Texas Tech travels 1,500 miles to Morgantown this weekend for another nationally televised Big 12 matchup, this time with West Virginia.
The Mountaineers (3-3, 1-2) aren’t expected to do much with their second season in the Big 12, especially after losing offensive stars Geno Smith and Tavon Austin. Once perineal Big East champs, West Virginia entered the Big 12 as contenders in 2012, won their first five games and worked their way into the top five of the polls before losing six of their last eight games, finishing 7-6 (4-5).
Unranked Texas Tech handed the Mountaineers their first loss, a dominating 49-14 win in Lubbock. Judge for yourselves whether or not that memory factors into this game for West Virginia.
In 2013, all three of their losses came away from Morgantown, including a 16-7 loss to Oklahoma in Norman. After getting embarrassed by Maryland 37-0, West Virginia returned home the following week and knocked off then-No. 11 Oklahoma State, once considered the league favorite, 30-21. After a 73-42 loss to Baylor in Waco, it’s clear this is definitely a team that plays better at home than on the road.
On September 29, 2012, West Virginia hosted Baylor in Morgantown for one of the wildest games of the year. In a 70-63 win, the Mountaineers put up 807 yards of total offense, mostly off the arm of Heisman candidate Geno Smith. Wide receiver Jordan Thompson is the only active player left on West Virginia’s roster who contributed in that win – he had two receptions for 18 yards and one rush for a loss of two. That should give you a sense of how much offensive talent left Morgantown for the NFL.
There’s not really anything West Virginia’s offense does well. Through six games, with opponents like Georgia St. and William & Mary to counter balance a tough Big 12 schedule, the Mountaineers rank 60th in passing yards per game (245.3) and 85th in rushing yards per game (147.5). The lone play-maker is running back Charles Sims, senior transfer from Houston, who’s started all six games in the backfield and averages a decent 4.9 yards per carry and 80 yards per game. Still, those numbers won’t scare anyone, especially a defensive front seven like Tech’s.
At quarterback, the Mountaineers boast several options, all three with have starting expereicne. Here are their numbers:
Florida State transfer Clint Trickett started the last two games against Oklahoma State and Baylor, going 1-1 as a starter. On paper, Paul Millard looks like the best option of the three, even with his best numbers coming in garbage time against Baylor. All indications are we’ll see Trickett again on Saturday, at least until he starts making mistakes.
For as many steps the Mountaineer offense took backwards from last year, the defense took forward. West Virginia holds their opponents to just 28.5 points per game, down from 38.1 last season. Take away the 73 points they gave up to Baylor and it makes the average an impressive 19.6 points per game. Against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Maryland it’s a very reasonable 24.7, which usually spells victory for a Big 12 team with at least an average offense. The Mountaineers went 1-2 in those three games because they couldn’t score points.
Part of West Virginia’s success on defense comes from showing multiple fronts and coverages to opposing quarterbacks, but the biggest difference is the number of turnovers they’ve been able to force. To-date, the Mountaineers forced 15 turnovers on defense (2.5 per game), including two interceptions and a fumble all returned for touchdowns. On top of that, it’s amazing what simply running to the ball and making tackles can do for defensive statistics.
West Virginia’s opportunism and multiplicity is designed to take advantage of young quarterbacks like Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, something coach Kingsbury wants to prepare for this week.
“The biggest deal, you watch the film, is how multiple they are. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. I know they had a rough night in Waco, but aside from that, they’ve played really good defense. They’ve turned people over, lots of negative plays, wreaking havoc. You never know where they’re going to lineup. Week-in and week-out they look like a completely different team as far as games go. That obviously is a challenge for a young quarterback.”
No matter who starts for either team at quarterback or how hard both sides try to establish the run, this game looks like it’ll come down to which defense tires first. Were this game played in Lubbock, I’d pick the Red Raiders to win easily. As it is, Mountaineer fans should provide a hostile environment and West Virginia plays well surrounded by those country roads.