MORGANTOWN – Not sure what it means, if it means anything, but if you look at the first names of the quarterbacks in Saturday’s football game between No. 11 Texas and West Virginia at 3:30 p.m. on Mountaineer Field, you realize this is not just an ordinary game.
The Texas signal caller is Sam Ehlinger. The Mountaineer quarterback, of course, is Austin Kendall. It kind of makes me think of Stephen F. Austin.
Stephen F. Austin is, perhaps, the most famous name in Texas history and was in command of the forces at the Alamo.
This may not be as significant a battle as was the Alamo but if West Virginia can pull off the home upset as a 10.5-point underdog it could jump them into the Top 25 and establish immediately that new coach Neal Brown is a force to be dealt with in the Big 12.
And make no doubt, if WVU can put forth its best effort, Texas would seem vulnerable.
First off, the Longhorns’ defense seems vulnerable, ranking last in total yards allowed in the Big 12 and 102nd nationally at 436.5 yards and ranking last in the conference and 124th nationally in passing defense, giving up 314.5 passing yards.
Now this may not be quite as bad as it seems, for two of their first four opponents were among the Top 10 offenses in the nation in LSU (3) and Oklahoma State (7), but it does show there are areas that can be probed.
What’s more Texas’ secondary is beaten up and may have had as many as three back-line players out for the game, although Brown says that doesn’t make much difference.
“They have so much depth back there that when I watch the film I can’t tell the difference between the first and second group,” Brown said.
Add to the defensive vulnerability the fact that Texas plays the Red River Showdown against rival Oklahoma next week, an annual blood game that many believe this year will be for control of the Big 12 regular-season race and a preview of the Championship game, the Mountaineers could not be in a better psychological spot.
Then throw in a rabid home crowd on Homecoming Day, all of them armed with their own variation of the “Horns Down” sign that seems to get under the Longhorns’ skin, and you have what could have one of the great home field advantages in college football.
And, to get them going a little more, they are honoring the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Peach Bowl victory over South Carolina, 14-3, in a driving rainstorm. The victory is one of the most famous in WVU history for head coach Jim Carlen and his offensive coordinator, Bobby Bowden, secretly installed the wishbone offense.
The move completely took Carolina by surprise, WVU completed only one of two passes in the game for three yards but rushed for 356 yards, including a school-record 208-yard performance from Ed Williams.
Among those scheduled to attend Saturday will be former coach and Hall of Fame inductee Bowden himself.
It’s unlikely that Brown has any such tricks up his sleeve for this one, but he understands that he is facing a powerful, explosive offense in Texas and will have to find a way to neutralize it.
“You go into the game knowing you’re not necessarily going to shut them down, but you need to limit their explosive plays,” Brown said.
And, get some big plays of his own.
“It comes down to individual, one-on-one battles, and we got to win our fair share. It comes down to one-on-ones. We got to win those .... we’ve got to generate explosive plays,” Brown said.
That could mean finding ways to get the ball to explosive wide receiver Sam James through the air, and to put the ball in the hands of Tevin Bush, another dynamic scoring threat.
Kendall holds the key here as WVU has to find a way to connect deep.
Entering the game, the WVU QB has completed only 22% of his passes of 20 yards or more, one of the lowest success rates in the nation.
At the same time, the defense must prove it can handle a strong, running quarterback better than it did in losing to Missouri when Kelly Bryant destroyed them.
They do get help as the NCAA’s four-game suspension of Alabama transfer VanDarius Cowan is up and he will play but the Mountaineers are without JoVanni Stewart, the starting safety, who will miss the game for what has been termed “personal reasons” and who will probably be out far longer, if not forever.
Brown’s only comment was that he would have more on the situation next week.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel