MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) Texas coach Tom Herman has been sorting through a lot of firsts in his debut season. The one he’s still waiting for is a marquee victory.
The Longhorns (5-5, 4-3 Big 12) are winless in four tries against ranked opponents, and while going on the road to face No. 24 West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday wouldn’t be a program changer, Herman will take any building blocks in a season that still has some goals within reach.
Already taking heat from Texas fans, Herman so far is pleased with the way his team plays with intensity and is proud of a defense that rebounded from an embarrassing opening-week home loss to Maryland to hold four opponents to 13 points or less.
”Are we learning how to win? Certainly,” Herman said. ”But the biggest next step is we’ve got to win one of these road games against a Top 25 team that most people would think we don’t have a chance at doing.”
After beating Kansas 42-27 last week , Texas has two chances left to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. The Longhorns host Texas Tech on Nov. 24 in their regular-season finale.
”We’re not desperate, but we do know we need to win at least one of the next two games, not just to build on next year but to get our seniors to a bowl game,” said defensive back DeShon Elliott.
Texas lost overtime games to No. 12 Southern Cal and No. 10 Oklahoma State, had a close setback to No. 3 Oklahoma and fell by double digits to No. 11 TCU.
”I’m putting everybody on high-alert on this 5-5 thing,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said of Texas. ”They’ve done pretty much what we’ve done. They’ve beaten teams, then they’ve lost some close games to really good football teams.”
West Virginia will try to send 20 seniors out with a win in their final home game. Helping them try to get there will be junior Will Grier, who is second in the country with 34 TD passes.
Grier hasn’t indicated whether this will be his final home game, too. He’s been listed by some prognosticators as a potential pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
”He’s as good as we’ve played, and we’ve played some really, really good ones,” Herman said.
Some other things to know when the Longhorns and Mountaineers meet:
HILLBILLIES AND MOONSHINE: Texas linebacker Breckyn Hager was asked this week what makes Morgantown a tough venue for opponents. Recalling a 2015 trip, Hager told reporters, ”it’s a bunch of hillbillies drinking moonshine.” When Holgorsen was asked later by the Austin-American Statesman whether he considered himself a hillbilly, the Iowa native said, ”You’re darn right I’m a hillbilly. I can’t own property and a big house in the hills of West Virginia without considering myself a hillbilly.” He joked that he’s seen people at tailgate parties ”drinking something in clear bottles – not quite sure what it is.”
TOP WRS: West Virginia wide receivers, Gary Jennings, Ka’Raun White and David Sills V are closing in on 1,000-yard seasons, a feat that’s never happened in school history. Entering Saturday, Jennings has 938 yards, White has 907 and Sills has 856. Sills’ 18 TD catches leads the nation.
TEXAS OFFENSIVE LINE: The running game has been abysmal and the poor pass protection has gotten two quarterbacks beaten up. That could change this week with the return of left tackle Connor Williams, a likely first-round NFL draft pick who has been out since the third game with a knee injury. Williams opted against season-ending surgery.
SECOND HALF WOES: West Virginia hasn’t scored in the second half of its last two games – wins over Iowa State and Kansas State .
TITLE GAME HOPES: West Virginia still has an outside chance of making it to the Big 12 championship game. But the Mountaineers have to win Saturday and at Oklahoma on Nov. 24 and get losses from Oklahoma State and TCU.
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