Longhorns search for bowl eligibility in return to Morgantown

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Photo Credit: Zoe Fu | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorns don’t have the fondest memories of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Texas stands one win away from ending its skid of back-to-back 5–7 seasons and becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014. But the road to bowl eligibility goes through Morgantown and the Mountaineers.

The Longhorns last traveled to West Virginia in 2015, when they suffered a 38-20 defeat in front of a raucous crowd full of “hillbillies and moonshine,” according to junior defensive end Breckyn Hager. 

“It’s a bunch of hillbillies drinking moonshine,” Hager said following Tuesday’s practice. “I remember it all. I remember looking up, seeing someone with no teeth singing. I remember I was all mad, about to cry, trying to block all of that stuff out and get to the locker room.”

Fast forward two years, and Texas is returning to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium. The electric crowd won’t be Texas’ biggest issue come Saturday, however. The Longhorns’ main concern will be junior quarterback Will Grier and the Mountaineer offense. 

Grier hasn’t received nearly as much national attention as Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield or Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, but his performance this season speaks for itself. 

Grier leads the Big 12 in touchdown passes (34) and is second in completions (244) this season. This high-powered offense will provide one of the biggest tests of the year for Texas’ defense.

“I’m really excited. I think this offense that we’re going against is real special,” Hager said. “I like Grier. He’s a great quarterback. I think he’s one of the great quarterbacks in the Big 12.”

Texas has yet to claim a marquee victory this season, and it only has one more chance. The Longhorns’ close losses to then-No. 4 USC, then-No. 12 Oklahoma and then-No. 10 Oklahoma State are in the past. 

Now, as Texas looks to earn bowl eligibility, it has one more opportunity to get a victory against a top-25 caliber opponent in the Mountaineers. West Virginia is unranked in the College Football Playoff poll but is ranked No. 24 in the AP poll. With two games remaining in the season, Texas players claim that desperation has not begun to set in just yet. 

“We’re not desperate,” junior safety DeShon Elliott said. “But we do know we need to win at least one of the next two games — not just to build on next year, but to get our seniors to a bowl game.”

A 6–6 record usually doesn’t fly by Texas’ standards, but this year is different. The Longhorns have made their goal crystal clear: make a bowl, for the seniors. 

“I think we have a senior class, an experienced class, that, although small, is very well respected,” head coach Tom Herman said. “I really do think that there is a genuine desire for our guys to make sure that we get them to the postseason, that they can play one more game in the burnt orange and white.”