If you can call beating a team on the trail end of the Top 25 a signature win, then Charlie Strong wrote his name across the bottom of Texas’ 33-16 win over No. 23 West Virginia on Saturday afternoon.
The Longhorns built a 24-3 halftime lead after Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown led the way for 178 rushing yards, but Texas practically demanded the Mountaineers crawl back in the game after sticking its offense in neutral for most of the second half. Texas’ first seven drives of the second half went punt, punt, fumble, punt, turnover on downs, interception or punt, losing yards on two of those possessions and traveling 11 yards or less on five of them. And, voila, all of a sudden West Virginia took possession of the ball at its own 14 with more than five minutes remaining in the game.
But, as it had so many times throughout the day, the Texas defense stood tall when its offense needed it to, forcing a turnover on downs at the WVU 15 yard line. Gray rushed in from 15 yards out for his third touchdown of the day, putting the game away and providing the winning score with 3:06 to go.
Texas rushed the ball 39 times for 228 yards and Gray’s three scores, carrying the day for a spectacularly mediocre Tyrone Swoopes, who completed 11 of his 29 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Cedric Reed led the defensive effort for the Longhorns, recording three sacks, including one for a safety, and a forced fumble. Vance Bedford‘s unit allowed Clint Trickett to complete 35-of-48 passes, but for just 248 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Kevin White caught 15 passes for 132 yards, but no other Mountaineer gained more than 50 yards through the air. Dreamius Smith led the way for West Virginia on the ground with 10 carries for an even 100 yards and a touchdown.
The win pushes Texas to 5-5 on the season and on the precipice of bowl eligibility with an extremely winnable visit to Oklahoma State next week. After that, Strong’s bunch closes the season with a chance for a statement win over TCU in Austin on Thanksgiving night.
West Virginia, meanwhile, falls from controlling its own destiny in the Big 12 just eight days ago to standing below Texas in the standings at 4-3 in league play. The 6-4 Mountaineers will take Saturday off before hosting Kansas State on Thursday, Nov. 20.