The West Virginia Mountaineers could have, and should have, beaten the 11th ranked Texas Longhorns. If not for two uncharacteristic missed field goals by Evan Staley and a few bad choices by Austin Kendall, it would have been a very different story.
West Virginia’s defense has been the story the last few games. Against Texas, one of the very best offenses in the entire country, the Mountaineers actually kept the team in the game through the 3rd quarter. Sam Ehlinger made some plays with his feet and was money on 3rd downs, but West Virginia was able to put pressure on him throughout the game and the secondary really showed up big time against the incredible, big athletes of the Longhorns.
The Mountaineers actually had more yards than Texas (463 to 427), far more passing yards (367 to 211) and nearly as many first downs (26 to 24), but ultimately it came down to missed opportunities for West Virginia and third down conversions. On 3rd downs, Texas was 10-18 and West Virginia was 4-14.
What West Virginia showed was that they could play a poor game and still almost beat one of the best teams in the country. At 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the conference, the Mountaineers are right where they need to be to shatter the preseason expectations of anyone following the team. West Virginia becoming bowl eligible in Neal Brown’s first season – a season filled with mass departures and a complete 180 degree shift in culture – would be a massive success.
The rest of the season is challenging and will require West Virginia to play better than they did against Texas or Missouri to win any of them, but most are certainly winnable. A home game against a good not great Iowa State team should be a victory (4-2). Losses on the road to Oklahoma and Baylor would put the Mountaineers at 4-4.
The final four games are against Texas Tech at home, Kansas State in Manhattan, Oklahoma State back in Morgantown and on the road at TCU to finish the season. Two of the four of those games must be wins for West Virginia to gain bowl eligibility and that seems not just possible but likely.
The West Virginia Mountaineers, a team decimated by departures and transfers, can actually play in a bowl game this year, which would be an unbelievably impressive feat for Neal Brown in his first season as the Head Coach.