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Can WVU’s Defense Stop Sam Ehlinger and Texas’ Offense?

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– Sam Ehlinger is one of the country’s top quarterbacks. Through six games, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior has racked up 1,650 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Ehlinger has thrown just five interceptions and has a 60.3 completion percentage.

“He gets the ball out on time and his accuracy is really improved,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “He is a capable runner without question and they will run him. And he does a good job when plays break down. But he is plenty efficient in the pocket too.”

Texas’ offense averages 44.3 points per game. They also average 284.2 passing yards and 165.3 rushing yards per contest.

However, the mighty Longhorns haven’t matched up against a defense like the Mountaineers’.

Oct 31, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers safety Sean Mahone (29) celebrates after intercepting a pass intended for Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Eric Hommel (18) during the first quarter at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

WVU’s defense is one of the best in the nation. It has held four of its last seven opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing. On average, opponents are held to 97.8 yards, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 10 nationally.

Through the air, the Mountaineers are holding their opponents to 157.8 passing yards per game, ranking No. 1 in the conference and No. 5 in the country.

On the season WVU is limiting its opponents to 255.7 yards of offense per game, ranking No. 1 in the Big 12 and No. 4 nationally.

The Mountaineers are holding opponents to 19.8 points per game, second in the Big 12 and 17th in the country.

Oct 31, 2020; Morgantown, West Virginia, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers cornerback Nicktroy Fortune (11) celebrates with linebacker Tony Fields II (1) after an interception during the first quarter against the Kansas State Wildcats at Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Against Kansas State, WVU’s defense held the Wildcats to a season-low 225 total yards for an average of 3.75 yards per play.  In the win, senior linebacker Tony Fields II had a 15-tackle performance.

 Dylan Tonkery, Nicktroy Fortune and Sean Mahone all had interceptions. Jared Bartlett and Dante Stills both were credited with sacks for the Mountaineers.

WVU is fifth in the conference and 18th in the nation on holding opponents to 33.3% on third-down conversions. They also are averaging 3.33 sacks per contest (No. 2 in the Big 12 and No. 15 nationally).

According to Pro Football Focus College, the Mountaineers grade out at No. 1 nationally in coverage against receivers (94.5), No. 3 in total defense (92.5), No. 4 in run defense (90.6) and No. 9 in tackling (80.6).

So, what does this mean for Ehlinger and the Longhorns?

They have their work cut out for them.

Kansas State Wildcats fullback Jax Dineen (29) is tackled by West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Tony Fields II (1) on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020, in Morgantown, WV.

Ehlinger has been clutch at the quarterback position his entire tenure with Texas. Week in and week out, he puts the team on his back and carries them.

“He is probably the best competitor in our league,” WVU co-defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “The talent speaks for itself but there’s a lot of things he does and a lot of plays that he makes that it almost looks like he kind of wills them. That’s competitiveness. I’ve got a lot of respect for that kid.”

Ehlinger has a chance to catch former Longhorns standout Colt McCoy for the most total touchdowns in school history.

The senior’s top target has been Joshua Moore, who has caught 22 receptions for 343 yards and seven touchdowns.

Behind Moore, Ehlinger has Brennan Eagles (15 catches for 243 yards and four touchdowns), Jake Smith (10 catches for 133 yards and two touchdowns) and Jordan Whittington (12 catches for 110 yards).

Texas not only gets the job done in the air but on the ground. The team’s second-leading rusher, Keaontay Ingram will miss the game after suffering a high ankle sprain last week.

Roschon Johnson (192 yards) and Bijan Robinson (181 yards) will be looked upon to carry the load.

Saturday’s game will be a test for the Mountaineers’ defense but so far WVU has stood tall on every occasion.

Kickoff is slated for noon (ET) and will be televised nationally on ABC (Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy and Holly Rowe).

Cover Photo Credit: USA TODAY SPORTS

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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