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West Virginia vs. Texas: Longhorns Rushing Attack Key to Exposing Mountaineers

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 29:   Safety Shamiel Gary #7 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys tackles running back Johnathan Gray #32 of the Texas Longhorns on September 29, 2012 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Texas defeated Oklahoma State 41-36. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Alex BallentineFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 26, 2016

The Texas Longhorns rushing attack will determine the outcome of its game against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

For all of Geno Smith's wizardry and excellence at passing the ball, it won't be him or his many speedy receivers that will decide who wins this one. This game comes down to what the Longhorns' offense can do to help out a defense that will attempt to slow down Smith and the Mountaineers.

In order to help a defense that gave up 300 yards passing the last time it came out, the Longhorns will have to put together long, sustained drives.

The Mountaineers can be exposed in the passing game. Last week's 70-63 shootout victory over Baylor showed that. West Virginia surrendered a mind-boggling 581 yards through the air in that game. Despite those numbers, the Bears were still unable to keep up with Dana Holgorsen's squad.

The Longhorns can't follow the blueprint Baylor laid out. If they allow Ash to air it out like Art Briles and Baylor did, they will score plenty of points, but they won't get the win.

Ash has shown plenty of maturation from last season to this one, but he's not quite ready to go touchdown-for-touchdown with Smith. The Longhorns will need a steady diet of Joe Bergeron and freshman running back Johnathan Gray.

With Sophomore standout Malcolm Brown out with an ankle injury, the tandem of Bergeron and Gray will be charged with keeping the West Virginia offense off the field and out of rhythm.

Bergeron is the team's leading rusher with 255 yards on 52 carries while Gray has chipped in with 157 yards on 33 carries. If both backs can get things going early on, the Longhorns will be ahead of the game.

The Longhorns have dominated time of possession in three of their four wins (only losing the time of possession battle in a 45-0 blowout of New Mexico). Much of their ability to control the clock comes from a running game that has averaged 228 yards per game.

By dominating the battle of the trenches and establishing the running game early, Texas can force West Viriginia to play at a slower pace. Not many teams can keep up with West Virginia in a track meet, but they haven't been tested by a team that is able to run the ball with physicality.

If the Longhorns want to preserve their undefeated record, they'll need big days from Bergeron and Gray to help a defense that will need all the rest they can get to put pressure on Smith and get the stops necessary to win the game.

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