WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

BLOG: WVU faces Texas always-evolving Texas defense

The final home game of the regular season pits West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) in a battle of strength-vs-strength between its explosive offense and Texas’ (5-5, 4-3) tough defense that’s been limiting Big 12 teams to season lows all year long.

WVU goes for its third win in a row, while the Longhorns try to escape Morgantown with a win and a spot in a postseason bowl game.

Texas’ defense has been one of the main sticking points when talking about the matchup, and that’s where we’ll start.

“Flavor of the Week” Defense

Despite all the prep work imaginable, there are a few things the Mountaineers won’t know about the Longhorns prior to kickoff Saturday, and one of those things is how much blitzing UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is going to do.

Earlier in the week, WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital equated the blitzing tendencies – or lack thereof – to a “flavor of the week.” Some weeks the defense leans heavily on the blitz, other weeks it’s 50-50, and others Texas drops back into coverage more times than not.

Stop the run, Contain the pass

Something that hasn’t waned from week to week has been the Longhorns ability to stop the run. Texas ranks second in the Big 12 in rush defense, scoring defense and total defense, one of the reasons it’s played a number of close games this year.

One downside to the defense has been its inconsistency in stopping opposing passing attacks, of which WVU has one of the best.

Bombs away punting

Longhorn punter Michael Dickson was said to be the “best punter I’ve ever seen,” by Dana Holgorsen Tuesday.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time nearing five seconds according to Holgorsen.

Two-QB System

Whether it’s inconsistent play, indecisiveness on part of the coaching staff, or the plan all along, Texas has been rolling with two quarterbacks splitting playing time for most of the year.

For the second week in a row, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson enters Saturday not knowing for sure which quarterback his defense will be lining up in front of.

Shane Buechele is the listed starter on the depth chart, with Sam Ehlinger listed as the backup.

According to coaches, Buechele is the better passer of the two – evidence being his higher completion percentage – and Ehlinger is more of an athletic quarterback used to hurting opposing teams with his feet.

Not much of a run game

Texas’ offense hasn’t seen consistent production on the ground, being held under 100 rushing yards as a team four times this season, including ending the game two weeks ago against TCU with just nine rushing yards.

Ehlinger has arguably been the Longhorns best runner this season.

Of the three times this season that a single Texas rusher has eclipsed 100 rushing yards, Ehlinger has accomplished it twice.

Relief could be on the way, though, for the Longhorns, who get back starting left tackle Connor Williams.

Blog: Holgorsen has plenty of praise for Texas defense

High praise for the Texas Longhorns (5-5, 4-3) highlighted No. 24 West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) head coach Dana Holgorsen’s meeting with the media Tuesday.

Among those kudos was calling the Texas defense the best the Mountaineers have faced this season; the latest in a long line of stout defenses that WVU has faced this year. According to the head coach, as well as assistant coaches and players, WVU has its work cut out for them this weekend, and it starts when going up against the Longhorn defense.

Versatile defense

Holgorsen highlighted the front six or seven of the Texas D. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital spoke highly of the secondary.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, offensively,” Holgorsen said. “It’s the best defense we’ve faced.”

The head coach talked about the experience of the Longhorns on that side of the ball – noting that UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has, “Fifteen juniors and five seniors.”

Listed on the depth chart is a total of 17 upperclassmen, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more waiting on the sideline. Spavital talked about the number of blitz packages that WVU could have to defend, coming from all areas of the field. Based on the talk Tuesday, Orlando should remind West Virginia fans of their own defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson, in that both will blitz on any given down if it feels right.

QB Carousel, Part 2

For the second week in a row, Gibson and company enter the week scratching their heads about which opposing quarterback they see. This week, though, it may be more of a matter of when than if.

According to coaches, listed starter Shane Buechele is more of a passer with a big arm that can run when needed. Listed backup Sam Ehlinger, who has started half of the Longhorns’ games this season, is more of an athletic quarterback that can hurt teams with his arm.

Asked how that affects game planning, Holgorsen said it can create a challenge, but mainly if the difference in quarterbacks dictates a different play calling need or strategy to stop him versus the other option.

Highly Praised Punter

Without being asked about him, Holgorsen talked about Longhorn punter Michael Dickson.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time, according to Holgorsen, that’s nearing five seconds.

That prompted Holgorsen to say this:

“Dude needs to go pro right now,” Holgorsen said. “He’s just a junior, but he needs to hurry up and get his degree and go pro. He’s that good.”

Still Looking for Consistency

When asked about his own offense, Holgorsen echoed some of the sentiments he made known after Saturday’s game, saying he wants the offense to be more consistent.

Tuesday he continued by saying that he’d like to see more consistent results on offense no matter who the Mountaineers are facing, and no matter what facet of the game you’re talking about – be it passing game, run game, blocking, etc.

Senior Week

Saturday’s game against Texas will be the final home game for the 20 seniors on the Mountaineer roster.

One oddity of this year’s senior class is that it’s split right down the middle. There are 10 fourth- and fifth-year seniors, and 10 junior college transfers. The best example of that split is with the White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir. The former came to Morgantown after two years at Lackawanna College, and the latter has only played college football in the Old Gold and Blue.

“This is the end of the White era. That is sad,” Holgorsen said.

Holgorsen said his two “main guys” with this team have been Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman, adding that the White brothers have also been special, but saying that all the seniors have been, not wanting to single or leave anyone out.

Big 12 Stock Evaluation

Non-conference play is a good litmus test for teams and conferences to see where they stand against their competitors.

Only four Big 12 teams – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech – remain undefeated through the first three weeks of the season, meaning their stock is in good shape.

On the other end of the spectrum, Baylor (0-3) is the only Power-5 team to have played two or more games that remains without a win, and with its upcoming schedule including at least two ranked opponents, you couldn’t sell its stock to anyone if you were an owner.

As for the rest of the conference, their stock remains somewhat in question. But here are a few answers.

Texas – Sell Now

Texas is back? It’s a question asked for a few years now that seems to have an answer, but comes into question on a semi-weekly basis.

The Longhorns looked good against USC Saturday, but are still not “back,” which is why you should sell.

After a bye week, Tom Herman’s club hits the road to take on an Iowa State team that knows it should be undefeated at this point. Following their trip to Ames, the Longhorns must face Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Stiff competition could bring out the best in Texas, but the program’s fourth 1-2 start in the last five years and the schedule that looms suggests otherwise.

Texas Tech – Buy Cautiously

In just two games, Texas Tech’s offense has put up 110 points and new quarterback Nic Shimonek is just 73 yards short of 1,000 passing yards. The post-Patrick-Mahomes-era is off to a good start.

The Red Raiders will look to move to 3-0 this weekend at Houston, but starting there things get tricky. The Cougar defense is giving up less than 10 points per game so far.

Next up is Oklahoma State, another quality defense. A trap-game trip to Kansas follows. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense will be tested over the next two weeks.

If you’re in a buying mood, take a look at the Red Raiders, but re-evaluate after Saturday.

West Virginia – Buy

Dana Holgorsen’s offense has been gaining yards at a frantic pace over the first three weeks of the season, and is coming off back-to-back 50-plus point performances.

The offense has been clicking and should continue to this weekend against the Jayhawks. The defense has not been as fluid, but potentially three consecutive weeks of a point differential of 30 or more looks good on paper, at least.

West Virginia will then have a week off to prepare for a trip to Dallas to face a ranked Horned Frog team.

Buy the Mountaineers for this reason: The schedule is still very manageable at this point. WVU should be no worse than 5-2, potentially 6-1, heading into its home game on October 28 against Oklahoma State. With that being the case, there is going to be a good return on investment for when the schedule strengthens up.

Oklahoma – Buy it all

The Sooners rank as the 12th-best defense in the Power-5 in terms of points allowed.

Oklahoma has already played what looks to be its toughest test until November, and Baker Mayfield has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country thus far.

With it looking more likely than not that the Sooners will enter the Bedlam rivalry undefeated, you should be all in on Oklahoma.


Big 12 Notebook: Week 2

Seven of the 10 teams in the Big 12 started the season on the right foot with wins last weekend. Arguably the biggest story line from the conference was Texas’ loss at home to Maryland, and that’s where we start this week’s Big 12 Notebook.

Longhorn Defense Anything but Perfect

After Tom Herman said in his Monday press conference that he thought his players tried to play “perfect” in their loss Saturday, almost every available player was asked about that Tuesday during Longhorn player availability.

Although some players denied that the team tried to play perfect, others agreed with the head coach.

“Definitely, it was more a sense of trying to be perfect, trying to be 100 percent on each and every play,” said linebacker Naashon Hughes.

Others agreed that during film review earlier this week, there were plenty of things that stood out.

“We didn’t look like (a) team,” said PJ Locke III. “Just didn’t look confidant, didn’t go full speed, kind of overthinking basically.”

Texas’ defense surrendered 263 rushing yards and four touchdowns on the ground to the Terps. One positive was that the Longhorns limited Maryland to just 3 of 11 on third downs.

Baylor loses RB for next month

Sophomore running back JaMycal Hasty is expected to miss a “minimum of four weeks” with a straight right knee. Hasty carried 11 times for 56 yards before sustaining the injury in Baylor’s 48-45 loss to Liberty, which was playing in its first game at the FBS level.

New QBs shine in Week 1

Many wondered what the status of the Texas Tech offense would be in the first season after Patrick Mahomes.

Early indications show that not much has changed.

In his first career start, Nic Shimonek completed each of his first 14 passes and ended the day with 384 passing yards in TTU’s 56-10 rout of Eastern Washington.

Kansas and West Virginia also saw good things out of their new QBs.

Jayhawk passer Peyton Bender completed 23 of 37 attempts for 364 yards and four scores in the Kansas win.

Will Grier, named Big 12 Player of the Week, was asked to throw the ball 53 times, completing 31 of those throws for 371 yards and three trips to the end zone. He also showed the ability to extend plays with his feet.

Bender’s showing is especially exciting for Jayhawk fans because of this:

Big 12 Football Predictions: Week 3

In this Saturday, April 15, 2017 file photo, Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph throws during an intra squad spring NCAA college football game in Stillwater, Okla. Oklahoma State believes Rudolph has a shot at the Heisman Trophy. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

At this point conference play is so close the players can almost taste it. But one more buffer week remains separating league play in the Big 12.

Week 3 Matchups

Saturday, Sept. 16 — Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh

Delaware State at West Virginia

Iowa State at Akron

Baylor at Duke

Kansas at Ohio


Tulane at Oklahoma

Kansas State at Vanderbilt

Arizona State at Texas Tech

Texas at USC

Biggest Game

When the Longhorns defeated Notre Dame last season, plenty of people thought it was the sign that big time football was back in Austin. We were wrong. Maybe a little over a year later, when Texas goes on the road to Southern California to take on the Trojans of USC, could be a truer indication.

Potential Upset

Baylor’s only trip out of the Central Time Zone sends Matt Rhule and the Bears to Duke, a traditional basketball school that has made strides in recent history on the gridiron. The Bears are currently favored, but this is their first true competition in 2017.


OK-State (35-16); WVU (55-17); ISU (22-14); TCU (38-20); Oklahoma (45-14); K-State (24-21); TTU (55-50)


Baylor (25-30); Kansas (14-20); Texas (24-38)


T1. OK-State 3-0

K-State 3-0

WVU 3-0

Iowa State 3-0

5. TCU 2-1

Oklahoma 2-1

Baylor 2-1

Texas 2-1

9. TTU 1-1

Kansas 1-2

Big 12 Notebook – August 14     

Texas Tech reinstates QB

Texas Tech has allowed redshirt freshman quarterback Jett Duffey to resume practicing with the team after he served a two-semester suspension. Duffey was suspended by the university in January after being found responsible for two counts of sexual misconduct.

Duffey was the No. 13 dual threat quarterback in the 2015 recruiting class by 247Sports, and despite the suspension, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in February that he expects Duffey to, “slide right in and be very good.”


WVU’s Simms arrested

West Virginia wide receiver Marcus Simms was arrested early Sunday morning, and charged with DUI and driving with a revoked license. Neither WVU or the team have commented on the incident.


Gundy reacts to scrimmage

Oklahoma State held its first scrimmage Sunday morning, and head coach Mike Gundy addressed the media afterwards about the team’s progress.

The head coach, who recently celebrated his 50th birthday, said he likes where the team is at, but there are still decisions to be made at backup quarterback, running back and, “we’ve got to decide who’s going to be out there first in the secondary.”


Texas RB sustains injury

Chris Warren, the top returning running back for the Texas Longhorns, sustained a concussion during last Thursday’s practice, the latest in a history of injuries for the junior.

“He was having a good camp,” Herman. “He’s alert. He’s in the protocol. If he’s still out this time next week, yeah, that would be concerning. But right now, I’m not too concerned.”

Warren missed most of last season with a year-ending knee injury. He rushed for 366 yards through the first four games of the season before suffering the injury.

This is just the latest in a slew of injuries felt in the Longhorn camp. Right tackle Elijah Rodriguez, who was battling for a starting spot, underwent surgery on his right ankle Thursday. There is no timetable for his return.

Big 12 Notebook – August 10

AP photo
AP photo | Hey guys, Tom Herman isn’t jazzed about his team’s special teams play, either.


With football teams across the Big 12 landscape heading towards the midway point in fall training camp and practices before the start of the 2017 season, there are a number of points to go over.

But here are a few of the biggest notes from camps are some of the contenders in the conference, and one saddening note from off the gridiron.

Tom Herman, Texas HC

  • One similarity between WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen and Texas head coach Tom Herman’s media availabilities this week have been the importance of special teams. The Longhorns fell victim to four blocked kicks last year, which Herman said was, “unacceptable.”

“One blocked kick on the year, whether it be a PAT, field goal or punt is too many, and the stats back that up,” Herman said to reporters.

  • Herman’s first year in Austin should be highlighted by his quarterback Shane Buechele, offensively. However, the running back position could be a potential issue if no one emerges as the true lead back, as is the case so far according to the head coach. He did say, though, that’s OK as long as multiple tailbacks are putting in good work in practice.

“Would you like a guy to really, really separate himself? Yeah,” Herman said. “But if they don’t, but they’re all playing to an above-average to a winnable level, then I think that’s a good thing.

Texas is replacing the Big 12-leading rusher from a year ago D’Onta Foreman.

Oklahoma State

  • The Cowboys have been said by just about all college football experts to be one of the two best teams in the Big 12. Sports Illustrated recently went as far as to predict that Mike Gundy’s team would be one of the four to make the College Football Playoff. If that were to happen, OK-State would be the second team from the conference to make the CFP.

Both Gundy and his senior quarterback Mason Rudolph said it’s good for the program to get that sort of national attention. But, Gundy did say Rudolph and some of the other senior leaders have been a big help to him managing team expectations.


  • Defensively there has been a shift in the scheming in Norman. The Sooners have made the change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 base defense, and even though it hasn’t been deployed in a regular season game yet, Oklahoma players appear to like the change.

“Honestly I just feel more free because there are fewer guards getting to me fast and more holes to fill,” senior linebacker Emmanuel Beal said to reporters Tuesday. “It allows us linebackers to play faster.”

Texas Tech

  • The Red Raiders are mourning the recent loss of incoming freshman Luke Gonsioroski, who passed away Monday after battling cancer.