- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Though things might not seem this way right now, not after Texas dropped a 48-45 shootout at home to West Virginia in head-shaking fashion, so much actually went right for the Longhorns on this night.
Consider, for a second, everything that played out in Texas’ favor.
Geno Smith threw for 268 yards. He hasn’t thrown a pick in five games yet he fumbled twice against Texas. He got sacked four times, as many as he had been all season.
Between fumbles, field goal attempts and punts, West Virginia didn’t reach the end zone on six of its drives. WVU went 3 of 12 on third downs.
Texas wins the turnover battle. Texas scores a defensive touchdown. Texas blocks a field goal and a punt.
The list goes on, so long that even Mack Brown admitted it when asked about Texas’ good fortune after the game.
“If you had told me we would have done all those things,” Brown said, “I would’ve felt really good.”
This was as good a blueprint as you’ll find on how to beat West Virginia when the Mountaineers are playing their best. But stats weren’t winning this game, and Texas’ coaching staff had been saying that all week.
Despite all that had gone better than planned, this game came down to exactly what those coaches said it would come down to.
Texas couldn’t make a stop.
The Longhorns were supposed to have the Big 12’s best defense. On paper, it might’ve been the most talented starting 11 outside of SEC country. Who knows, it might still be down the road.
Right now, though, Texas can catch all the breaks in the world -- and it nearly did on Saturday night. Still have to make a stop.
“We knew that we were going to have to focus on getting stops,” cornerback Carrington Byndom said. “Throughout the game, that’s what our goal was. Just get one stop at a time.”
Rejecting West Virginia on third downs nine times is no doubt impressive. But Dana Holgorsen is no stranger to gambling. Five fourth-down attempts. Five conversions.
If the Mountaineers fail on any one of them, it’s a potential momentum swing. Every possession counts. Texas got a bitter reminder of that late in the first quarter.
That’s when, in an all-too-fitting break for West Virginia, the Longhorns did indeed stop the second fourth-down attempt of the night. Even managed to sack Geno Smith.
But a split second before that play snapped, Texas coaches called a timeout. Must not have liked how their defenders lined up.
Given a second chance, Smith hit Tavon Austin for a 40-yard touchdown. This was just that kind of a night for the Texas defense.
“So frustrating,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “You get into fourth down, they go for it and you’ve got to make a play. There were chances out there and we should’ve made plays.”
And yet, the Longhorns could’ve gotten away with all five of those fourth-down failures. No better opportunity arose than with 5:25 left in the game’s final quarter.
West Virginia took over following Anthony Fera’s missed 41-yard field goal. Three-point WVU lead, offense at its own 24. Texas knew was coming next.
The Longhorns lined up with no other goal than to stop running back Andrew Buie.
“Honestly, the defense we called, it was all to stop the run,” Vaccaro said. “They still ran it.”
Buie rushes for 6 yards. Then 11 yards. Then Texas takes him down for a 1-yard loss. So Smith finds Stedman Bailey for 13.
Back to the plan. Buie for 22, right down the middle. Buie for 6. Buie for 14. Buie for 5. Touchdown.
Eight plays. Four minutes and 13 seconds. No third downs. No stop. Ballgame.
“If you can run in a run defense, we’ve got problems,” Vaccaro said.
Added defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat: “We had plays in to stop that. It just didn’t work.”
For all the missed opportunities and missed tackles that Texas can dwell on, what mattered in the end wasn’t who blinked first but rather who blinked last.
West Virginia can drive 80 yards with its eyes closed. But its run game usually can’t. In this game, that’s all it took to finish off a Longhorn defense that's still struggling to find its footing in the spread-happy Big 12.
This was a shootout, plain and simple. Texas had lots of ammunition. When the game was on the line, though, it didn't have an answer for West Virginia’s musket.