West Virginia leaves Texas defenseless in narrow win

AUSTIN -- Forget about icing the kicker. Texas inadvertently iced its own defense Saturday night against No. 8 West Virginia.

The Longhorns called a first-quarter timeout shortly before the snap that negated a potential fourth-down sack of Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith by defensive tackle Malcolm Brown. Given a second chance, Smith responded by throwing a 40-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the Mountaineers' mulligan.

The 11th-ranked Longhorns' defense remained in the deep freeze the rest of the night, losing a 48-45 shootout in which West Virginia converted 5 of 5 fourth-down opportunities -- including the TD pass to Austin -- and gashed Texas for 460 yards and 6.0 yards per snap.

As things turned out, the ill-timed timeout was just one of many defensive shortcomings by Texas (4-1, 1-1 in Big 12), which geared its game plan around containing Smith and, in doing so, made Mountaineers running back Andrew Buie look like an All-American.

Buie, a sophomore who never had topped the 100-yard mark in his college career, rushed for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries against the Longhorns.

He averaged 6.7 yards per carry one week after Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle ground out 199 yards in the Longhorns' 41-36 victory in Stillwater, Okla.

Asked if Buie's performance surprised him, Texas coach Mack Brown quickly responded: "Yes."

Brown also acknowledged that his run defense, which has played the past two weeks without standout linebacker Jordan Hicks, remains a significant concern heading into next week's Red River Rivalry matchup against No. 17 Oklahoma (3-1, 1-1) in Dallas.

"The thing for me is we're giving up so many rushing yards. We're allowing people to be two-dimensional and we've got to do a better job of [stopping] that," Brown said.

For one night, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said the Longhorns were willing to dare the Mountaineers (5-0, 2-0) to run the ball on as many snaps as possible to prevent Smith -- the Heisman Trophy front-runner -- from having his way as a passer. Smith still completed 71.4 percent of his throws (25 of 35) for 268 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, giving him a 24-0 ratio of touchdown passes-to-interceptions through five games.

Texas registered four sacks and recovered two Smith fumbles. The Longhorns hit him on several other occasions. But Smith proved, again, why he is the real deal in this year's Heisman race.

"There weren't a lot of times we weren't draped all over the guy," Diaz said. "You have to give him a lot of credit, his receivers a lot of credit. When the play was there to be made, they made it."

Texas, with rare exception, kept pace offensively. Quarterback David Ash threw for 229 yards and a touchdown, with no interceptions. Tailback Johnathan Gray, a freshman from Aledo, rushed for a career-high 87 yards and Joe Bergeron added four short scoring runs.

But a pivotal shotgun snap slipped through Ash's hands with just over five minutes to play and Texas camped at the Mountaineers' 8-yard line, facing a 41-38 deficit.

The play lost 16 yards, kicker Anthony Fera missed the ensuing 41-yard field goal attempt, and West Virginia responded with a 76-yard touchdown drive to seal the win.

"That was my fault," Ash said of the errant snap. "I was letting the play clock [get] down too low and I should've caught it."

One upside for Texas was Gray's continued improvement. Included was a career-best 49-yard run to set up a Bergeron touchdown.

"Johnathan knew his role was going to be increased ... and he played well," said Bryan Harsin, Texas' co-offensive coordinator. "He's a player that gets better and better every week, in my opinion."

The run defense, however, remains a work in progress. Senior safety Kenny Vaccaro called Saturday's effort "disappointing," with the OU game looming this week.

"The run game basically saved them," Vaccaro said. "Going into the game, that wasn't their strength. We left a lot on the table and that is frustrating."

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @Jimmy_Burch

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