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Can WVU’s defense contain Sam Ehlinger and the Longhorns’ offense?

Through the first four games of the season West Virginia has posted a 3-1 record with its lone loss coming against Missouri. With Big 12 action underway, the Mountaineers face their toughest challenge of the season when No. 11 Texas comes to town on Saturday.

The Longhorns (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) are coming off a 36-30 win over Oklahoma State and their lone loss was at the hands of LSU in a back-and-forth showdown in Death Valley.

Leading the way for Texas is junior quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who has put up numbers comparable to some of the recent Heisman winning quarterbacks and some of the greatest Longhorn quarterbacks.

In his last 17 games, the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder has thrown 38 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Against the Cowboys, he tied a career-high with four touchdown passes.

Ehlinger has 1,237 passing yards and 1,428 total yards of offense, surpassing former Longhorn star Colt McCoy. During that stretch, he has thrown 15 touchdowns.

While the Austin native is one of the best in the nation, Texas has many other stars on the offensive side of the ball. 

Senior wide receiver Collin Johnson is one of the best on paper for the Longhorns. In two games, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound wide out has seven receptions for 108 yards and one touchdown. 

During his tenure at Texas, Johnson has 157 catches (eighth in school history) for 2,173 yards (ninth in school history) and 13 touchdowns (12th in school history). 

He has been plagued this season with a hamstring injury, sidelining him against Rice and Oklahoma State and his availability on Saturday is up in the air.

The Longhorns also have threats in the air game with senior Devin Duvernay, freshman Jake Smith and sophomore Brennan Eagles. 

Obviously, Texas gets it done in the air but the Longhorns have powerful running backs in Keaontay Ingram and Roschon Johnson.

Ingram has carried the ball 55 times for 295 yards and three touchdowns this season. His performance this year is an encore from his freshman campaign where he rushed for 708 yards, which was ninth best for a true freshman in school history. 

Freshman Roschon Johnson has racked up 223 yards.

Don’t forget the offensive line. 

Sophomore Samuel Cosmi has shined on the line all season. Against Louisiana Tech, the 6-foot-7, 300-pound tackle didn’t allow a quarterback pressure on 47 pass-blocking snaps.

The entire Longhorn line comes in at 300 pounds.

Darius Stills (56) celebrates a sack against James Madison on Saturday, August 31, 2019. (Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS)

So how will WVU’s young defensive line fare against the unit? 

The Mountaineers defense includes 13 true freshmen, four redshirt freshmen, three sophomores and five redshirt sophomores. 

The Stills brothers look to pose problems for Ehlinger and the Texas offense. The two have been a force so far this season. 

Dante Stills is ranked second in the Big 12 and 10th in the nation in tackles for a loss, averaging 1.6 per game. He is also second in the conference and 10th in the country in sacks (4). Darius Stills is tied for fourth in the Big 12 and 36th in the nation with three. 

Reese Donahue, Reuben Jones and Jeffery Pooler Jr. have all been a solid force on the line. 

As a whole, WVU’s ranked second in the Big 12 and No.29 in the nation with 11 sacks.

They are second in the league in sacks per game (2.8), third in tackles for a loss yards (111) and fourth in sack yards (68).

The defense has generated 28 negative plays, including 21 tackles for loss and nine sacks and has only allowed one 100-yard rusher and no one has for more than 300 yards.

The Mountaineers lead the Big 12 and are 47th in the nation in fumbles recovered. 

Overall, the defense is 44th nationally in passing defense (201.5 ypg), 65th in scoring defense (25.5 ppg), 66th in total defense (374.0 ypg) and 85th in rushing defense (172.5 ypg)

Dante Stills (55) and Jordan Jefferson (95) celebrate a defensive stop in WVU’s win over NC State. Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS

Even though WVU has been solid defensively, the team struggled mightily against Missouri, missing 22 total tackles, which included five potential quarterback sacks. 

However, defensive line coach Jordan Lesley and the defense have been working on new tackling techniques to correct the errors.

The Mountaineers will have a tough task at hand on Saturday but the defense has the ability to contain the Longhorns’ offense if they can force turnovers and come out blazing.

Cover Photo Credit: Texas Athletics

Shanna Rose
WVU Graduate with a bachelor's in journalism and multimedia journalist. Sports Fan and sports writer. Former WVU News reporter. Contact Shanna on Twitter @SMR1837
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