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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) – Running back Johnathan Gray would like nothing but pleasant memories of Texas’ upcoming trip to West Virginia.
The last time the Longhorns came to Morgantown in November 2013, Gray tore an Achilles tendon in an overtime win over the Mountaineers and missed the rest of the season. Texas lost two of its three final regular-season games and coach Mack Brown was out of a job.
Gray returned for 2014 and was a big part of the Longhorns’ victory over the Mountaineers in Austin, Texas, rushing for 101 yards and three touchdowns.
But overall, the player who set a national high school career record for touchdowns hasn’t met lofty expectations in college. Before his injury, Gray rushed for 780 yards in 2013, which remains his best season.
Now a senior and part of a running back tandem with 241-pound sophomore D’Onta Foreman along with a pair of mobile quarterbacks, Gray is hoping to help Texas (4-5, 3-3 Big 12) get that elusive first true road win and move closer to qualifying for a bowl game Saturday at West Virginia (4-4, 1-4).
“It means a lot,” Gray said of returning to Morgantown. “That’s the game of football. So you’ve just got to move on and help your teammates out in any way possible.
“I get another chance to go out there and do that, and that’s what I plan on doing.”
Texas has won three of its last four games, beating winless Kansas 59-20 at home last week. Now the Longhorns are making a 1,400-mile trek to take on a West Virginia team with its own ups-and-downs. The Mountaineers started the season 3-0 before losing to four ranked teams in October.
Against Texas, quarterback Skyler Howard wants to limit West Virginia’s frequent offensive mistakes, including his own. Howard is completing 43 percent of his passes with eight interceptions in five conference games.
“Initially, I thought that this would be the game that you would circle,” Howard said. “But really it’s about us right now — West Virginia against West Virginia on offense, at least. In these games, we have kind of shot ourselves in the foot, whether it’s missed opportunities or penalties. I think we shoot ourselves in the foot a lot.”
Texas coach Charlie Strong is worried about West Virginia’s offense, too. The Mountaineers piled up 300 rushing yards in a 31-26 win over Texas Tech last week.
“In order for us to win this game, we’ve got to go stop the run,” Strong said.
Some other things to watch for when West Virginia hosts Texas on Saturday:
BOWL HOPES: Both teams need two wins to qualify for a bowl. After West Virginia, the Longhorns host Texas Tech on Thanksgiving and end the regular season at undefeated Baylor. WVU also plays Kansas and Kansas State on the road, sandwiched around a home game with Iowa State.
TEXAS QBs: Texas redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard threw for 201 yards and a score against Kansas, while former starter Tyrone Swoopes, used primarily in short-yardage situations, had four TD runs and a scoring pass. But Texas managed just 204 total yards in a 24-0 loss the week before to Iowa State.
NOVEMBER TO FORGET: West Virginia is 4-9 in November since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
ROAD WOES: Texas has been outscored 112-10 in three losses in true road games. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma on a neutral field in Dallas.
STRONG’S RETURN: Strong was Louisville’s head coach in 2011 when the Cardinals beat West Virginia in Morgantown when both teams were in the Big East. “When we get there, it’s all about us just locking in and getting focused,” Strong said. “It’s a really tough environment.”
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