3 problematic Mountaineers players for Texas football

Dante Stills, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Dante Stills, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /
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Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Texas football Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports /

What has now emerged as one of the most important games of the regular season lies ahead this weekend for head coach Steve Sarkisian and Texas football against head coach Neal Brown and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Texas must respond after the worst loss of the season so far.

Sark and the Longhorns fell short in an upset in overtime last weekend at the hands of new head coach Joey McGuire and the Texas Tech Red Raiders, by the final score of 37-34. That tough overtime loss to Texas Tech on the road in the Big 12 opener moved Texas’ record on the season to a mediocre 2-2 (0-1 Big 12).

Meanwhile, West Virginia comes into this game with a record of 2-2 (0-1 Big 12) following a convincing 33-10 win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on the road in Blacksburg on Sep. 24.

West Virginia will be a challenging opponent for Texas in the first home conference game of the season. Led by two-time transfer quarterback JT Daniels, the West Virginia offense has a lot of the pieces needed to have one of the more dynamic groups in the FBS this season. And the West Virginia defense ranks 59th in the post-Week 4 SP+ standings. The defense is about the same as last season, but the offense looks improved for the Mountaineers.

WVU players that could be a problem for Texas football

With that in mind, here’s a look at three problematic West Virginia players for Texas in Week 5.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR

This top trio of West Virginia wide receivers between redshirt junior Bryce Ford-Wheaton, sophomore Kaden Prather, and fifth-year junior Sam James is going to be one of the better groups that the Texas secondary faces in Big 12 play this season.

And this trio of West Virginia wideouts has a solid quarterback getting them the ball with the former USC Trojans and Georgia Bulldogs transfer Daniels leading the way.

What makes Ford-Wheaton, in particular, so impressive is the versatility he brings to the table. Standing at 6-foot-3 and 220-pounds, Ford-Wheaton has the size to beat opposing DBs on those tough contested 50/50 balls. But he also has more speed and elusiveness than you would expect out of your run-of-the-mill outside West Virginia receiver.

So far this season, Ford-Wheaton leads the Big 12 in contested catches, with eight. He also ranks in the top 10 in contested catch percentage (57.1). One notable trend that emerged in the last two weeks, though, was that Ford-Wheaton didn’t have any contested catches after posting a whopping eight in the first two weeks.

It looks like Daniels and the Mountaineers have looked Ford-Wheaton’s way fewer times since the schedule lightened up. In the last two weeks, most of the targets in the passing game actually went to Prather. As the more potent receiver in space, Prather leads the WVU wideouts in missed tackles forced and yards after the catch per reception through four games.

But Ford-Wheaton is the target that West Virginia seems to turn to most often against better competition. He’s a first-down machine, with a team-leading (among receivers) 19 on the season that looks the big-time target on the outside that can also be a big-play threat.

There’s a multitude of ways that West Virginia will get Ford-Wheaton involved this weekend. They love to run him down the sidelines on fade and corner routes, which maximizes his large frame and ability to high-point the football on contested throws. That will put some pressure on redshirt sophomore Texas boundary corner Ryan Watts.

But Watts should be able to hang with Ford-Wheaton thanks to his physical nature and matching 6-foot-3 frame.

Moreover, West Virginia will also use Ford-Wheaton to test teams deep. While West Virginia didn’t see the connection come to life much this season between Daniels and Ford-Wheaton on the deep, don’t sleep on the threat that this will present over the top.

Ford-Wheaton has some sneaky speed and registered nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns on deep balls last season.

West Virginia does a nice job of moving Ford-Wheaton around on the line of scrimmage. He’s most often lined up as a boundary receiver. But they motion him around a lot, so senior corner D’Shawn Jamison could also get some matchups against the standout fourth-year wideout.

This is also going to be a spot where Watts and/or Jamison will likely need some help over the top at times this weekend.

The total body of work on the season so far for Ford-Wheaton is impressive. Ford-Wheaton is currently the third-highest graded wide receiver in the Big 12 so far this season. He also ranks second in catches (27) in the Big 12, third in receiving yards (319), and second in receiving touchdowns (four). But most of his production came in the first two games of the season.

Texas will need to limit him this weekend to keep this potent West Virginia passing game at bay.