Texas, West Virginia football teams look for first conference wins

Around 5 p.m. Saturday, Nelly will take the stage on the LBJ Lawn as part of the Longhorn City Limits series.

The superstar rapper has no shortage of hits to perform, from “Country Grammar” to “E.I.” to “Air Force Ones” to “Dilemma” to “Just a Dream.” But that concert will be the show before the show. After it, Texas will host West Virginia inside Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Both are 2-2. Both have lost their only conference game.

“There’s a lot of football left in Big 12 play — we know that,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said. “We’re going to take care of our business, and that starts Saturday at home against a really good team who’s getting better week by week.”

In case you were wondering, Sarkisian’s favorite Nelly song is “Ride Wit Me.” That reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts in 2001, when he was 27 and in his first year as USC’s quarterbacks coach.

Texas, meanwhile, is still looking for its first big hit under Sarkisian.

Golden:Texas can’t afford to see Quinn Ewers sit for another week, should play him

The Longhorns have gotten close to recording a signature win in the Sarkisian era. Last season, Texas found itself up 38-20 over No. 6 Oklahoma, up 24-13 over No. 12 Oklahoma State and up 21-10 over No. 18 Baylor. Earlier this month, the Longhorns took a 19-17 lead with 89 seconds left against No. 1 Alabama.

Texas lost all four of those games.

The Longhorns haven’t just struggled against ranked teams. Texas is 7-9 since Sarkisian took over in 2021. In six of those losses, the Longhorns led in either the fourth quarter or overtime.

But struggling to close out games hasn’t just been a problem under Sarkisian. Tom Herman went 32-18 from 2017 to 2020; in 10 of those 18 losses, Texas led in the fourth quarter or overtime.

“We’ve just got to finish,” defensive back Jahdae Barron said. “We just have to make sure we finish strong and together.”

Texas coach Steve Sarkisian said the Longhorns must develop a closer's mentality to finish games organically. "We can't go into (Saturday's) game playing on eggshells," he said. "We've got to go into this game playing with our hair on fire, playing confident, making our plays, playing physical, playing fast, aggressive with great effort."

Last Saturday in Lubbock, Texas built a 31-17 lead in the second half against Texas Tech. The Longhorns were up 31-24 at the start of the fourth quarter. Tech eventually earned a 37-34 win in overtime.

At Sarkisian’s weekly press conference two days later, a question was raised about the process of developing a killer instinct. He said that needed to happen organically.

“At some point in there, you gain confidence from doing it,” Sarkisian said. “Hopefully we continue to put ourselves in that position; that means we’re playing pretty good football. Then naturally, once you can do it once, you can do it twice, you gain confidence in how to go do it. So it just has to happen.

“We’ve got to keep working at it. It’s not for lack of effort on anybody’s part, but we’ve got to continue to push towards that and get a sense for what it feels like by doing it.”

Bohls:A little more anger from the Texas Longhorns could go a long way

Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers arrives at Royal-Memorial Stadium ahead of the Alabama game Sept. 10. Late in the first quarter he suffered a sprained clavicle, and he has missed the last two games. But he is practicing again, and there's a chance he'll play this week.

When asked later Monday if Texas possesses a killer instinct, senior running back Roschon Johnson said he believes so. Fellow running back Bijan Robinson agreed with Sarkisian that the Longhorns ultimately need to prove it on the field.

“I don’t want that to ever happen again,” Robinson said. “I think we’re just too good of a team to let anything slip up in the creases.”

Robinson added that it was on the team’s leaders to preach about the importance of closing out games until their teammates “get tired of hearing it.” To begin this week, the team’s leadership council met as a group. The next morning, a players-only meeting was called to address some of the issues on the team.

After talking the talk throughout the week, the Longhorns will get a chance to walk the walk Saturday. West Virginia has both a top-20 scoring offense (42.8 points per game) and a top-20 total offense (490.0 yards per game).

Bohls:Texas better fix stuff fast or adjust its goals for the season

Sarkisian said Monday that both Quinn Ewers, who’s been out since the Alabama game with a sprained clavicle, and Hudson Card practiced. But Thursday he offered no hints on whether Ewers would play against West Virginia, though he did say the redshirt freshman is “chomping at the bit. He’s working hard. I like the progression that he’s been making.”

Either Ewers or Card will lead Texas against a West Virginia defense that’s yielding 302.8 yards per game. West Virginia has allowed a total of 17 points in its last two games against Towson and Virginia Tech.

The Mountaineers have won four of the last seven games in this series. Last year, UT’s 31-23 loss in Morgantown effectively eliminated the Longhorns from contention for a bowl berth.

“We can’t go into this game playing on eggshells,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve got to go into this game playing with our hair on fire, playing confident, making our plays, playing physical, playing fast, aggressive with great effort.”

Saturday’s game

West Virginia at Texas, 6:30 p.m., FS1, 104.9, 105.3 (Spanish), 1260, 99.3, 98.5

Scouting West Virginia

Last year: 6-7, tied for fifth with Kansas State in the Big 12 (4-5) and lost to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl.

Now, about that loss to Kansas: The Jayhawks shocked just about everyone with their 55-42 overtime win Sept. 10. Kansas scored on a touchdown to open overtime, then Jacobee Bryant grabbed a WVU pass for the winning pick six. The Mountaineers had rallied from 11 points back in the fourth quarter to force overtime with a touchdown pass and a two-point conversion with 35 seconds left.

Three players to watch: (1) QB JT Daniels — formerly of USC and Georgia — has thrown for 956 yards and seven touchdowns in four games; (2) RB CJ Donaldson is averaging 95 yards a game, has scored six TDs and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry; (3) DE Dante Stills leads the team in sacks and is second in tackles for loss, and he has 46½ career tackles for loss and 21½ sacks.

FYI: Three of the Big 12’s top seven in receiving yards are Mountaineers (Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather and Sam James). … The Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator is former Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell. … Same as Texas, this is West Virginia’s 130th season; the Mountaineers are tied for the 15th-most all-time wins with Texas A&M.

Rich Tijerina

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