MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A deeper look at the suddenly invigorated Texas Longhorns and the matchup problems they’ll present for West Virginia inside a striped stadium:
Johnathan Gray ranks second in the Big 12 in rushing (90.5 yards per game), but it’s Malcolm Brown who’s coming off a four-TD game against Kansas. The play of those five-star recruits has been so stellar that Joe Bergeron, who burned WVU for four touchdowns last season, may be an afterthought Saturday.
“I mean it just kind of shows you the talent at Texas that we have,” Brown said. “This team has just been blessed so much to have so much talent on this team and so many selfless guys that whoever scores, it doesn’t really matter.”
The Longhorns have become a run-first offense, bailing on early plans to use the uptempo spread attack.
“They tried to spread Iowa State out (on Oct. 3), but then the last three weeks they’ve used multiple tight ends, broad blocking surfaces, unbalanced (lines), running the power game,” WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “And they’ve got the backs to do that.”
After watching TCU throw it nearly 60 times last week, Patterson theorized Texas “might run it 60.”
Even after stuffing TCU’s run game, West Virginia still ranks only seventh (176 yards per game) in the Big 12 in rush defense.
“They’ve got the three great running backs in there, plus they’ve got the great offensive line,” said Mountaineers nose guard Shaq Rowell. “We have to be the most physical guys up front. If not, they’re going to run the ball down our throat.”
THE NEXT McCOY
Though he’ll never match big brother’s hero status, four straight wins as a starter (and David Ash’s concussions) have given Chase McCoy a chance at a conference championship legacy, something he and this group of Texas seniors have never accomplished.
McCoy continues to play through rough patches, having thrown five interceptions and only three touchdowns the past three games. That has drawn constructive criticism from a certain San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback.
“(Colt) always has some interesting things to tell me, and he’s pretty hard on me, too,” Chase said this week.
Linebacker Jared Barber sees an opportunity for West Virginia to fluster McCoy into more mistakes: “Once we get after him, hopefully he’ll get a little frustrated and we can bother him a little bit.”
THE ‘OTHER’ END
Bednarik semifinalist Jackson Jeffcoat has the NFL bloodlines and the team lead in sacks, but it’s Cedric Reed on the opposite side having the best all-around season. His 54 tackles lead the team, making him the only defensive lineman in the Big 12 to do so. He also has forced a team-high three fumbles, one shy of league leader Brandon Golson.
“I’ll put him up for the defensive player of the year award in the Big 12,” said Longhorns cornerback Quandre Diggs. “He’s always in the right place at the right time. Everything is happening for him, and heck, he’s leading the team in [pass breakups]. He does a little bit of everything. He can stop the run, also, and he gets after the passer.”
The 6-foot-6 junior with the even lengthier wingspan is seventh in the conference with 9.5 tackles for loss.
“With him, being a long guy, he’s able to use his length to his advantage,” said Jeffcoat, whose six sacks are one more than Reed. “He just sticks his arm out there, keeps linemen at bay, keeps them away from him, pushing them back into the quarterback.”
A QUANDRE FOR WHITE
After TCU’s Jason Verrett blanketed him into submission, West Virginia’s Kevin White will face a matchup against another NFL-caliber cornerback, Quandre Diggs.
The brother of longtime NFL standout Quentin Jammer, Diggs started the year switching to nickel back—the position previously manned by first-round draft pick Kenny Vaccaro. But with Texas playing more 3-4 recently, Diggs has returned to cornerback the past two games.
He’s also been outspoken about critics who panned Texas after its 1-2 start.
“We live life and we pay attention to things just like everybody else,” Diggs said. “At the beginning of the year everybody doubted us, nobody believed, and now you have people saying we’re playing some of the best ball in the country.”