AUSTIN, Texas — At the very least, a share of first place in the Big 12 is on the line today as No. 13 West Virginia (6-1, 4-1 Big 12) visits No. 17 Texas (6-2, 4-1) at Darrell K. Royal-Memorial Stadium.
“It’s a 100,000-seat stadium, that’s a little different than most,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I’ve seen that place really good. Most of our guys that are on our team understand that environment. We’ve played in those environments before, and it’s one that we’re excited about.”
The Mountaineers have been successful in Austin under Holgorsen, winning on two of their three trips.
“We’ve had success down there, so our guys are going to be fired up about going,” Holgorsen said.
The Longhorns won last year’s game in Morgantown 28-14, but West Virginia was playing with an arm tied behind its back — specifically, the right hand that quarterback Will Grier broke late in the first quarter.
“When you’re not playing him, it’s certainly fun to watch. When you are playing him, it’s a handful,” Texas head coach Tom Herman said. “He is an absolute difference-maker back there.”
Grier should have some opportunities to make a difference against a defense that is tough, but susceptible to giving up big plays. Texas is third in the Big 12 in scoring defense and run defense. But despite the presence of freshman star Caden Sterns at safety, the Longhorns are 115th in the nation with 10 receptions of 40 yards or longer allowed this season.
Texas will be without one of its most veteran defenders, too. Nose tackle Chris Nelson, who has 23 career starts, sprained his ankle in practice this week and has been ruled out.
The injury situation will potentially be better for West Virginia, which hasn’t played for nine days since a 58-14 beatdown of Baylor. Linebackers Quondarius Qualls and Brendan Ferns were cleared to return to practice this week after sitting out the entire season due to knee injuries in spring practice. It’s unclear whether either will actually play against Texas, though.
Holgorsen said that middle linebacker Dylan Tonkery and safety Derrek Pitts were also back in practice this week, but any decisions about whether they will play would be made closer to game day. Both players were out against Baylor.