The Big 12 standings are sure to be shaken up on Saturday when West Virginia visits 22nd-ranked Texas in Austin. The action kicks off at noon ET on ABC.
Both programs are coming off massive wins from the week previous. The Mountaineers (4-2, 3-2 Big 12) earned their first ranked win of the 2020 season in convincing fashion, taking down No. 16 Kansas State at home, 37-10. Texas, on the other hand, fought hard to take down sixth-ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater — ultimately prevailing 41-34 in an overtime thriller.
The all-time series between Texas and West Virginia has been hotly contested. Although their shared history dates back to a Mountaineer victory in 1956, the bulk of their games have come since WVU’s entrance into the Big 12 in 2012. Since that point, the series has been even at 4-4 — but all-time, the Mountaineers have a one-game edge.
Through the nine meetings between Texas and West Virginia, a peculiar trend has developed that favors the visiting Mountaineers on Saturday: only twice has the home team come out victorious — Texas won at home in 2014, then WVU won the next season in Morgantown.
Of course, this season in the Big 12 (or really, the year 2020 as a whole) has shown that trends are meant to be broken — especially when both teams enter this contest with a lot of firepower on both sides of the ball. Here are some of the top storylines heading into this game:
Sam Ehlinger is “baaaack,” and he’s better than ever
The Big 12’s leader in total offense so far this season is Longhorn quarterback Sam Ehlinger. The signal caller averages 322.2 total yards per game, 275 of which come through the air.
These figures are a dip from a year ago, but just by a little. More importantly, though, is the fact that he leads the top offense in the conference that scores 44.3 points per game.
“Ehlinger is a winner. I love to watch him play, I love to watch him compete,” said WVU coach Neal Brown. “And I think they take on his demeanor. When they’re playing well, he’s definitely their leader.”
Last season, Ehlinger was held to 211 yards and two touchdowns, as well as an interception — but in his first start against the Mountaineers in 2018, Ehlinger had a day with 354 yards and three touchdowns.
Two tough defenses square off
West Virginia’s defense is stout — stout enough to hold the top spot in the Big 12 through five league games.
The emergence of Tony Fields has been a major boost to the Mountaineers on that side of the ball, as he sits second in the Big 12’s tackling column despite missing nearly all of WVU’s clash with Texas Tech after picking up a targeting penalty. The next week against Kansas State, he made up for lost time with a career-high 15 tackles.
That’s not to take anything away from the Texas defense, as a lot of the credit for their successes should go to that unit. Led by junior linebacker Joseph Ossai, the Longhorns have gotten a conference-high 12 takeaways — two of which came from forced fumbles in their win against Oklahoma State.
Can the Mountaineers stay strong in the air?
West Virginia’s passing attack has had a hot string of games, with quarterback Jarret Doege going for 300-plus yards in three straight games. These numbers have helped boost Doege to the number two spot in the conference for passing average.
The native Texan has a real shot at keeping this streak alive, as the Longhorns have the ninth-ranked pass defense in the Big 12, allowing 277.5 passing yards per contest.
It’s quite apparent that Doege and his receivers have a newfound swagger after drops marred their loss to Texas Tech. He went for 301 yards and two touchdowns without an interception the next week against Kansas State, leading WVU to their statement win.
“We wanted to make a statement [against] Kansas State just ’cause we didn’t perform well enough [against] Texas Tech and Kansas,” said quarterback Jarret Doege. “…When you get knocked down, you can’t just stay down. We wanted to pop up and bounce back and show people that we can be a really good offense.”
Where to watch
The action kicks off at noon ET on ABC. Be sure to stick with Gold and Blue Nation as we will have live updates right here on our website, as well as highlights soon after the final whistle.
Before kickoff, be sure to tune in to your West Virginia Nexstar Station for the newest episode of The Neal Brown Show. Don’t change the channel when it’s over, as we’ll kick off your Saturday with a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay, featuring Anjelica Trinone from Austin and Nick Farrell and Amanda Mazey in studio.