AUSTIN, Texas — It’s one of the hoary bromides of football. No matter what the situation, a team should be able to gain a yard. And if it can’t, it doesn’t deserve to win.
That one, like many other tropes, aren’t always true, however. A defense that is bound and determined to stop one type of play can sometimes completely shut them down, and that nearly happened in West Virginia’s 17-13 loss to Texas on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Austin.
Buoyed by a massive defensive front, the Longhorns held the Mountaineers time and again on short-yardage situations — no matter what WVU tried. When its typical interior runs with Leddie Brown were stifled (and Brown was shaken up early in the game), West Virginia tried to go with Alec Sinkfield, who was smashed for a loss of a yard on third-and-2 early in the second quarter. Brown managed a 3-yard conversion for a first down later in the quarter, but from there on out it was a Longhorn party.
In the third quarter, Brown was tackled for a 1-yard gain on second-and-3 at the Texas 10-yard line, which led one play later to a Mountaineer field goal. On the next series, he was forced outside for a 4-yard loss on fourth-and-1, giving the Horns the ball near midfield.
Those losses and failures to convert caused WVU to adjust its play calling, which can’t be faulted. There’s no reason to continue to try the same thing over and over again when it’s being thwarted, but unfortunately WVU couldn’t find that critical yard or two through the air, either.
“Offensively in the first half was a struggle. They are not only quality athletes but they are big and I feel like we struggled with their size,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I think the second half we had a good plan. I wasn’t totally surprised but I didn’t think we would struggle to this point.”
Near the end of the third quarter, Doege’s on-target pass to Winston Wright was dropped in the end zone, and on third down Doege was sacked by DeMar Overshown to force another field goal.
Then came the final quarter, and more Mountaineer misery. On its penultimate possession, Doege’s third-and-1 pass to Sean Ryan was awry from the start after a poor snap, and his fourth-down throw to Mike O’Laughlin was broken up by B.J. Foster. Trailing 17-13, WVU had one more chance to take the lead, but a fourth-and-1 pass attempt to Ali Jennings was broken up in close coverage by UT’s Chris Brown.
“I don’t regret going for it. There’s all kinds of data that says going for it is the way to go,” Brown observed. “It was on me to have better charge of the offense. The first one I could have kicked a field goal, the second I didn’t think we had a choice. We had a missed signal so we had to use a timeout there. I knew it was going to be difficult so I felt like we had to. It just didn’t work.”
While criticisms about play calling abounded, as is usual, throughout the game, the thing to focus on here is that West Virginia tried a number of different ways in which to convert its short-yardage situations. There were a couple of successes, but the 6 of 16 mark on third down, and the 0 for 3 showing on fourth, illustrated one point — WVU simply couldn’t get that one yard. That, unfortunately, was the difference in the game.