As improbable as it sounds, and as iffy as it sometimes looks, Case McCoy has proved time and time again he's capable of leading Texas to wins.
McCoy's latest resume bullet point was a 47-40 overtime win over West Virginia that kept the Longhorns undefeated in Big 12 play and in control of their own conference title destiny.
The senior quarterback, who has started in six games this season while starter David Ash remains sidelined with lingering concussion symptoms, was again asked to shoulder the offense with 49 pass attempts. McCoy finished the night with 283 yards passing and three touchdowns to one interceptions (which was more of a right place, right time play by WVU's Nick Kwiatkoski).
McCoy was asked to do so much because little else was working. Texas has been one of the better rushing teams in the Big 12 over the past month with running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. Just before Saturday night's game, Longhorns coach Mack Brown said in the Fox Sports 1 pregame interview that Texas has been so successful because it had found its identity.
But West Virginia's defense did a remarkable job of taking away the run, holding the 'Horns to 3.7 yards per carry. Gray left the game with what was classified by UT as a lower left leg injury, and Brown didn't have an explosive play until late in the fourth quarter.
So McCoy threw the ball—a lot, and mostly to receiver Jaxon Shipley. In all, McCoy targeted Shipley seven times on third downs, missing the first three and converting the final four. McCoy also hit deep-threat Mike Davis three times for 91 yards.
When the rushing attack failed to live up to its potential, McCoy and his receivers got the job done.
It was an unusual break from the norm. Heading into the Iowa State game in early October, Texas was 1-6 when McCoy threw at least 16 passes. McCoy threw 45 passes against the Cyclones, and it nearly cost Texas.
What has made McCoy more effective over the past month is the emergence of the ground game. When Gray and Brown are ripping off 100-yard games, it makes McCoy's job significantly easier. (That, and the defense has been far more stout under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.)
So while McCoy had been averaging 23 attempts a game over the past three games heading into Saturday, Texas had also been playing with the lead. As a result, coaches could dictate what to do on offense.
That wasn't the case against WVU.
That should have been reason enough for Longhorns fans to be nervous. McCoy has never been lauded for his consistency or arm strength, though he has the uncanny ability to mount game-winning/tying drives. Against WVU, McCoy again wasn't consistent. When time was a factor, though, he converted crucial third and fourth downs.
Texas has converted their last six third down conversions after starting out 1-of-11.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) November 10, 2013
The situation may not have been so dire had Texas turned WVU's four regulation turnovers into more than 16 points (three field goals and a touchdown). Often deep in Mountaineer territory off turnovers, the Longhorns had trouble reaching the end zone. That's a credit to WVU's D. It was also a troubling trend for Texas.
Then again, things rarely seem to come easy when McCoy is in the game. It's part endearing, part infuriating. Whatever it is, he seems to get it done more often than not, and there's little anyone can do to explain it.
Who will win the Big 12?
As insane as it sounds, maybe that's enough to help Texas get its third Big 12 title under Mack Brown. The Longhorns have three games remaining against Oklahoma State, a fading Texas Tech and a season-ending road trip to Baylor.
Ash coming back this season feels like a long shot, so this is probably McCoy's ship for the rest of the way. Texas will need its running game to return for this final stretch, if for nothing else than all three of Texas' upcoming opponents are better than West Virginia.
But if the score is close and the clock is winding down in any of those final three games, history tells us McCoy is capable of performing some magic.
Getting and keeping those games will be the challenge. Do that, though, and no one should be willing to completely bet against the Longhorns.