The Texas Longhorns take a trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, with payback on their minds this week, after a 42-41 loss last season. Before we look back at the game itself, it’s important to understand what made the game feel so big, so important.
Heading into the 2018 edition of this match up, the Texas Longhorns were just four weeks removed from an improbable win over Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma Sooners.
However, much had changed in that short month since the Red River Rivalry. The week before the West Virginia game, Texas had just lost to Oklahoma State 38-31, dropping them to a #17 ranking and a 6-2 record, both losses to unranked opponents.
The Mountaineers, on the other hand, were 6-1, ranked #13, coming off of a 58-14 win against Baylor, and vying for the top spot in the Big 12 with Texas and Oklahoma. They also had a quarterback in Will Grier who was in the Heisman race. They had true momentum.
Let’s take a look back at how the game unfolded.
WVU got the ball first and got on board with a field goal to lead 3-0. The first drive by the Longhorns resulted in a punt, and WVU had an opportunity to possibly go up two scores.
The Texas defense got off the field to give the offense the ball back, and now Texas needed points. On 3rd and 5 in the redzone, it looked like Texas might have to settle for a field goal attempt. Ehlinger had other plans, and found Lil’Jordan Humphrey to set them up first and goal.
Ehlinger would run it in on the next play to make the score 7-3 Texas.
The Longhorns had the lead and there was confidence that their defense would build off of the early game success against the Mountaineers on their first two drives. West Virginia quickly killed that notion with a five play drive that ended with a 60 yard touchdown pass from Grier to Sills.
Texas clearly did not have a busted spirit despite the busted coverage, because they responded with a three play scoring drive, taking advantage of the WVU personal foul that set them up with great starting field position. The finishing touch on this drive would be a 21 yard touchdown pass by Ehlinger.
West Virginia got the ball back and began a nice drive that looked inevitable to end in a touchdown, until two straight incompletions and a false start had the WVU offense facing a 3rd and 15. Texas had the opportunity to get off the field, and had succeeded, except for a roughing the passer penalty.
Following the personal foul that gave West Virginia a fresh set of downs, the Mountaineers quickly capitalized on the mental error of the Longhorns, with another nice touchdown pass from Grier to Sills.
The ensuing Texas drive was a typical Longhorns drive, 11 plays, 75 yards, but it was almost cut short when an offensive pass interference was called on Lil’Jordan Humphrey to force the Longhorns offense into a 3rd and 20. They would pick up 17 yards to set up 4th and 3 at the WVU 43. Texas rolls the dice.
This 4th and 3 conversion would propel the offense to their third straight touchdown in as many drives, with a 5 yard run by Tre Watson.
On the 5th play of the next West Virginia drive, Runningback Martell Pettaway fumbled, but it was luckily recovered by West Virginia. Three plays later, he would make up for his mistake with a 55 yard touchdown to reclaim the lead.
The following Texas drive was executed well, not only because it resulted in a score, but it took 5 minutes off of the clock as halftime neared. The drive started off shaky for the Longhorns, including a run for -3 yards to set up 3rd and 10 in their own territory. The 3rd and 10 attempt resulted in an incomplete pass, but the Texas offense was bailed out by a defensive holding penalty on WVU. Three plays later, Texas would turn the West Virginia mistake into a touchdown, the 7th lead change of the first half.
Texas defense would hold WVU to a field goal on the next West Virginia offensive possession that ended the half. Texas had a one point lead and would be getting the ball back after half, not a bad position to be in, all things considered.
HALFTIME: 28-27 Texas
Texas received the ball to start the second half, and quickly began to piece together a great drive that went 12 plays for 61 yards. On 4th and 1 from the WVU 5 yard line, Texas, once again, rolled the dice.
Short. Sam Ehlinger was (arguably) stopped just short of the first down. Texas turned the ball over on downs, and the Mountaineers had a key stop to start the second half.
West Virginia’s offense would take the field backed up deep into their own territory. The result was a very conservative drive that included just two pass plays and four rush plays. Because of this, Texas was able to force a punt and get the ball back for a second chance to get the first points of the second half.
Texas went to work but was met with resistance from the West Virginia defense to force a 3rd and 5, but Ehlinger would once again make a big play to keep the drive alive.
The result of this drive was a field goal by Texas to extend their lead, and the WVU defense did a great job to force it, allowing just 4 rushes for -3 yards.
WVU lacked no urgency on the next drive, which included gains of 11 and 25 yards to move into Texas territory.
On 1st and 10 from the Texas 29, the Mountaineers gained 9 yards to set up 2nd and 1. The next two plays included a run for a loss of one yard to make it 3rd and 2, and a run for no gain to set up 4th and 2. The Texas defense bent but did not break. The WVU offense would seemingly have to settle for a field goal… but instead, they would go for it.
Texas defense gets even, stopping the Mountaineer offense and giving the ball back to Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns offense that was poised to make it a two score game.
Texas would take the ball and almost literally run the ball down down the defenses throat. Of the 9 plays on the drive, 7 were rushes for a total of 59 yards, but the drive would end in slight disappointment, with Texas opting to kick a field goal on 4th and 1 from the West Virginia 21, a spot where many viewers wanted to see the offense go for it on 4th down again.
West Virginia’s next drive was 11 plays for 75 yards, doing so in less than four minutes. They would also establish a rushing attack of their own on this possession, running the ball 6 times for 47 yards, including the touchdown to tie the game.
Sam Ehlinger would receive the football with 5:40 left in the game. The drive needed to result in points of some kind, and it also needed to run the clock down to prevent WVU from having time to respond to any points that Texas might score. Despite the need to run the clock down, the 6th play of the drive ended up being a 48 yard strike from Ehlinger to Duvernay. Texas couldn’t care less about the clock, they had the lead.
41-34 Texas – 2:34 remaining
Will Grier and the WVU offense would get the ball with 2:34 remaining. They had no trouble putting up points so far, turning six of their nine drives into either a field goal or a touchdown, but this drive was different in that it HAD to end in a touchdown, and this time the clock was working against them. Fortunately for Grier, the Texas defense did not give any resistance, so little so that West Virginia didn’t face a single third down on this drive. With 0:24 remaining, the Mountaineers found themselves at the Texas 33 yard line. The next throw was an absolutely ludicrous dime from Grier to Jennings for a touchdown. WVU would elect to go for two.
Prior to the 2 point attempt, West Virginia and Texas would trade timeouts, West Virginia to have time to get their play together, Texas to have time to counter that play. Then, there were no more timeouts and it was time for the play to happen, regardless of the outcome. One team would win and one team would lose.
Will Grier would run a quarterback draw for the 2 point conversion, and succeed. A heartbreaking, yet perfect ending to an instant classic.
42-41 West Virginia (FINAL)