By Cam Huffman
AUSTIN, Texas —
The eyes of Texas — and the nation — were upon No. 8 West Virginia Saturday.
And they had to be impressed with what they saw.
In front of the biggest crowd ever to watch a WVU football game — and at 101,851, the largest in the history of Darrel K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium — the Mountaineers responded to plenty of adversity to knock off No. 11 Texas 48-45 in their first Big 12 road trip. They improved to 5-0 and strengthened quarterback Geno Smith’s hold on the top of the Heisman Trophy list.
“Our guys don’t care (about the surroundings),” said head coach Holgorsen. “They just like to go play. With all due respect to Texas — it’s a phenomenal program — our guys just worry about themselves, and they did what they had to do.”
In a game dominated by offense — with very little defense — the final outcome was determined largely by special teams. WVU kicker Tyler Bitancurt responded, after having his first field goal attempt blocked, with field goals of 37 and 41 yards, while Texas’ Anthony Fera missed what was likely the biggest kick of his career.
Down 41-38 with less than 6 minutes to play, Fera hooked a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right, failing to tie the game.
WVU responded with a eight-play, 76-yard drive that ate the clock and put the biggest regular-season win of second-year head coach Dana Holgorsen’s career on ice.
Andrew Buie — who had a career night with 207 yards on 31 carries, including a pair of touchdown runs — finished it off with a 4-yard touchdown scamper.
“The offensive line did everything for me,” said Buie. “They opened up all the creases, and all I had to do was just run and trust them.”
Texas did add a late touchdown on an 8-yard pass from David Ash to Marquise Goodwin with 15 ticks on the clock, but WVU’s special teams made one final play when Nana Kyeremeh recovered an onside kick to officially end the Longhorns’ hopes. The large contingent of Mountaineer fans that made the journey across the country celebrated late into the Texas night.
The Mountaineers’ much-maligned defense, which was almost non-existent for parts of the night, also played a large role in the final few minutes.
After stopping one Texas drive with a fourth-down stop early in the final quarter, only to give the ball right back to Texas on a Geno Smith fumble, Joe DeForest’s unit came through again. It kept the Longhorns out of the end zone on a drive that started on the 12-yard line, forcing the late field goal that missed the mark.
WVU held Texas to just 14 points in the second half.
“We just had to come back when we needed it,” said WVU safety Darwin Cook. “We just made a couple adjustments at halftime, and the coaches did a good job.”
Otherwise, the story, as expected, was all offense.
Smith finished the game 25 of 35 for 268 yards and four touchdowns, and he handled pressure well, despite fumbling on two of four sacks. He stepped up in the face of the Texas blitz time after time, finding open receivers and keeping drives alive.
Tavon Austin was his favorite target, catching 10 passes for 102 yards, while Stedman Bailey pulled in eight Smith passes for 75 yards and three scores.
The Mountaineer offense converted 5 of 5 fourth-down attempts, scored on all seven trips to the red zone and ended the night with 460 yards of offense, a surprising 192 of those yards on the ground.
“Defenses are going to adjust, so if you can run the ball well, it helps out,” said WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. “We made an emphasis to run the ball. When teams have a weak box, you have to run the football. It was a challenge to our offense, and they responded.”
Those efforts topped a solid Texas performance that included a 269-yard passing effort from David Ash and a career-high four-touchdown effort from running back Joe Bergeron, who had just 45 total yards but a nose for the end zone.
WVU had a chance to really take control in the opening half and avoid the late-game drama after driving 72 yards on 11 plays to go ahead 21-7 on a 4-yard Buie rush early in the second quarter. The Mountaineers had scored on two Smith touchdown passes — one to Bailey and the other to Austin — and were mixing the run with the pass. The defense was shutting down Texas’ run game and was coming off a pair of stops.
On Texas’ first play of the ensuing drive, the news got worse for the home team.
After catching a screen pass from Ash, Goodwin turned up field, where Karl Joseph hit him hard and put his helmet on the football. The ball popped out, and, after an officials’ review, it was determined that Isaiah Bruce recovered at the 38-yard line.
Chants of “Let’s Go Mountaineers” filled the stadium, and WVU was in position to go up three scores when the game completely turned.
The drive was a disaster from the start — beginning with a 4-yard loss when Buie and Smith couldn’t decide who should have the ball — and getting worse when Smith was sacked for a 13-yard loss.
WVU was forced to punt, and a 26-yarder off the foot of Michael Molinari gave the the Longhorns some hope.
They responded with a quick touchdown drive, a 49-yard Jonathan Gray rush the big play, that cut the lead to 21-14 on a Bergeron 2-yard score. It was his second touchdown of the game.
Less than two minutes later, the game was tied.
On a third-and-14 play deep in WVU territory, Smith never saw Alex Okafor coming from his blindside. Smith was hit hard, and the ball came loose. Jackson Jeffcoat fell on it in the end zone, tying the game at 21-all.
WVU got the lead back on a 37-yard Bitancurt field goal — a big confidence booster after the first-quarter block. But Texas took its first lead on its next possession when Ash completed back-to-back passes for 26 and 24 yards to drive deep into Mountaineer territory. Bergeron capped it off with another touchdown run, putting Texas ahead 28-24 as the home crowd partied to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
WIth just 1:09 left before halftime, WVU tried to respond, but Buie tripped over his own feet on what should have been a touchdown, a rare mistake on a memorable night. Instead of another 7, it was a 24-yard gain to the Texas 17-yard line, and after Smith was sacked again WVU was forced to settle for a 41-yard Bitancurt field goal.
Texas went to the locker room clinging to a 28-27 lead, but the Mountaineers made adjustments and picked up their first road win against a Top 15 team since beating Boston College 17-14 to cap off an undefeated season in 1993.
“You can’t count us out,” said Bailey. “They counted us out today, and we were able to come up with a big win. We just need to keep taking it a game at a time.”
WVU will be back in the Lonestar State next week, at Texas Tech. Texas will take on Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout.
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No. 8 WEST VIRGINIA 48, No. 11 TEXAS 45
WVU (5-0) 14 13 7 14 — 48
UT (4-1) 7 21 10 7 — 45
WVU: Bailey 8 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 12:53.
UT: Bergeron 2 run (Fera kick), 9:22.
WVU: Austin 40 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 1:55.
WVU: Buie 4 run (Bitancurt kick), 12:22.
UT: Bergeron 2 run (Fera kick), 8:45.
UT: Jeffcoat recovered fumble in end zone (Fera kick), 7:37.
WVU: FG Bitancurt 37, 4:51.
UT: Bergeron 1 run (Fera kick), 1:14.
WVU: FG Bitancurt 41, :00.
UT: FG Fera 38, 7:35.
WVU: Bailey 9 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 4:32.
UT: Bergeron 4 run (Fera kick), :29.
WVU: Bailey 6 pass from G.Smith (Bitancurt kick), 10:50.
WVU: Buie 5 run (Bitancurt kick), 1:18.
UT: Goodwin 8 pass from Ash (Fera kick), :15.
Attendance — 101,851.
First downs 26 21
Rushes-yards 42-192 39-135
Passing 268 269
Comp-Att-Int 25-35-0 22-29-0
Return Yards 3 0
Punts-Avg. 1-26.0 1-47.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-Yards 5-47 4-35
Time of Possession 29:50 30:10
RUSHING — WVU: Buie 31-207, Garrison 3-13, Austin 1-6, Team 1-(minus 1), G.Smith 6-(minus 33). UT: Gray 14-87, Bergeron 17-45, Ash 4-10, Da.Johnson 2-8, Goodwin 1-1, Team 1-(minus 16).
PASSING — WVU: G.Smith 25-35-0-268. UT: Ash 22-29-0-269.
RECEIVING — WVU: Austin 10-102, Bailey 8-75, Buie 3-66, Woods 2-24, Thompson 2-1. UT: Hills 6-67, Shipley 5-58, Goodwin 4-24, M.Davis 3-20, Grant 2-30, Da.Johnson 1-46, McFarland 1-24.