Any hopes of Texas reaching the College Football Playoff were dashed by the Oklahoma State Cowboys last Saturday. However, that does not mean the Longhorns have nothing to play for. The team controls its own destiny with regard to the Big 12 Championship, something the team has not won since 2009. If Texas wins out, it will make an appearance in the game with the chance to make a New Year’s Six bowl game and energize the fan base. In order to do that, however, the team will need to take care of business against No. 13 West Virginia at home. Here are your keys to the game:
Minimize Will Grier
In last year’s matchup in Morgantown, the Longhorns were cut a massive break when then-junior Will Grier went down early in the game after breaking his middle finger. In that game, the Longhorns reached bowl eligibility for the first time under Tom Herman. But this season, Texas will not be so lucky, as Grier enters this game regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the country.
The Longhorn defense made senior Taylor Cornelius of Oklahoma State look much better than advertised, allowing chunk plays and showing an inability to contain the run. A much more talented West Virginia offence will give the defense plenty of new problems.
The only way the Longhorns can win this game is by limiting the effectiveness of Grier and the potent offense of West Virginia. For a team with a talented secondary and an aggressive front four, this is very possible but will take excellent coaching and a quality game plan.
Dominate the trenches for the offensive line
If the Longhorns are going to win this game, they will need a masterful performance by sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger, but he’ll need help.
The best way to aid Ehlinger is to open up lanes for the running backs and to keep the pocket clean so the ball can be delivered downfield. That leaves the offensive line with a big role to play and makes it responsible for how well the offense performs.
If the offensive line performs to its fullest potential, the Longhorns will have no issues moving the ball against West Virginia, both in the air and on the ground. Additionally, a clean showing from the line will also safeguard Ehlinger’s health moving forward this season.
Strong performance on special teams
In these kinds of games, where both opponents are ranked within the top 20, the outcome generally comes down to the wire. This game does not look like it will be a blowout for either team, making special teams incredibly important.
Special teams has already played a vital role in the Longhorns’ success this season. No one has forgotten freshman kicker Cameron Dicker’s game-winning kick against Oklahoma.
If Texas plans on pulling off the upset at home and remaining in the driver’s seat for an appearance in the Big 12 title game, the team will need a complete performance on special teams, including high quality punts, clutch kicks and excellent showings from the punt and kickoff teams.