AUSTIN, Texas — The Monday Morning Stock Report always enjoys its visits here, even though Saturday’s 33-16 loss to the Longhorns didn’t pack much drama.
At least the locals were ecstatic about Texas climbing back to .500. OK, they were somewhat ecstatic, with an announced crowd of 95,714 still 5,000 shy of a sellout yet representing UT’s largest draw of the season. (Guess West Virginia can hang its hat on being a solid road draw, though Attendance Truthers spotted lots of empties.)
But the MMSR isn’t here to count heads or take selfies with Bevo. It’s about what happens on the field, where the Mountaineers dipped to 6-4 in their most disappointing game of 2014:
Clint Trickett’s 36 completions equaled the number he produced in the previous two games combined and his 73-percent completion rate was his best since Week 3 against Maryland. The flurry of short throws however resulted in Trickett passing for 248 yards and failing to throw a TD for the first time since being knocked out of last year’s Texas game.
Trickett said his interception by Quandre Diggs was a result of “the kid totally jumped the route and put all his eggs in one basket.” Trickett also lost a fumble on a blind-side sack, but operated the offense with more poise than he showed against TCU.
“I thought Clint was much more comfortable in the pocket, even though he got pressured and he got hit,” said coach Dana Holgorsen. “He did a great job of going through his reads and getting the ball to his receivers.”
Though WVU didn’t take many downfield shots, Trickett narrowly overthrew a wide-open Mario Alford in the third quarter.
Dreamius Smith compiled 100 yards and a touchdown, all in the second half, with a big chunk coming on a 62-yarder in the fourth quarter. He continues to be WVU’s best breakaway threat though he’s not as productive in short-yardage situations as Rushel Shell and Wendell Smallwood.
Shell re-injured his ankle and departed after four carries for 22 yards. Smallwood gained 45 yards on 13 carries with a 3-yard TD.
Smith’s four receptions for 20 yards led the group, while Smallwood caught four for 10.
After two quiet games, Kevin White returned to form with a school-record 16 catches, benefiting from coaches designing more underneath routes. He finished with 132 yards but no touchdowns, a tradeoff the Texas defense was willing to accept.
Jordan Thompson caught five passes for 43 yards, while Alford managed only 31 yards on five receptions, unable to slip tackles on quick screens.
Three sacks by Cedric Reed on 54 drop-backs wasn’t the abject disaster enacted last season when Texas pass rushers took turns battering the quarterbacks. But two of Reed’s sacks resulted in a safety and a fumble.
The lack of a running game in the first half put West Virginia in a hole, and the line struggled to finish drives—leading to only two touchdowns on eight trips into Texas territory.
“Obviously it gets tougher in the red zone because the field gets shorter, but that’s probably not a very god excuse for why we played poorly,” said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “I thought they came out and at times just palyed harder than we did. That’s evident when you get in situations like that. You’ve got to bow your neck and push them off the ball and create some opportunities for yourself.”
West Virginia’s first-year starters at the tackles have become a liability in pass protection, leading to the large volume of running plays.
Defensive end Noble Nwachukwu made five tackles, including an athletic play to chase down quarterback Tyrone Swoopes on a bootleg. He thought WVU’s front six occasionally had incorrect run fits stemming from Texas running scouted plays out of slightly altered formations.
Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson was particularly upset over the Longhorns averaging 8 yards per carry in the first half.
“We came out sluggish and couldn’t stop the run. That’s 100 percent on me,” he said. “(Texas) controlled the line of scrimmage and did what they wanted to do. They were just better than us.”
A scene from the first-half horror story: Johnathan Gray running through Edward Muldrow’s arms on his way to a 39-yard touchdown. Gray had a monstrous first half when Texas piled up 24 points and eclipsed its scoring output from five previous games.
In the second half, WVU allowed only 2.8 yards per carry. Gibson just wanted that level of effort at the outset.
“We decided to play in the second half. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
Daryl Worley made his third interception of the season, and the secondary won most of the battles against Texas receivers. Swoopes finished just 11-of-29 passing, which included a 3-of-15 line in the second half when Gibson turned up the heat with zero blitzes.
But Karl Joseph’s missed tackle sprang Gray on the long touchdown run, and K.J. Dillon was ejected with 3:11 to play for unsportsmanlike conduct after UT’s final touchdown. Unless Big 12 officials overturn the ruling, Dillon must miss the first half of the next game against Kansas State.
Forgive Josh Lambert’s miss from 54 yards (he couldn’t stay perfect from 50-plus forever), but his wide-left try from 40 was out-of-character. Lambert’s only make was from 22—not a typical day for the Lou Groza semifinalist.
Vernon Davis fielded two punts cleanly, fumbled one that WVU recovered and couldn’t track down another that wound up bouncing 63 yards. Punter Nick O’Toole wasn’t at his best (40.8-yard average with a 34-yard net).
The bright spot? Mario Alford averaged 35 yards on two kick returns and narrowly missed taking one the distance.
Kudos to the offensive staff for reinvigorating White in the passing game, yet West Virginia’s 16 points matched the lowest output of the season. (Don’t forget: Texas gave up 41 to BYU in September and 45 to Iowa State just two weeks ago.)
The defensive backslide in the first half was jarring, especially with Gibson placing an emphasis on stopping the one thing Texas did well.
A narrow loss to TCU completed a five-week stretch where West Virginia showed how good it can be when it plays with energy and determination. Saturday’s performance did not contain either of those elements.