West Virginia Football: Mountaineers Should Worry About Texas More Than Oklahoma
The West Virginia Mountaineers will have plenty to worry about over the coming months as they make the transition into the Big 12 Conference.
WVU will square off with some of the most storied programs in college football history and some of the most talented teams in the country.
One of those squads, Oklahoma, enters the season as the outright favorite to claim the Big 12 crown and the most legitimate national title contender in the conference.
However, the Mountaineers can't worry about the Sooners just yet, because the Texas Longhorns are a much more pressing concern.
This may be a surprise to read, as Texas finished sixth in the conference last year with an overall record of just 8-5.
So why should West Virginia be less worried about the Big 12 favorites and more worried about a team that finished just 4-5 in conference play last year?
This reason is the most obvious and it goes back to the whole "one game at a time" cliche.
West Virginia will trek to Austin to take on the Longhorns on October 6, but Oklahoma won't come to Morgantown until November 17.
UT and WVU will be each other's fifth overall and second Big 12 opponent of the season and it is very possible that they will both be undefeated at 4-0 going into the game.
Texas will represent not only West Virginia's first road game of the season, but also the first true test of its life in the Big 12.
If the Mountaineers drop this matchup, questions will immediately be raised as to how well they will be able to compete in the conference.
On the other hand, if they emerge victorious, every team in the Big 12—and in the nation—will know that WVU means business in 2012.
Simply put, Texas is West Virginia's first opportunity to make a statement, which makes it more of a cause for concern than the mid-November battle with Oklahoma.
Elite Texas Pass Rush
The Texas pass rush could pose a serious problem for West Virginia.
The Longhorns return one of the most talented defensive end tandems in the country in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor.
Together they combined for 15 sacks for a loss of 90 yards last year and they also had 129 tackles, 35 of which were for a loss.
Recently, they were both named Preseason All-Big 12 and Okafor was named the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
Geno Smith was sacked seven times in WVU's two Big East Conference losses last season and was particularly harassed by the Syracuse pass rush.
If Jeffcoat and Okafor are let loose on Smith, it will be a long day for the Mountaineers in Austin.
First Big 12 Road Trip
Of course, the biggest difference between West Virginia's matchup with Oklahoma and its matchup with Texas is the venue.
Oklahoma will come to Morgantown—no big deal there.
On the other hand, the Mountaineers will be making their first trip to Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium in October.
DKR's 100,119 seats make it the largest venue in the Big 12—a nice little welcome for the conference newcomers.
In general, any road game is much more of a cause for concern than a home game, but WVU's first road game in the Big 12—which happens to be in the biggest stadium in the conference—should definitely produce some serious anxiety.
Longhorn Running Game
West Virginia ranked No. 55 in the nation last year in rush defense, allowing more than 144 yards per game on the ground.
In their three losses, the Mountaineers gave up 161 rushing yards on average.
Meanwhile, in their four closest wins, they allowed 177 on the ground per game but in their four most lopsided wins, they allowed only 86 rushing yards.
In short, WVU was most successful when its rush defense held strong.
Texas, on the other hand, was No. 21 in rush offense, averaging more than 202 yards per game.
The Longhorns will return their top two running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, who combined for 1,205 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago.
Also, they will add the nation's top running back from the class of 2012, Jonathan Gray, who figures to make an immediate impact in Austin.
If Texas' three horsemen are able to trample the WVU defense, it will most certainly spell trouble for the Mountaineers' hopes of winning.