At least this team fought.
West Virginia has unfortunately found itself in the position it began the second half in many times over the past couple years, and it must be noted that unlike many times before, when they got down 24-3 with a little over a minute left in the first half, the Mountaineers didn't fold their tents. They pulled to within 26-16 with 6:38 left before Texas tacked on a late touchdown to get us to the final margin of 33-16. They stood up in the second half to a Texas run attack that flattened them in the first. They moved the ball and eventually got it to their playmakers.
At least this team fought.
I think we're all coming to the realization that this team is what it is. Highly talented at some skill positions - namely running back and wide receiver - but inconsistent play on both sides of the line and a quarterback who is simply physically ill-equipped for this level of football. A very, very good defense but not quite a great defense. But a defense bringing back a lot of talent next year. Ultimately the Mountaineer football program remains a work in progress, but that is a story for another day.
Today Texas exploited what Oklahoma and Alabama exploited, only they had the intelligence to do it early, if not the intelligence to keep doing it all day. The Horns managed 227 yards on the ground, which only felt like 500 because 178 came in a first half where they averaged 7.4 yards per play. Johnathan Gray did the most damage, tallying 101 yards and 3 scores on a scant 10 carries, almost all of them in the first half. He was joined by Malcolm Brown who went for 90 yards on 20 carries. They bit off yardage in huge chunks during a first half that saw Texas score touchdowns on 3 of their first 5 possessions to build the 24-3 lead they carried into the locker room.
On the other side of the ball the Mountaineer offense picked up right where it left off a week ago against TCU, mixing ineffective screens with a heavy does of running behind an often-ineffective line to stumble up and down the field, stopping just long enough to check into shorter and shorter passes or to help their quarterback up off the turf. The first half was a nightmare of inefficiency as one drive stalled at the Texas 2 yard line and another ended with a missed 53 yard field goal by Josh Lambert as Dana Holgorsen inexplicably elected to kick into the wind as opposed to attempt to pin Texas deep. Two drives later he would punt on 4th and 1 from the WVU 34. It was a confusing day.
Amazingly WVU ran 20 of their 34 first-half plays in Texas territory and on 7 trips inside the Longhorn 35 managed scores on just 4 of them.
When the WVU offense wasn't ineffective it was unlucky. On their second drive of the game, which started at the UT 45 after a 48 yard Mario Alford kick return, WVU managed to drive to the Texas 1 yard line before Wendell Smallwood fell just short of the goal line on 3rd down. As WVU quickly lined up for 4th down attempt, they seemed to get the play off and Dreamius Smith scooted easily into the end zone, but the play was blown dead an instant before it began as the Big 12 officiating crew decided it would be a good time to review the call. They predictably upheld their original call the Mountaineers were whistled for a false start on the ensuing 4th and 1 try. They kicked a field goal and limped to the sideline.
Amazingly WVU ran 20 of their 34 first-half plays in Texas territory and on 7 total trips inside the Longhorn 35 for the day managed scores on just 3 of them (2 touchdowns and a 22 yard field goal). It was that kind of day.
Kevin White returned to GAM status, breaking the school record for single game receptions with 16 catches for 132 yards but was kept out of the end zone for the second straight week. Jordan "Squirt" Thompson was also effective, catching 5 balls for 43 yards. Mario Alford caught 5 for 31 but unfortunately his most memorable play was a sure touchdown that bounced off his outstretched hands, just an inch away on a day that WVU needed all the inches it could get.
Clint Trickett continued his streak of poor play although the stat line doesn't really reflect it. He finished 36 of 49 for 248 yards and no scores against 1 interception, but was uneven throughout, relying on screens and short passes while ignoring the downfield targets that allowed this team to start the season 6-2. He didn't get a lot of help from his line and spent most of the day under pressure, taking a couple hard shots to a frame that hasn't dealt with hard shots very well.
The most inspired effort of the day was from the enigmatic Dreamius Smith, who gave us our weekly does of greatness in the form of a 62 yard run to key a late WVU charge and finished with 100 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown for the 4th straight week. The day Dreamius is integrated more fully into this offense is a day we all smile more, but with the small number of days left this season I doubt that ever happens. Dream indeed.
The defense, which took their lumps in the first half, tightened up quite a bit in the second. A Texas team that piled up 178 ground yards in the first half managed only 49 in the second. 215 total yards in the first half fell to just 136 in the second half. Daryl Worley logged another interception and the only second half points the Longhorns scored other than a late trash touchdown came when Clint Trickett was sacked for a safety. Make no mistake, this Mountaineer defense played well enough to win - as they have for the second straight week in a losing effort.
It was a disappointing result but not altogether shocking. As the dreams of what could have been give way to the reality of what is, our expectations are falling back to where they started when the season began. A bowl game is assured and there is improvement on both sides of the ball. That's a good thing. Coaching decisions continue to make us scratch our heads but that's probably not changing anytime soon.
We are what we are. Not great, not terrible. We're Mountaineer football.