On Saturday night, the Longhorns will square off with an explosive West Virginia team that scored 63 points last week in a match-up of unbeaten teams. We caught up with WVSports.com senior writer Keenan Cummings to get some insights on what makes the Mountaineers click.
1. Everyone knows of WVU's offensive talent, are there any weaknesses at all that could be exploited?
West Virginia has had a mixed bag with handling pressure so far this season. Against Maryland, the Terrapins did a good job of getting to Geno Smith early and getting some hits on him. But against Baylor, the Mountaineers did a much better job of picking up the blitz when the Bears did bring it.
Sure tackling is a must against West Virginia because those five-yard gains to Tavon Austin can quickly turn into touchdowns.
One thing that could really boost the West Virginia offense is the return of two seniors in running back Shawne Alston and fullback Ryan Clarke. Alston is the Mountaineers' best running back, and most physical, while Clarke is the best overall blocker on the team. Both of these players' chances of playing have yet to be determined but if they can play it will allow the Mountaineers to not rely as heavily on the pass and keep defenses guessing. If they are out, it will definitely be to Texas's advantage.
2. What can Texas expect to see out of the WVU offense? Any unsung heroes fans should watch out for?
West Virginia is going to throw the football and try to get the ball to its playmakers in space, either quickly or downfield. Geno Smith is very good at taking what a defense will give him and hasn't forced much this season as his numbers show.
But West Virginia isn't completely a passing team. It is extremely dangerous when it can run the football and as I mentioned above, the return of some of the injured players could be huge for the Mountaineers in that regard.
As for unsung heros, while Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin get all of the attention, West Virginia has two other receivers that are starting to play very well in senior J.D. Woods and true freshman Jordan Thompson. Keep an eye out for both.
3. Who are impact players on the WVU defense? What kind of scheme do they employ and where have they been most susceptible this year?
As a whole, West Virginia's defense is very young and is coming off a very poor performance against Baylor. The Mountaineers are in the first year of co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest's multiple 3-4 scheme and while they've given up yards, they've done a good job of forcing turnovers.
I don't think the defense is as bad as it looked at times against the Bears, but the group is susceptible to big plays in the passing game, especially on the outside. Overall, the group has played fairly well against the run, and the key will be if the Mountaineers can get pressure to help their secondary.
As far as impact players, redshirt freshman linebacker Isaiah Bruce has done an admirable job in his first year on the field, always being around the ball, while safety Darwin Cook has a knack for making big plays by forcing turnovers. Senior STAR linebacker Terence Garvin, who plays a safety/linebacker hybrid position, is a stalwart on the unit and has been through plenty of battles.
4. How strong is WVU on its offensive and defensive lines?
The offensive line is one of the strongest units on the team, as the group is very experienced with three seniors on the inside and a returning starter at right tackle. Geno Smith has been sacked only a handful of times this season and that group has done a very good job of protecting its quarterback from even being hurried. However, this will be its biggest challenge to date and it will be key for the Mountaineers to win those matchups on the outside against some of the dangerous pass rushers that Texas presents.
The defensive line is undersized, but it has played well this season, especially against the run. The line has struggled a bit to get pressure by itself in passing situations, but the group has been a pleasant surprise considering the Mountaineers lost their best two players from an already thin group a season ago.
5. This is the first big conference road test for WVU, what's the feel from those close to the program?
Honestly, the overall pulse I've gotten is this is just another game. It's obviously exciting to go down to Austin and play a program on the level of Texas, but this isn't the first time that West Virginia has been in big games over the past couple seasons. The Mountaineers have won three BCS games and traveled to both LSU and Auburn and were very competitive in those games until losing late.
I think there's definitely going to be some extra energy on both sides, but I don't expect that the hype to get to them. West Virginia understands that it has a great challenge in front of it if the Mountaineers want to come out of Austin with a victory.
6. How do you see this game playing out. Prediction?
I'm not one for predictions, but I think there are some keys that will decide this game.
First of all, how well West Virginia can protect Geno Smith against the Texas defenders and win the matchups on the outside both at tackle and wide receiver. Secondly, if the Mountaineers are able to run the football or if Texas can keep West Virginia completely one dimensional. Next on my list is how well West Virginia can slow down the Texas offensive attack, especially the run game and if it can get enough pressure on David Ash to make him uncomfortable. And finally, turnovers. It's the stat that often decides games and this one will be no different. These two teams both have taken care of the ball and a couple turnovers could go a long way towards deciding who will be leaving the field 2-0 in conference play.