Familiar problems resurface as West Virginia falls to 0-2 in Big 12 play

AUSTIN, Tx. — Defensive deficiencies and a string of dropped passes at critical moments were key culprits in West Virginia’s losses to Pittsburgh and Kansas to open up the season. Both aspects of the game returned at inopportune times in West Virginia’s 38-20 loss at Texas Saturday evening at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.

West Virginia’s defense allowed a season-high 446 yards to the Longhorns. Second-string signal caller Hudson Card, who the Mountaineers kept in check in last season’s meeting in Morgantown, set season-highs in passing yards (303) and touchdown passes (3). Once again, the WVU secondary struggled to win one-on-one matchups against Texas’ receivers.

“Tonight, we threw every one of them out there. We got some guys injured also. Two of the guys who play in the secondary got injured,” said WVU head coach Neal Brown. “[Andrew] Wilson-Lamp was probably the bright spot tonight. He did some better things in the secondary. We’ve got who we’ve got. We’ve got to play better and we’ve got to put them in a better position to make plays.”

Oct 1, 2022; Austin, Texas, USA; Texas Longhorns running back Roschon Johnson (2) runs for yards during the first half against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

While the 38 points the Mountaineers allowed were a season-worst, so were the 20 points scored. All aspects of the WVU offense were contained by the Texas defense until the final drive of the first half, and a succession of dropped passes stymied the Mountaineers.

“It was an issue. You think about it in the first half and I know we had five. If you catch those balls, I don’t know if we win and I don’t want to discredit what Texas did, but it is a different story. I get to the point where, man, I am just tired of talking about it. It has been an issue on and off again and it was huge,” Brown said.

“You get in these matches where they are obviously making some explosive plays, and you have opportunities to make plays of your own. If you don’t checkmate that, it is tough sledding. And we didn’t checkmate them in the first half.”

“We are trying to be elite receivers. Any time the ball touches our hands, if it is in our radius, we have to catch it. We didn’t do that early, which hurt the team,” said WVU redshirt junior receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton. He led West Virginia with 8 receptions for 93 yards.

West Virginia’s rushing game never gained traction after moving the ball effectively in every game in September. The Mountaineers averaged just over 2 yards per tote (30 rushes for 61 yards). WVU’s previous low in rushing yards was a 146-yard performance against Kansas.

“I thought the rushing game was going to be a factor and they outrushed us. We struggled. They mixed up their front. Their big guys in the middle, we felt that was their strength. It was strength-on-strength and their strength won,” Brown said.

WVU’s fate was sealed when Texas scored touchdown drives on four consecutive possessions with the Mountaineers unable to answer any until the final drive of the first half. Brown says his team showed some fight by outscoring UT 13-10 in the second half.

“We played better and competed better in the second half. But it was a little too late. But I do credit our guys for coming out and competing in the second half,” Brown said.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) enters their bye week as the only Big 12 team with a losing record and they are one of just three teams without a win in league play (Iowa State, Oklahoma). WVU hosts Baylor on October 13.

Oct 1, 2022; Austin, Texas, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown argues a call during the second quarter against the Texas Longhorns at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

“It has been a tough five games. We’ve got a beat up crew,” Brown said. “We’ve got kind of half a bye week, not a real bye week. We need some time to regroup. We’ve got to get better and we know that. But I do think we have some pieces that can win games like this. In our league, that’s what we have the rest of the way, you’ve got a chance to win them all and you have a chance to lose them all. It is going to be real tightly-contested, not just for us but for everybody.”

“It is going to be on me, as well as the other seniors to step up, call out and call a spade a spade. Even my actions, I have to improve in certain things. The team has a lot of stuff to improve on,” Ford-Wheaton said.

“It will be helpful to get a breath of fresh air and just get back to the basics.”

“We’ve had a tough five games the past five weeks,” said WVU sophomore running back Justin Johnson Jr. “This bye week coming up, we are going to take full advantage of it, recover our bodies and study film for the next game we have next week and be a better football team.”

Brown is scheduled to meet with the media Tuesday afternoon, which is likely when the next health update on freshman running back CJ Donaldson will be announced. Donaldson left the field on a stretcher after being injured on a third-quarter rushing attempt. Donaldson was cleared to return to Morgantown with the team Saturday evening.

“It is really an emotional thing because of how close everybody on the team is. That’s our brother out there and for him to get carried off like that was disturbing. That was terrifying. We felt for him and there were a lot of tears in the huddle,” Ford-Wheaton said.

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