Know Thine Enemy: West Virginia and Texas Tech are complete opposites


At first glance, Saturday’s Big 12 football contest between Texas Tech and the West Virginia Mountaineers might seem to be of little significance. And while the outcome of the game will have no impact on the national college football landscape, to both the Red Raiders and the Mountaineers this game could be the turning point of the 2015 season.

Each team comes in to the game on a down swing. Texas Tech has lost 4 of 6 games in the conference while West Virginia has lost 4 consecutive conference games. Coincidentally, the four losses put on each team have come at the hands of the top four teams in the Big 12; Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma.

Therefore, the winner of Saturday’s game will head into the home stretch of the season (Texas Tech will have only two more regular season games while West Virginia will have four more to play) with momentum that might carry them into postseason play and a strong finish to the year.

Let’s take a look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Mountaineers and what Texas Tech might be in for on Saturday.


Coming in to 2015, many predicted that the West Virginia defense would be the best defensive unit in the Big 12. And while that lofty praise has not come to fruition, Texas Tech fans would give their right arm to have the kind of defense West Virginia fields.

The 51st ranked West Virginia defense has limited opponents to only 28.9 points per game. They did give up 62 to Baylor but unlike Texas Tech, that is the only team to hang more than 60 on them thus far.

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The Mountaineers’ season took an awful turn when all-conference safety Karl Joseph was lost to a season-ending knee injury during a non-contact practice drill in early October. Joseph was considered a guarantee to be drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft (in only four games this season, Joseph had 5 interceptions) and his absence leave the West Virginia secondary with a gaping hole at safety.

Still, the front seven of the Mountaineers is salty, especially the trio of senior linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski, Shaq Pettaway and Jared Barber. The experienced triumvirate has combined for 109 tackles and 4.5 sacks.

Offensively, the West Virginia defense is not the prolific passing offense that Texas Tech fans saw in Lubbock last year with quarterback Clint Trickett and wide receiver Kevin White. But, (cover your eyes if you are squeamish) the Mountaineers can run the ball, which puts a sense of dread in the hearts of Red Raider fans.

Texas Tech will see a heavy dose of No. 4 Wendell Smallwood. The 5-foot-11, 201-pound junior from Wilmington, Delaware has rushed for 791 yards in only seven games thus far. He averages 5.1 yards per carry and has scored five touchdowns. He is also a threat out of the backfield catching 19 passes on the season.

Despite playing through an ankle injury in October, Smallwood has been the most consistent player on the West Virginia offense. Texas Tech must not let Smallwood get into the open field because he has the speed to take a simple hand off all the way.


While Smallwood is by far West Virginia’s best weapon, their quarterback Skyler Howard can be a liability. The Ft. Worth native who began his career at Stephen F. Austin University before winding up at West Virginia is no where near the caliber of passer that Texas Tech has seen in other Big 12 quarterbacks.

At only 6-feet-tall and 200 pounds, he does not possess a canon of an arm. Nor is he a threat to kill you with the run (rushing for a mere 229 yards, though he does have a 50-yard scamper to his credit).

Howard has a slightly better than 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio at 16:7. He does not look to throw the ball deep as evidenced by his 7.6 yards per passing attempt (in comparison, Texas Tech’s Pat Mahomes averages 8.6 yards per attempt while attempting 175 more throws).

Therefore, look for West Virginia to try to keep the ball moving on the ground and use play action to make the intermediate and safe throws available to Howard. If the Mountaineers can do this, the Tech defense’s lack of depth will once again be exposed.

Another weakness of Holgorsen’s team is the lack of consistency at wide receiver. Sound familiar?

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No. 1, Shelton Gibson is the only reliable playmaker on the outside for West Virginia. He has 25 catches for 576 yards (a whopping 23 yards per catch average) and seven touchdowns.

Other than that, West Virginia only has four other receivers with more than 10 catches on the season. The days of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Kevin White are long gone in Morgantown.

Overall, West Virginia is scoring 32.5 points per game but that number shrinks to 24.5 in Big 12 games. Against Oklahoma State West Virginia managed only 26 points and against TCU, it managed only 10 points. Conversely, Texas Tech scored over 50 points against those two opponents.

Defensively, the Mountaineer secondary is banged up. Besides the loss of Joseph, starting corner Terrell Chestnut has been hampered by a shoulder injury that often keeps him from finishing games. And last season’s top corner, Daryl Worley (who Texas Tech fans may remember because he returned from a suspension just in time to play in Lubbock last season) has been disappointing after a solid 2014 season.

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However, the question must be asked: Does Texas Tech have the talent at wide receiver to take advantage of the West Virginia corners?

This could be said every week but it bears repeating; Texas Tech will have to play close to a perfect game to come out of Morgantown victorious. These teams are evenly matched and this game is intriguing because it truly pits the strength of each team versus the weakness of the other.