Head coach Steve Sarkisian’s Longhorns played a hard-nosed brand of football on both sides of the ball in Texas’ 38-20 win against West Virginia on Saturday night.
While the defensive secondary played physical in coverage, accumulating seven pass breakups over the course of the game, Sarkisian proved that he can bust out more creative play calling on offense than endzone fades and runs from the wildcat formation.
After senior defensive tackle Moro Ojomo forced the Mountaineers off the field with a timely sack on third down late in the first quarter, Texas got the ball at its own 25. Sophomore quarterback Hudson Card wasted little time getting the ball rolling, connecting with redshirt junior wide receiver Jordan Whittington on a lateral pass that turned into a 35-yard sprint down the West Virginia sideline.
Just four plays later, Card connected with sophomore wide receiver Xavier Worthy on a trick play at West Virginia’s 34-yard line. Card passed the ball to Worthy, who was still behind the line of scrimmage and beside the Texas sideline. Finding his footing, the wide receiver launched the football to sophomore tight end Ja’Tavion Sanders who trotted into the end zone for the score.
After last weekend’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Texas Tech, Texas’ offense looked like a rejuvenated squad. The Longhorns not only found more creative ways to score, but the scored more efficiently. Five of Texas’ scoring drives were under seven plays, three of which ate up less than three minutes off the clock.
“When you execute well, that’s what tends to happen,” Card said. “We knew going into the game that there would be some shot opportunities. I’m just proud of the way we played.”
Whittington was a major contributor to Texas finding ways to drive the ball down the field. Lined up in the slot or on the outside, Whittington can capitalize on screens and short passes or the deep ball to make big gains. On another reception in the second quarter, he caught a 22-yard pass from the slot along Texas’ sideline, putting the Longhorns in Mountaineer territory.
Against West Virginia, Whittington averaged just over 19 yards on his three receptions.
“I thought Jordan Whittington had some critical catches,” Sarkisian said. “You saw the ball getting distributed to the guys that make plays for us.”
While Texas’ offense shined in the rout of West Virginia, the secondary trio of redshirt seniors Anthony Cook and D’Shawn Jamison with junior transfer Ryan Watts played strongly against the pass. Early in the first quarter, the Mountaineers were faced with converting a 3rd-and-2 on Texas’ side of the field. West Virginia tight end Mike O’Laughlin swept over to the opposite side of the field for an easy first down.
Covering O’Laughlin, Cook tackled him low and hard, knocking the football out to force the Mountaineers into a tough 4th-and-2 decision.
Going for the fourth down, West Virginia quarterback JT Daniels attempted a short pass down the middle of the field, but Watts broke it up, forcing what was the Mountaineers’ first of two turnovers on downs on the night.
“We were making really critical stops and setting up the offense for good field position,” Sarkisian said. “Our coverage and our corners (played well)–those were some good wide outs.”
Despite largely shutting down West Virginia, Texas’ secondary still struggled finding ways to force turnovers. On West Virginia’s first drive of the game, Daniels threw a 15-yard ball up the middle of the field on an attempt to convert a 3rd-and-9. Although the ball was tipped by the intended receiver, cornerback D’Shawn Jamison couldn’t quite get his hands on it.
Following the loss at Texas Tech in overtime last week, Sarkisian was confident that this is a better team from last year. He also highlighted that the Big 12 is a competitive conference as a whole, saying that he felt no team will be able to finish conference play undefeated.
“I think we’re playing really good football,” Sarkisian said. “Those are tough losses to endure. What I’m very impressed (by) with our team is our ability to bounce back, and we bounced back both times that those two things have happened.”