Gray pushes Texas over No. 24 West Virginia 33-16
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — These late-season swoons in the Big 12 are all too familiar for West Virginia. The Mountaineers certainly don’t want another one.
But after a 33-16 loss to Texas on Saturday, the No. 24 Mountaineers have watched their Big 12 title hopes collapse and a once-promising start begin fading into memory.
Johnathan Gray scored three touchdowns to lead Texas (5-5, 4-3 Big 12), which inched closer to a possible bowl game in head coach Charlie Strong’s first season.
Gray ran for 101 yards and scored on runs of 39, 2 and 15 yards as Texas ended a streak of nine straight home losses to ranked opponents. The Longhorns need to win one of their final two games to be eligible for a bowl. Texas last missed a bowl in 2010 when the Longhorns had a losing season the year after playing for the national championship.
West Virginia (6-4, 4-3, No. 23 CFP) dropped its second consecutive loss. Clint Trickett passed for 248 yards but was sacked three times, once for a safety, and had two turnovers.
Dreamius Smith ran for 101 yards and a touchdown. Kevin White had a school-record 16 catches but was kept out of the end zone.
“We still have a lot to prove,” Mountaineers wide receiver Jordan Thompson said. “It’s not going to be a 6-6 season. We’re going to come out, prove everyone wrong and try to reach our ultimate goal: a good bowl game.”
The Mountaineers looked tired, both emotionally and physically, after last week’s last-second loss to No. 6 TCU and the 1,400-mile trip to Austin.
“Whether it was a little bit of a hangover, or so to speak, from last week, I don’t know,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said. “But we weren’t ready to play. I take responsibility for that ... We got outcoached, got outplayed.”
The Longhorns hadn’t won two in a row this season and the pressure to reach a bowl was starting to mount for Strong as the season dipped into November with his team well short of becoming eligible. Consecutive conference wins will brighten that outlook with games against Oklahoma State and No. 6 TCU left to play.
“We’re not done. This is the first stepping stone toward getting that sixth win,” Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks said.
Gray scored twice in the second quarter to propel Texas to 24-3 halftime lead. West Virginia made a late charge for a comeback when Smith scored early in the fourth quarter. But after a long punt pinned West Virginia at its own 2, Trickett was sacked by Texas’ Cedric Reed for a safety.
Those points would loom large when the Mountaineers scored again but were still down by 10 and failed on a 2-point conversion. Gray put the game out of reach with his final touchdown with 3:06 to play.
Gray’s big second quarter had him looking like the former high school All-America who set national scoring records.
He had struggled to regain his burst and shifty running style after tearing an Achilles tendon against West Virginia last year. But Gray had his best run of the season on Texas’ second touchdown when he cut to his left to avoid a tackle, then used a dazzling move in the open field to escape another before diving for the pylon.
Gray set up Texas’ next touchdown with a 40-yard run before scoring. After Trickett threw an interception, Nick Rose kicked a 39-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.
“I’m just getting a feel for the game,” Gray said. “I was out for so long. I felt great tonight.”
West Virginia had a chance to make a game of by driving inside the Texas 10 early in the third quarter, but two big tackles by Hicks on third and fourth down stopped the drive.
“You can’t win a football game like that,” West Virginia defensive lineman Kyle Rose said. “You get down 24 points ... it’s hard to come back from.”