Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

October 6, 2012

High-scoring Mountaineers roll into Texas

AUSTIN, Texas — The last time Texas faced a leading Heisman Trophy contender, coach Mack Brown told his defense “Don’t let him win it against you.”

How’d that work out? Baylor’s Robert Griffin III passed for two touchdowns, ran for two more and one week later accepted the trophy in New York.

“They handed it to him at halftime,” Brown said.

Ten months and a new season later, here comes West Virginia’s Geno Smith, the nation’s top-rated passer and the guy everyone is comparing to Griffin after his eight TD passes and 656 yards against Baylor last week.

The No. 8 Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) and No. 11 Longhorns (4-0, 1-0) play tonight.

For West Virginia, a road win in front of about 100,000 Texas fans and a national television audience would send a statement that the Mountaineers have every intention of winning the Big 12 their first year in the league.

“The crowd’s going to be rocking,” Smith said. “We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do.”

Coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, has talked to his team about what to expect: the crowd, the girls and Texas’ famous Bevo steer mascot.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Holgorsen said. “There will be a lot of people, cheerleaders and (the) longhorn in the end zone.”

So call it the perfect stage for another national statement by Smith, who has been picking apart defenses with a staggering 83 percent completion rate, 20 touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Amazing,” Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom said.

The challenge for Texas isn’t how to stop the West Virginia offense — “You’re not going to stop them,” Brown said — but how to make the plays that keep the Mountaineers out of the end zone and make the difference at the end.

Force a punt. Recover a fumble. Make an interception.

“This isn’t going to be a shutdown game,” Brown said. “The guy just scored 70 points. I mean, unbelievable.”

Brown has to ask a lot from a defense playing well below preseason expectations. The Longhorns gave up 576 yards to Oklahoma State and have a bad habit of surrendering long touchdowns. But the Longhorns also have made big plays at critical moments.

In last week’s win over Oklahoma State, an interception set up a Texas touchdown. A defensive stand late in the fourth quarter forced the Cowboys to kick a field goal, and that gave Texas the opportunity to win it with a touchdown.

Despite the lapses, Texas still has playmakers galore on defense, starting with ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, who have combined for seven sacks.

It will be their job to disrupt Smith and force him to throw quickly or on the run. Texas believes Smith’s internal clock may be a bit slow after not facing much pressure in the first four games.

“We still have some swagger,” Byndom said. “We know what kind of defense we can play.”

Texas is also counting on its offense to slow down Smith by keeping him off the field. Unlike Baylor, which tried to match Smith pass for pass in last week’s 70-63 shootout, the Longhorns are built around a ball-control running game and play-action passes. If Texas can grab a second-half lead, the Longhorns will try to kill the clock behind battering ram tailback Joe Bergeron.

Longhorns quarterback David Ash has been quietly excellent through the first four games. Ash ranks No. 2 nationally in pass efficiency (behind Smith, of course) and led Texas’ game-winning touchdown drive last week in the final two minutes.

After going 13-12 the last two seasons with a 2-6 record at home in the Big 12, the Longhorns can make their own statement with a victory: that Texas is indeed fighting its way back into the nation’s elite programs.

“It’s been a while since we’ve gotten the opportunity to be in this situation,” Ash said. “It’s taken a lot of hard work. We don’t need to forget that.”

 

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