|West Virginia, Texas have eyes on prize|
Both West Virginia and Texas are focused on making the plays and winning the games that get them to spots in the postseason but with two contests left in the regular season the goals are completely different.
The two teams square off in Big 12 play at noon EST at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia on Saturday.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 5-2 in Big 12 play), who return home after a 28-23 win at Kansas State last week, have already clinched a bowl berth but have bigger things on their agenda. It was the Mountaineers' first win in Manhattan, Kansas since joining the Big 12 five years ago and kept West Virginia's Big 12 championship game hopes alive.
West Virginia must beat Texas (5-5, 4-3) and have No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 11 TCU both lose at least once. The Cowboys play host to Kansas State and Kansas, while the Horned Frogs play at Texas Tech and play host to Baylor.
"We try to take it one game at a time," WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said. "It's what we did last week. We found a way to win. It wasn't pretty, but we found a way to remain in the conversation. I think it's in the back of everyone's minds, but there's no reason for us to talk about it."
The Mountaineers have shown that they can play with anyone in the conference. Their only three losses are to AP Top 25 teams but Holgorsen said Tuesday that taking Texas lightly would doom his team despite the Longhorns' struggles this season.
"Texas is coming in and I'm putting everybody on high-alert on this 5-5 thing," Holgorsen said. "Those guys have lost close games to the likes of Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU. The last time I checked, those guys are all in the Top 15, too, right? 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.
"I've competed against Texas and coached against them for the better part of about 15 years now, is they always have the best players, period," Holgorsen said. "This team is no different. They're a good football team that's getting better."
The Longhorns have adopted a "one win and they're in" philosophy to earned their first bowl berth since 2014. But given the opposition -- Saturday's showdown at West Virginia followed a primetime home shootout versus Texas Tech six days later on Black Friday -- nothing will be easy for the Longhorns, and they know it.
So, Texas coach Tom Herman is ready to pull out all the stops. Herman's latest strategic move will be to use both the quarterbacks who've started games for the Longhorns this season -- sophomore Shane Buechele and freshman Sam Ehlinger -- in a situational platoon or sorts against West Virginia.
"These last two games it's going to be what do we need to win, and what do these guys do well in the game plan?" Herman said. "Do we need to run the quarterback a little bit more and have more of a presence in the zone read game? Then we'll play Sam a little bit more. If we've got to throw the ball down field and we've got to get the ball out of our hands really quickly and some of the (read-pass-option) stuff because of the zone coverages that we're seeing, then that's, obviously, right up Shane's alley.
"As we see how the game plan develops, we'll know a lot more in terms of the number of reps," he added would imagine you'll see both of them at some point. But in what ratio, I don't know just yet."
Herman's already moved the running back who's gained the most yards this season, junior Chris Warren III, to H-back to get him on the field after Warren's carries have been given to freshmen Toneil Carter and Danny Young.
And he's played mix and match all year with his talented trove of wide receivers, preferring to give more opportunities to the players who practiced best prior to each game rather than employing a true starter at the positions.
"Nobody has completely separated themselves at those positions, so there is a lot of deserving players to play," Herman said. "To say that you're going to play three wide receivers the entire game, their legs would fall off, as much running as they do. The tempo at which we play and no-huddle and all of that. So, I think that's pretty standard for most no-huddle spread teams."
Texas' receiver corps will be without one of those moveable parts for the rest of the season after senior Dorian Leonard broke his right foot in the win over Kansas on Saturday.
The Longhorns' ragtag offensive line is expected to get a serious boost this week as junior All-America left tackle Connor Williams is set to return after missing the past seven and half games with a knee injury.
Texas heads to the Allegheny Mountains after a less-than-scintillating 42-27 win over hapless Kansas, a team that's won one game against an FCS opponent since 2014.
"There's no lack of confidence; there's no issue with perception," Herman explained. "Winning for us right now is going to be hard, especially with where we are with this program. And that's okay, as long as we win."
Texas and West Virginia meet for just the seventh time on Saturday, including the third time in Morgantown. West Virginia leads the all-time series with a 4-2 record, while the two schools have one win apiece at Milan Puskar Stadium. The series started in 1956, but this season's matchup will mark the sixth straight season the Longhorns and Mountaineers have squared off since West Virginia joined the Big 12. Texas coach Tom Herman has not coached against the Mountaineers in his career, while Holgorsen is 3-2 against the Longhorns.