the Big 12 in total offense. Texas (3-1, 1-0) is averaging 170 yards per game more than the Mountaineers.
But the Longhorns, coming off a 36-30 win over Oklahoma State, are allowing 315 passing yards per game. The Texas secondary is without injured starting safety Caden Sterns and cornerbacks Jalen Green and Josh Thompson. Linebacker Marcus Tillman Jr. is out for the season and safeties B.J. Foster and DeMarvion Overshown have missed several games with injuries.
“We’re pretty confident with the guys that we will be rolling out there this Saturday and for the weeks coming forward,” said Texas coach Tom Herman.
Brown isn’t banking on a shortage of talent from the Longhorns, either.
“I know this, when we line up and play, there’s going to be some really good guys in the secondary,” he said. “Who it’s going to be, I don’t really know.”
Some other things to know in a series in which the road team has won six of eight meetings:
Texas slot receiver Devin Duvernay has been perfectly in sync with quarterback Sam Ehlinger. Deceptively strong to go with blazing speed, he leads the nation in receptions per game with a 9.8 average and has four touchdowns. And he hasn’t dropped a pass in at least two years. Ehlinger sums up Duvernay like this: “He can run through you or around you.”
West Virginia was penalized twice for unsportsmanlike conduct last year after Grier and David Sills flashed the “horns down” sign at the Texas crowd after scoring touchdowns. Brown doesn’t think that will be an issue this week. “We respect everybody we play,” Brown said. “We’re not going to be disrespectful.”
OUTSIDE OF TEXAS
The Longhorns are heading outside of the state of Texas for the first time this season. They played three home games and traveled 160 miles to Houston to face Rice.
“When the ball is kicked off, where you’re playing the game is irrelevant, if we choose to make it that way,” Herman said.
Ehlinger beat the Mountaineers in Morgantown two years ago as a freshman and is giving opponents fits again this season. He’s thrown for 15 touchdowns with just one interception and is averaging 309 passing yards per game. He’s also Texas’ second-leading rusher with 191 yards.
Last year he threw for 354 yards and three TDs and ran for another score in the Longhorns’ loss to West Virginia at home.
Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan, a 6-foot-4 sophomore linebacker, is expected to play for West Virginia after sitting out the first four games due to undisclosed NCAA eligibility issues.