Longhorns Becomes Bowl Eligible With Hard-Nosed Win At West Virginia

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Photo: Ben Queen/USA Today Sports

MORGANTOWN, WV- Sam Ehlinger is back, and so is Texas’s swag. The true freshman quarterback from Westlake came off the bench to lift the offense up off the mat and the defense delivered another stellar performance in a 28-14 win against West Virginia on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, WV.

Texas scored zero points on its first three drives, but found a spark when Ehlinger was put in for sophomore Shane Buechele. The 19-year-old led the offense on consecutive long touchdown drives to give the Longhorns a 14-0 cushion.

The first was an 11-play, 91-yard march that included a 50-yard bomb to freshman wide receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps, and was capped by a four-yard scoring toss to senior tight end Kendall Moore.

The second was a 10-play, 87-yard trek that featured a crazy 17-yard scramble by Ehlinger on third-and-nine, and concluded with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Ehlinger to junior Chris Warren III.

Photo: Ben Queen/USA Today Sports

Ehlinger wasn’t perfect. He made a rookie mistake in the third quarter when he threw an ill-advised pass while going down for a sack that was picked off and returned 94 yards for a touchdown by freshman safety Kenny Robinson.

But the offense seems to play better with him at the helm. Texas’s struggling rushing attack gained 233 yards on 5.5 yards per carry and the offensive line, which allowed 31 sacks in the previous 10 games (3.1 per game), allowed zero on Saturday.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando continues to earn his paycheck as his unit held West Virginia to 4.7 yards per play, well below its season average of 6.6. It helped that the Mountaineers lost junior starting quarterback Will Grier on a critical first quarter play when sophomore defensive back Brandon Jones knocked the ball loose as Grier was diving for the pylon.

The loose ball hit the pylon for a touchback, erasing what was ruled a touchdown on the field, and Grier broke the middle finger on his throwing hand. West Virginia had to go the rest of the game with sophomore Chris Chugunov, who had never thrown a meaningful pass in his college career, playing the most important position on the field.

West Virginia’s offense predictably struggled under the circumstances and didn’t score until Chugunov hit senior wide receiver Ka’Raun White for a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 9:01 left in the game.

Junior defensive back Davonte Davis, junior linebacker Gary Johnson and junior linebacker Malik Jefferson led Texas with seven tackles apiece. That said, the biggest defensive play was made by Johnson, who strip-sacked Chugunov deep in West Virginia territory when it was a seven-point game with 5:54 to play. The fumble was recovered by senior defensive end Chris Nelson at the six-yard line, which set up a one-yard touchdown run from freshman running back Daniel Young to put the game away.

Young led the team with 85 yards on 12 carries. Ehlinger added 68 yards on nine rushing attempts, and sophomore running back Kyle Porter chipped in 53 yards and a score on seven totes. Ehlinger finished 12-of-19 for 136 yards with two touchdowns and a pick. The Tom Herman/Tim Beck offense continues its trend of spreading the ball around. 10 different receivers caught passes. Buechele was 4-of-7 for 28 yards before getting pulled.

Grier was 6-of-8 for 50 yards before his injury and Chugunov finished 14-of-26 for 189 yards with a touchdown. Senior running back Justin Crawford led the West Virginia rushing attack with 64 yards on 15 carries. Junior Gary Jennings (10 catches, 78 yards) and White (6 catches, 63 yards, TD) were West Virginia’s best receivers.

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