By Cam Huffman
West Virginia’s most memorable football moment as a member of the Big 12 came last October when the undefeated Mountaineers marched into Austin, Texas, and handed the Longhorns a 48-45 defeat.
Texas and head coach Mack Brown will make a visit to Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown tonight at 7 p.m., looking for payback and their sixth straight win in front of a gold and blue striped stadium and a FOX television audience.
The Mountaineers (4-5, 2-4 Big 12) won’t look much like the team the Longhorns saw a year ago. In WVU’s big win, Andrew Buie rushed for 207 yards, Stedman Bailey caught three Geno Smith touchdown passes, Tavon Austin caught another and Tyler Bitancurt kicked a pair of field goals.
None of those stars will be on the field under the lights tonight.
Instead, WVU will feature Charles Sims, who rushed for 154 yards in a win over TCU last week, and quarterback Clint Trickett, who has settled in as the starter and is coming off the best half of his career, according to head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Texas (6-2, 5-0 Big 12) not only will look different than the team that took the field a year ago, it’s also gone through a major transformation since the beginning of this season.
After a 1-2 start that included back-to-back losses to BYU (40-21) and Ole Miss (44-23), Brown, perhaps in an effort to save his own job, fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and brought in former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson to take over that position.
The Longhorns haven’t lost since, winning five straight, and their defense, which allowed more than 500 yards rushing against BYU, has actually turned into a strength.
Still perfect in conference play, UT is very much in the hunt for a Big 12 title, although its schedule is backloaded with No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 25 Texas Tech and No. 6 Baylor still ahead.
“It’s fun to watch the guys handle the adversity, pull together when everybody says they were through, come back, fight and overcome all of the things they had to overcome,” said Brown this week. “Now they’ve got to handle success.”
The Longhorns base their offense on the running game, with a trio of backs that can carry the load. Jonathan Gray leads the way with 724 yards and four touchdowns on the saeson.
David Ash has been ruled out with an injury, meaning Colt McCoy will likely take all the snaps at quarterback. The senior has completed 60 percent of his passes, but he’s thrown the same number of interceptions as touchdowns, with five of each.
“You can tell Mack Brown lit a fire under those guys,” said WVU defensive lineman Shaq Rowell. “Those guys are physical up front, and it’s going to be a tough challenge for us.”
Texas will be making its first trip to Morgantown, and it’s likely to find a rowdy atmosphere and cold weather for the first night game of the season. WVU is fighting for bowl eligibility and hoping the “Stripe the Stadium” promotion can lead to the same success it did in last year’s Big 12 opener when the Mountaineers beat Baylor 70-63.
“We’re not going to win the Big 12, and we understand that,” said Holgorsen. “We just want to improve and win the next game.”
— E-mail: chuffman
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.