Saturday marks the first time Texas will leave the state in the 2019 season. The last time the Longhorns made the trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, it was to clinch a bowl berth in 2017. Although this iteration of the Mountaineers team is different, the fans that will pack Milan Puskar Stadium will be as rowdy as ever.
“I like playing in Morgantown,” senior offensive lineman Zach Shackelford said. “It’s always an electric atmosphere. Just kind of take whatever you see on film and amplify it a little bit because they’re going to be juiced up.”
The juice Shackelford speaks about sometimes can boil over and affect the players in competition. It’s a message those who’ve been in this position preach to the younger players.
“Just let them know that the fans can’t play,” senior defensive lineman Malcolm Roach said. “They can do all the talking they want to, but they aren’t going to be on that field. Block out all the noise and just get ready to play football.”
For Roach, keeping the defensive line focused is a top priority. With injuries to the secondary occurring seemingly every week, the recent play of the defensive line has made them a strength of a defense still trying to find its stride.
“It has. It really has,” defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said about his defensive line stabilizing the defense. “I think they’ve played really well and
consistent. Unfortunately, some of the guys in the back end we would expect to really help us have been hurt. You get to the back end, you don’t have a lot of experience. Every day is a learning curve.”
Some of the learning curve won’t be as steep with the return of sophomore safety B.J. Foster. Foster was out because of a hamstring injury.
“Mentally, I don’t worry about that part,” Orlando said. “I’ll just worry about being off for a stretch of time, whether or not he can handle all the running that he’s going to have to do.”
With the defense still putting the pieces together, Texas’ offense — which has been explosive this season — will carry the load. Senior wide receiver Devin Duvernay specifically may shoulder a big chunk of the offense.
Through four games, Duvernay has three times as many catches as the next-closest Texas player. Before the season began, Duvernay was moved from the outside to the inside slot position, a move that has seen benefits for Duvernay and the Longhorns’ system.
“It’s definitely an H-friendly offense,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “You either have a walkout linebacker guarding you, a nickelback potentially … or it’s a safety. So you got some matchup issues when that happens.”
Duvernay is a matchup problem for most people in the Big 12 with his combination of speed and power. Now, thriving in it, he understands the ins and outs of the position.
“Being in it firsthand … you see how it works,” Duvernay said. “I just think as an offense as a whole, with the pieces we have around us, helps the H.”
As Duvernay continues on this path, which currently has him leading the nation in receptions per game, Texas’ offense continues to be prepared to face any issues, whether it be injured defensive players or a rowdy Big 12 crowd.