Texas Longhorns: Geno Smith

Not long ago, Big 12 media days was an event worthy of a red carpet, with star-studded quarterbacks annually filling the halls.

Many -- like “Vince” and “Sam” -- were on a first-name basis with their fans. Others -- like “RG3” -- donned catchy nicknames.

This year, though, there were no rock stars at media days in Dallas. Because, well, there are no marquee quarterbacks returning.

As the SEC with defense, the Big 12 has become synonymous with quarterbacking. Of the past 13 quarterbacks taken in the first round of the NFL draft, six are Big 12 alums.

But these are foreign times in the conference. For a change, quarterbacking is the Big 12’s big unknown.

“We're in the same situation as seven or eight others,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who is replacing his school’s all-time leading passer, Geno Smith.

“Pretty much everyone is in the same boat.”

A boat that seats virtually everyone in the league.

Texas' David Ash is the Big 12's only expected starter who started more than five games last season. Six other teams are still officially involved in quarterback derbies, including Texas Tech, which could wind up starting true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield in its opener with projected starter Michael Brewer dealing with a back injury.

Such quarterback uncertainty has rendered the Big 12 as wide open as ever, with six teams receiving first-place votes in the league’s preseason poll.

“I think it would be unfair to even predict what could happen in the league this year,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who has hinted he won’t announce Clint Chelf or J.W. Walsh as the starter until the opener against Mississippi State. “You have a certain number of teams, five or six, who if they stay healthy and get quality quarterback play, have a chance to win the league.

“For the fans and for the media, this year is as exciting as it gets -- because I don’t think anyone really knows.”

But the lack of marquee returning quarterbacks is also predominantly why for the first time in its history the Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls. Oklahoma State was the league’s highest-ranked squad at No. 13.

Ash started every game but one for the Longhorns last season. But he also was benched against Kansas and TCU.

TCU’s Casey Pachall had a banner 2011 campaign. But he left four games into last season to seek treatment for substance abuse.

And while Chelf and Walsh both won games for the Cowboys as starters last year, it’s unclear at the moment which of the two will get the majority of snaps.

“The preseason polls for the majority in my opinion are based on returning quarterback play, because we all know how important quality quarterback play is to winning games,” Gundy said. “They look on paper and see there’s not a lot of returning quarterbacks in this league and so you’re not going to get recognized as much as other schools.”

Coaches and players around the conference, however, caution not to dismiss this batch of quarterbacks just because they’re new.

“There’ll be a bunch of names you’ll be talking about next year -- that they’re all back,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

While there’s no Vince Young, Sam Bradford or Robert Griffin III yet, there is talent.

Blake Bell and Trevor Knight, who are vying to replace four-year starter Landry Jones in Norman, were both four-star recruits. So was Kansas’ Jake Heaps, who sat out last season after transferring from BYU.

Baylor’s Bryce Petty had offers to play at Nebraska and Virginia Tech coming out of high school.

And Kansas State’s Jake Waters, who is fighting Daniel Sams to succeed Heisman finalist Collin Klein, was the No. 1-rated quarterback to come out of junior college this year.

“The quarterback play in the Big 12 last year was phenomenal,” Holgorsen said. “And it's always going to be phenomenal.

“It's just going to be with newer people.”

Trending up or down: Big 12 in 2013

December, 18, 2012
Colleague Phil Steele checked in with our ESPN Insider folks for a look at all 70 bowl teams Insider... in 2013.

What can they all expect next season? You'll need Insider to see his full comments, but he weighed in on the nine Big 12 bowl teams.

Baylor's stock: Down

My take: I'd lean more toward even for the Bears. They're losing Nick Florence and Terrance Williams, but Tevin Reese is a strong candidate to continue the receiver tradition at Baylor under Art Briles, and Lache Seastrunk might end up being the Big 12's best back next year. Don't be surprised if new QB Bryce Petty is even better than Florence. It's very easy for me to see Baylor winning seven (or more) games next year, and once again, it's hard to see the defense getting worse.

WVU's stock: Even

My take: The record might be the same (7-5) next year, but I would lean toward trending down for WVU, just because it won't have the upside or potential of this year's team. WVU was good enough to win 9-11 games this year, but with a new QB, no Tavon Austin and no Stedman Bailey, it's tough to see next year's team being able to make that claim.

Texas' stock: Up

My take: How up depends on David Ash's development, once again. When he played well early in the season, Texas looked like it could beat a whole lot of teams. When he struggled against KU and Oklahoma, Texas didn't look like it could beat anyone. The defense can't be any worse.

TCU's stock: Up

My take: Way, way, up. Maybe more up than any team in the country. TCU was 70 percent freshmen and sophomore this year and still managed to go 7-5. It has tons of talent on both sides of the ball, and running back Aaron Green, a blue-chip transfer from Nebraska, will be on the field. Quarterback Casey Pachall may return, too. Big 12 title contenders.

Iowa State's stock: Even

My take: I'd agree. Sam Richardson showed some promise, but I don't know if I see a true impact player there. ISU still has to improve its skill position talent in a big way to truly make the jump from fringe bowl team.

Oklahoma State's stock: Up

My take: Other than TCU or Texas, no Big 12 team's stock should be more up next year. OSU can absorb the loss of Joseph Randle if he leaves, and if he stays, OSU will likely have the Big 12's best offense with a good O-line, maturing QBs and experienced backs. They'll go from seven wins to a Big 12 title contender.

KSU's stock: Down

My take: Agreed here. It's pretty simple. This is a very, very experienced team with two huge talents in Collin Klein and Arthur Brown that will be difficult to replace. K-State has a lot of potential at QB in Daniel Sams and juco commit Jake Waters, but Chris Harper will be gone, too. John Hubert and Tramaine Thompson will have to play big, and the offensive line will have to lead the way.
HornsNation is counting down the top five moments of Texas’ 2012 season this week.

Play No. 5

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesSenior defensive end Alex Okafor finished the season with 8 sacks for the Longhorns.
The game: Geno Smith and West Virginia had been untouchable. The quarterback was a Heisman candidate who, through four games, had yet to throw an interception and had been sacked only four times. West Virginia was 4-0 coming into the game, and that put a scare into the traditional powers with the thought that the Mountaineers might be national title contenders. Texas represented their first big test of the season.

The play: Texas was trailing 21-14 but had momentum and had stuffed WVU for minus-4 yards on its two previous plays. Smith dropped backed to pass from the his own nine but never had time to get rid of the ball. Instead, defensive end Alex Okafor got into the backfield, sacked and, more importantly, stripped the ball from Smith. Bookend Jackson Jeffcoat fell on the ball in the end zone and Texas tied the game at 21 in the second quarter. The play electrified the largest home crowd in Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium history and the stadium shook as the 101,851 in attendance jumped in the stands.

The play was also a portent of thing to come. Okafor sacked and stripped Smith again in the fourth quarter. This time the defense was not able to fall on the ball and score. Instead, Chris Whaley's fumble recovery gave Texas the ball at the WVU 12. Lamentably, Texas’ offense failed to produce points in what proved to be the drive that determined Longhorns’ losing fate.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas defense, which has suffered many blows in the past few weeks, just took another to the gut.

Jackson Jeffcoat is out. Gone for the season. He tore his pectoral muscle. This time it was the right one. Last year it was the left one. So much for Texas having the top two defensive ends in the Big 12. Instead Texas is just left with big questions at a time when it is searching for answers.

The foremost is: Can Cedric Reed or Reggie Wilson even come close to producing at Jeffcoat’s level? The answer is no. If they could, they would have had the starting spot.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
John Albright/Icon SMITexas will have to replace DE Jackson Jeffcoat, arguably its top defender, with inexperienced players.
Wilson showed a flash against Ole Miss when he jumped a diving blocker and sacked Bo Wallace.

Jeffcoat does stuff like that every game. The junior had four sacks, 11 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown already this season. Reed and Wilson have a combined five tackles for loss and one sack.

But Jeffcoat’s game went beyond stats. He, along with bookend Alex Okafor, was able to pin in quarterbacks and shrink their options. The reason Geno Smith was unable to roll the pocket and therefore roll Texas was because he had Jeffcoat to his left and Okafor to his right every time he dropped back. It was the combined pressure of the two that forced Smith to take four sacks and be stripped of the ball twice.

Without that type of pressure the Texas secondary, which already has issues in coverage, is susceptible to being picked apart by a quarterback like Baylor’s Nick Florence. Florence, the FBS leader in total offense, just so happens to be the next QB Texas faces.

The Longhorns might consider pulling the redshirt off someone like Shiro Davis in order to get more speed on the edge. But, as Texas has proven in the past two losses, it is very tough to play fast as a defensive player when you do not know where you are going.

Without Jeffcoat, Texas, a team that has allowed 111 points and more than 1,100 yards in the past two games, might be wondering where it is going.

Ash not ruled out
Texas has prepared itself since the spring to use two quarterbacks. Now the Longhorns might have to do just that.

While quarterback David Ash has not been ruled out with a bruise to his non-throwing wrist, he has not been cleared to play, either. That means Texas might once again be turning to backup Case McCoy.

The junior, who was 3-2 as a starter in 2011, lost out on the starting job after what was an eight-month competition. But the Texas coaches qualified their selection of Ash by stating, repeatedly, that they felt McCoy was more than an adequate backup and that they would not hesitate to play him.

Well, now the time might have come and it might be against Baylor, which happens to be the last team McCoy started against. In that game, McCoy was responsible for five turnovers. That, as much as anything, is what led to his demotion.

The coaching staff could not abide a quarterback who played fast and loose with the ball. They wanted a game manager. Ash better fit that role. McCoy, on the other hand, is much more of a draw-it-up-in-the-dirt player.

But McCoy has matured. He has added 15-20 pounds and put more zip on his intermediate throws as well as length on deep throws.

If he is the quarterback, it is almost a certainty that co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin will play it close to the vest and try to get McCoy to distribute the ball to playmakers such as Daje Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and Johnathan Gray. That has been when Texas is at its best. And to beat Baylor, a team that is No. 2 in total offense and No. 4 in scoring offense, Texas’ offense will have to be at its best.

Three questions: Texas vs. Oklahoma 

October, 11, 2012
Each week we take a look at three of the burning questions that face Texas as it prepares for the next opponent. This week the No. 15 Longhorns take on No. 13 Oklahoma in Dallas:

1. Can Texas pressure OU into mistakes?
The Longhorns should be able to do just that. Texas has averaged 3.7 sacks per game in the last three games and the production out of ends Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat has been tremendous. The pair teamed up for a touchdown against WVU and Okafor blocked a field goal. Oklahoma does not have a veteran offensive line and has not faced a pass rush like Texas’ yet.
There's one word you'll hear most often when talking to a Texas defensive lineman.

Talk to Jackson Jeffcoat, and it comes up about every sentence: "Uncomfortable."

That's how the Horns want any quarterback to be, and that discomfort can come in a variety of ways. Maybe he's just got a hand in his face. Maybe he's got a guy running at him. Maybe he's uncomfortable while having his shoulder planted into the turf, with or without the ball.

[+] EnlargeAlex Okafor
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireAlex Okafor, the Big 12's leader in sacks, will be pressuring Landry Jones in the Red River Rivalry.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith was certainly uncomfortable while watching Jeffcoat pounce on a fumble in the end zone Saturday night in Austin.

Whatever it looks like, the defensive line's goal is simple.

"That’s been our goal, to get pressure. I think we got four sacks [against West Virginia] as a unit, which is big, and that’s what we want to continue to do, just get pressure on the quarterback," Jeffcoat said. "It doesn’t even have to be sacks. Maybe it’s just pressure and making him throw the ball away or throw an interception. That’s our goal, to keep a quarterback uncomfortable."

They've been pretty good at it thus far. Alex Okafor won Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors after forcing Smith to fumble on both of his sacks, one recovered for a score by Jeffcoat and another recovered at West Virginia's 13-yard line. Okafor even managed to block a field goal with his face mask.

"They’ve played really well. We felt like we needed pressure on the quarterback on Saturday and they got four sacks and created three fumbles and West Virginia’s got an older, very accomplished offensive line. They’ve got a good scheme," Texas coach Mack Brown said. "Alex Okafor, he and Jackson Jeffcoat are two of the best defensive ends in the country and they’ve got to continue to play well."

Okafor took the Big 12 lead with his fifth and sixth sacks of the season against West Virginia, a total that ranks 12th nationally. Jeffcoat is in the No. 4 spot in the Big 12 with 3.5 sacks of his own.

This week, their efforts to make the quarterback uncomfortable will be more important than ever, with Oklahoma's Landry Jones waiting in Dallas for the Red River Rivalry.

"I haven’t watched a lot of film, but I’ve seen a little bit, and he gets a little uncomfortable with pressure," Jeffcoat said, "and that’s why we have to get to him, we definitely have to get to him."

Jones is the school's all-time leader in touchdowns and passing yardage with 100 touchdown passes and more than 13,000 yards.

He's also thrown 43 interceptions. Make him uncomfortable, and big things could happen.

"I see a confident quarterback who can sit back in the pocket and can deliver the ball to whoever he needs to throw the ball," Jeffcoat said. "He’s very accurate. We want to make sure he’s uncomfortable and not allow him to tear us apart."

He tore Texas Tech apart, but Kansas State made Jones move, forced him out of the pocket and he coughed up a fumble for a touchdown and threw an ugly interception, too.

After the game, the K-State defensive line made it clear: That was the game plan. Get Jones moving and make him uncomfortable. It'll keep him from shredding defenses and there might be big plays in store for an opportunistic secondary or an enterprising lineman or linebacker who catches Jones in the backfield.

Texas' defensive line is more than capable of making it happen. If not, life could get a little uncomfortable on the Texas sideline.

Texas recruits feud with Geno Smith, WVU 

October, 7, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas -- The Texas football recruits in attendance for the Longhorns’ 48-45 loss to West Virginia got some extra entertainment out of their night, courtesy of the Mountaineers.

Late in the game Saturday night, a feud began between West Virginia players, including quarterback Geno Smith, and a group of Texas commits and recruits.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Tim Heitman/US PresswireWest Virginia QB Geno Smith had four touchdown passes vs. Texas but also lost two fumbles.
“Geno and a few other guys, they were turning around and punking us. I’ve never seen that before,” said Texas wide receiver recruit Jacorey Warrick (Houston/Cypress Falls).

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AUSTIN, TEXAS – Over the past six years Texas has been in the top six nationally in rush defense in every year but one.

That aberration came in 2010 when Texas itself was an aberration.

Here in 2012, with a defense that was supposed to be stronger and faster, Texas is sits 83rd nationally in rush defense with 182 yards per allowed per game. Now before the fingers are pointed just at the West Virginia came for the skyrocketing total, this has been a trend going on five games now. All West Virginia did with its 192 total rushing yards was pile on.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie, Mykkele Thompson
John Albright/Icon SMIWest Virginia's Andrew Buie ran the ball 31 times for 207 yards against the Longhorns defense.
At issue for Texas is that it cannot pile onto any tackler. Defense coordinator Manny Diaz defended this inability Saturday night by going against everything he has said in the past and claiming that stopping the run was not the first priority -- stopping Geno Smith was. (Diaz had always contended it’s run first, pass second when it comes to defense.)

"You look over the course of the game, we got what we wanted," Diaz said of the run-first approach West Virginia took.

Maybe in theory he is correct. But in result he is not. In essence West Virginia pulled a Texas on Texas. The attack was balanced -- 192 rushing and 268 passing -- and eventually wore down in the fourth quarter -- the Mountaineers had 96 rushing yards in the last 15 minutes.

And what is confusing about Diaz’s comments that Texas sold out on the pass and allowed, due to the way it was set up schematically, the run is it is clearly at odds with how Mack Brown wants things to be done as well as at odds with some of the comments made by players in the postgame.

"The thing for me that I’m having trouble with is that we’re giving up so many rushing yards," Brown said. "We’re not used to that. We’re allowing people to be two-dimensional so we have got to do a better job than that."

"The run was supposed to be eliminated, and it is disappointing to see that," said safety Kenny Vaccaro. "The run game basically saved them. It made them two-dimensional when they could pass and run."

Now Diaz, Brown and the leader of the defense, Vaccaro, could just have their wires crossed here about who is supposed to say what in the postgame. But if they cannot get on the same page when the game is over, it is hard to expect they will be on the same page during the game.

Oklahoma, Texas’ next opponent, averages 190 rushing yards per game.

(Read full post)

Five thoughts: WVU 48, Texas 45 

October, 7, 2012
Here are five thoughts following Texas’ 48-45 loss to West Virginia

Watch out for the overreaction
I was listening to the post game show and I heard from four or five different people from host to callers that this is a normal Texas team that will go 8-4. The Longhorns could have easily won this game. Was it their fault that they lost? Yes. Do they have correctable mistakes? Yes.

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Texas doomed by inability to get stops

October, 7, 2012
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.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe Longhorns allowed 192 rushing yards to West Virginia.
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.

Another near-flawless game from David Ash. Another career-best performance from Johnathan Gray.

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.”

(Read full post)

Balanced attack pushes WVU over Texas

October, 7, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas -- Geno Smith is used to having the game in his hands. It's been the story of West Virginia's season. Near the end of a chilly night in central Texas, that changed.

Smith's offensive line had a simple message for their Heisman candidate: "We got this. It's over. We're going to win this game," they said.

"Andrew Buie said, 'Put it on my back,' Smith said. "He put it on his back and led us to a victory."

Not just any victory. He led them to a 48-45 victory in West Virginia's first road trip in the Big 12, where they found a record crowd of 101,851 waiting at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium -- a crowd Texas coach Mack Brown called the loudest in 15 years.

Said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who was an assistant in the Big 12 for nine years: "I've never seen this place like that."

It even got after Smith at one point, serenading him with a "Geno Sucks" chant as he gestured to the crowd, egging them on.

"Where does that come from?" Smith said. "Obviously, I don't suck. I'll let them believe that."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Buie
Tim Heitman/US PresswireThe second of Andrew Buie's rushing TDs gave West Virginia a 48-38 lead.
Buie led them to a victory that helped West Virginia clear the highest hurdle of its Big 12 (or national?) title "marathon," as Smith called it.

The Big 12 title runs through Morgantown, with Kansas State and Oklahoma waiting later in the season.

Saturday in Austin, though, it was Buie's time.

"He carried us," said Smith, the man used to carrying the Mountaineers. "We knew we were going to need to run the ball, because those guys like to get after the quarterback."

Texas did exactly that, sacking Smith four times and twice forcing fumbles inside the West Virginia 20-yard line. Before tonight, Smith had been sacked three times in four games.

Buie's 207 yards? Holgorsen said he wasn't surprised by those. But the 31 carries? That was a head-turner.

"We did commit to the run," he said. "That was something we talked about early in the week, and there weren't any tricks, either. We lined up and we just ran it right at 'em. We felt like that was gonna be the difference. If we could do that, it was going to alleviate some of the pressure on Geno."

On West Virginia's final drive, needing points to ice the game, the Mountaineers handed the ball to Buie on seven of eight plays. He turned them into 63 yards, capping his big night with a five-yard touchdown run, his second score of the night. While his teammates ran wild and kicked off the party on the West Virginia sideline, he trotted back through a parade of backslaps before being bearhugged by his position coach, Robert Gillespie.

"If we would have just drop back pass after drop back pass, they would have had 12 sacks. Maybe 20," Holgorsen said. "We just felt like it would be in the best interest of our football team to commit to the run."

Texas stuck in its nickel package for most of the night with just two linebackers on the field, even when West Virginia used its jumbo packages with bigger bodies. Buie saw it as a sign of "disrespect," and proved he'd make the most of his opportunities.

"With coach Holgorsen, you never know what the game plan is going to be fully," Buie said. "You just always want to be prepared to run from whatever he's put inside the menu for that week. When he calls your number, obviously he has confidence in you to make plays."

Holgorsen (and Smith, who often checked to various running plays at the line of scrimmage) had confidence in Buie 31 times on Saturday night. Buie was likely West Virginia's No. 3 back entering the season behind Shawne Alston and a recuperating Dustin Garrison. He looked like a man well deserving of the No. 1 spot against one of the Big 12's top defense. Before last week's 25 carries, Buie had never had more 15 carries in a game, and hadn't topped even 100 yards in a game. He had 52 carries in his entire freshman season in 2011.

Since 2009, Texas was 18-0 when winning the turnover battle. The Horns won it 2-1 on Saturday, but Buie's effort helped the Mountaineers overcome both of Smith's fumbles and move into the driver's seat for the Big 12 title.

"We're not going to force the ball. We're not going to force the issue. We'll take what you give us. I'm a smart quarterback, I understand defenses. I understand how to exploit them." Smith said. "The offensive line did a great job of getting all those guys, finishing blocks, getting to the second level. Buie was reading it and cutting back. Yards after contact was big. He ran hard tonight."

Think West Virginia's offense is just Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey? West Virginia proved otherwise.

Instant analysis: WVU 48, Texas 45

October, 6, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas – If there was any doubt as to whether West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, the Mountaineers gave their answer on Saturday night.

In front of a Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium-record crowd of 101,851, West Virginia didn’t flinch even despite two Geno Smith turnovers. Its much-maligned defense made stops on two crucial fourth-quarter Texas drives, and its offense -- thanks to a remarkably potent rushing attack - was as good as advertised in the 48-45 victory.

Here’s how it all played out:

It was over when: Anthony Fera missed a 41-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter. A Smith fumble put Texas at WVU’s 12-yard line, but the Longhorns took a 16-yard loss on a bad snap on third down. Fera, a Penn State transfer making his Texas debut after a groin injury had sidelined him all season, pulled the kick wide right.

Game ball: Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Their Heisman-favorite quarterback gets most of the press, but Bailey and Austin were what broke this Texas defense. Bailey caught three touchdown passes, and Austin added another score, 102 receiving yards and 111 yards on kick returns.

Game ball, part II: Andrew Buie. The West Virginia running back burned Texas time and time again on Saturday night, hitting the soft middle spot of the Longhorns defense for a season-high 207 yards and two scores on 31 carries. He entered the night averaging 56 rushing yards per game.

Stat of the game: 5-for-5. West Virginia was perfect on the night on fourth-down conversions despite going 3-for-12 on third downs. The biggest pickup came in the first quarter, when Smith hit Austin on fourth-and-4 and he broke upfield for a 40-yard touchdown.

What it means: West Virginia is firmly in the driver’s seat for the Big 12. Its much-hyped Air Raid attack had no problem scoring on an athletic Texas defense that was supposed to be among the conference’s best. Texas, meanwhile, must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fix its still-porous D. The loser of Texas-Oklahoma next Saturday may need lots of help to get back into the conference title discussion.
In front of the largest ever crowd at Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium -- 101,851 fans -- Texas and West Virginia have gone back and forth on offense. The largest lead of the first half was 14 for WVU. The longest scoring drive of the first half consumed 3:27 off the clock.

Stat of the half: The two quarterbacks have combined for 303 yards. While West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith has the edge with 169 yards on 15 of 24, Texas quarterback David Ash has hung in the game and thrown for 124 yards on 8 of 12 passing.

Player of the half: Texas defensive end Alex Okafor blocked a field goal attempt and knocked loose a ball from Geno Smith that was recovered by Jackson Jeffcoat for a touchdown. Okafor has been part of a defense that has sacked the West Virginia quarterback three times.

What's working for Texas: The Texas defensive line has been able to put pressure on Smith. The quarterback, who had been sacked only four times coming into the game, was sacked three times in the first half. Those sacks played into two consecutive series in which the WVU offense had minus-27 yards and fumbled the ball away for the Texas touchdown.

What's working for West Virginia: The Mountaineers have had their way on fourth down. Two of West Virginia's touchdowns came after a fourth-down conversions. The first of those came on a play Texas initially had stopped. West Virginia had elected to go for it at the Texas 40, and Geno Smith was sacked on that play. But Texas had called a timeout just before the snap, nullifying the play and the sack. With another chance, West Virginia hooked up for a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Mountaineers converted a fourth-and-nine later in the second on their way to another score.

What Texas needs to do to keep winning: The Longhorns have to continue to pick up points on defense and excel in special teams. While the Longhorns have been poor in kick coverage, they have blocked a field goal as well as a punt. The defense also scored a touchdown for Texas.

Checking in from Longhorn Country

October, 6, 2012
AUSTIN, Texas -- It'll be a chilly, gray night in Austin, but there's plenty of energy in the air for West Virginia's trip to Austin, its first Big 12 road trip.

They'll kick off tonight at the Big 12 stadium with 18,000 more seats than any in the Big 12, Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.

The best game of the Big 12 schedule kicks off in about two hours, and you can expect a big atmosphere from the Austin crowd. A good start would help West Virginia negate that advantage, but the big stage is nothing new to this program.

I'll be here providing coverage all night with the boys from HornsNation, as well as our own Mark Schlabach.

Can Texas get enough pressure on Geno Smith? For me, that's what decides the game. Maryland did, but didn't have enough offense to really threaten the Mountaineers, though they held Smith & Co. to just 31 points.

If Texas holds West Virginia to 31 tonight, I think the Longhorns win. That's a big if. We'll see if they're up to the task.

Follow along that game and more on Twitter. See you here for more.

Staff predictions: West Virginia vs. Texas 

October, 5, 2012
Texas 48, West Virginia 45
We always hear about how one side of the ball comes into a game and they are the best that the other team has seen. That is the case in this game and a strong case for Texas. QB Geno Smith has been able to pick apart the meager schedule West Virginia has played, while its defense has struggled against any offense with a pulse. Texas will get pressure with its front four, and that will cause enough pressure to slow the WVU attack. The Mountaineers' defense will not be so lucky. It will go to the last five minutes, but Texas pulls out its biggest win since 2009.
- Sean Adams

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Christopher JacksonWest Virginia QB Geno Smith has thrown for 20 touchdowns and no interceptions through four games.
Texas 38, West Virginia 27

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Texas Longhorns Show Out On Pro Day
The Texas Longhorns produced several eligible NFL Draft athletes who participated in Pro Day Tuesday afternoon in Austin, Texas.