Three minutes. That's all it took to bring the largest, loudest, most raucous home crowd in Longhorn history from jubilation down to its knees.
Moments earlier, the Texas defense sacked "the best quarterback in college football" — West Virginia's Geno Smith — for the fourth time of the game, and for the second time stripped the ball and recovered the fumble on the Mountaineers' 12 yard line. A field goal would tie; a touchdown would put Texas in the lead with just five minutes left in the game.
It was not to be.
The Longhorns lost admirably, playing an almost perfect game on a night they needed to be perfect.
After pushing the ball to the 8 yard line, Texas QB David Ash, in the shotgun, appeared to lose track of the game clock. Texas' center did not. Dominic Espinosa snapped the ball with one second left on the play clock. It flew past Ash. The QB fell on it for a 16-yard loss, followed by a missed 41-yard field goal attempt.
And nearly 102,000 fans in Royal-Memorial Stadium fell silent — well, almost silent. The 3,000 West Virginia fans sounded pretty loud at that moment. The defensive gem went for nothing, and Geno Smith took the ball, drove the field and scored to put the Mountaineers up by 10 with just over a minute left to play.
Let's give the Longhorns credit. While they lost the game 48-45, they came within 8 yards of defeating one of the best teams in the country — certainly the best offense in college football — and they did it as a young team playing way above the standard they'd set in their previous four games.
Defense shows up
The Texas defense slowed Heisman front-runner Geno Smith just enough to stay in the game. The Longhorns sacked Smith four times and end Alex Okafor stripped Smith of the ball twice, forcing two fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Horns' Jackson Jeffcoat for a touchdown.
They shut down West Virginia on third down, holding the nation's best third down conversion offense to just three of 12. Unfortunately, West Virginia played four-down football and did substantially better converting on all five fourth down attempts. Both teams punted only once — West Virginia's punt was partially blocked as was a Mountaineer field goal.
Slowing Smith wasn't enough though. The Mountaineers have the best receiving tandem in college football and the Texas defense never found a way to stop second string running back Andrew Buie who ripped off 207 yards and looked like a Heisman candidate himself. Texas has now allowed over 400 yards rushing in two games to just two running backs.
Offense stands up
On offense, David Ash went nose-to-nose with Smith, equaling the Heisman front-runner in every category except TD passes. Freshman running back Johnathan Gray played his best game gaining 87 yards on 14 carries, 49 on one great run. Gray was never tackled for a loss, an amazing stat.
In the end, Texas is too young and West Virginia is a great, veteran team with a nearly unstoppable offense and a defense that played its best game of the season. And still, the Texas team played well enough to win — give them credit for that.
Questions for the coach
While crediting the players, question the coaches. Texas had a terrible time getting plays off in the allotted 40 seconds, a problem that bit them with that bad snap in the fourth quarter and suggests the coaching staff was not getting plays in as quickly as they needed to.
Head coach Mack Brown iced his own defense, calling a timeout just before a West Virginia fourth down that Texas stuffed. Geno Smith made Brown pay, throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass on the do-over. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz has yet to figure out how to teach tackling; the defense was better on Saturday, but still not good.
OU up next
Now the Horns must shake off the disappointing loss as they prepare head to Dallas and face OU next week. The season is far from over for Texas. They lost admirably, playing an almost perfect game on a night they needed to be perfect.
Beating OU will make the hurt go away quickly, and will position Texas to make a final run for the Big 12 Championship. West Virginia still needs to play Kansas State, who is also undefeated.
The Texas Longhorns made a statement Saturday night. They are a team to be reckoned with, a team that can stand up against the best college football can throw at them — and these Horns will only get better.