Know Your Foe: West Virginia Mountaineers

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 07: Marcus Simms
FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 07: Marcus Simms /

This week, the No. 24 Texas Tech Red Raiders travel to West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers. Let’s take a look at what fans can expect from this week’s opponent.

Texas Tech will look to end a three-game losing streak in its youngest Big 12 rivalry this weekend in Morgantown, West Virginia.  After taking the first two conference meetings between the two schools in 2012-2013, Tech has found it difficult to compete with Dana Holgorsen’s rugged West Virginia teams.

Fans expecting anything different from the 2017 version of the Mountaineers are mistaken.  Once again, West Virginia has fielded a team that is experienced, physical and confident in its ability to impose its will on the Red Raiders.

The Mountaineers are 3-2 on the season with wins over the rather uninspiring trio of East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas.  Ironically, it is in their two losses that the Mountaineers have impressed the most.

Holgorsen’s team lost a rugged neutral site battle to then no. 21 Virginia Tech 31-24 to open the season.  The Hokies scored the winning touchdown with just 6:34 to play and had to stop West Virginia on two goal-line plays as time expired to preserve the win.

Virginia Tech has risen to no. 15 in the AP poll with a 5-1 record.  Thus, the fact that West Virginia went toe-to-toe with the Hokies is a testament to the quality of Holgorsen’s team.

WVU enters this week’s game after suffering its second 7-point loss to a ranked team in 2017.  Last Saturday, the Mountaineers fell to no. 6 TCU in Ft. Worth.  Coincidentally, the score of that game was also 31-24.   Once again, WVU took on a physical and highly-ranked team and found itself with a legitimate shot to win the game in the fourth quarter.

The Mountaineers feature an offense that is formidable at every skill position group.  Senior running back Justin Crawford is the Big 12’s leading rusher with 562 yards on 80 carries.  He is averaging 7.0 yards per carry and has found the end zone six times.

The WVU passing attack is also explosive.  Quarterback Will Grier, a transfer from Florida, is third in the Big 12 with 348 yards per game through the air.  He also is tied for the conference lead with 16 touchdown passes.

Grier has three big weapons on the outside in wide receivers Gary Jennings, David Sills V and Ka’Raun White (whose older brother Kevin starred at WVU in 2014 and was the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft).

That trio has combined for 1,377 yards and 13 touchdowns.  Sills is a player to watch as he has already recorded nine touchdown receptions on the season.

All three receivers are big play threats with each having a reception of at least 60 yards.  In fact, WVU’s fourth receiver, Marcus Simms also has a touchdown catch of 62 yards and has three scored to his credit.

Unlike many Big 12 teams, West Virginia is truly two-dimensional on offense.  Ranking second in the Big 12 with 213 rushing yards per game and fourth with 364 passing yards per game, the Mountaineers will force Texas Tech’s defense to be solid in all areas of the game.

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On the other side of the ball, West Virginia is more of a mixed bag.  Though WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has built a reputation for putting together some of the Big 12’s most stingy defenses, his 2017 defense is yet to meet his lofty expectations.

The Mountaineers are just eighth in the Big 12 in total defense.  That is one spot behind Texas Tech.

However, WVU is second in the conference against the pass.  It has allowed just 227 yards per game through the air which makes this week’s matchup against the Texas Tech “Air Raid” offense intriguing.

Surprisingly, the Mountaineers are not defending the pass by getting to the quarterback.  They rank last in the league with just five sacks in five games.  That stat suggests that the WVU defensive backs are a quality unit that can play tough coverage in one-on-one situations.

Or there could be another explanation.  Perhaps the Mountaineers’ deficiencies against the run have prompted opponents to take the air out of the ball.

WVU is ninth in the league against the rush allowing 214 yards per game.  Only Baylor is allowing more.

Against Kansas (the only common opponent between these two teams) West Virginia allowed 367 yards on the ground.  KU running back Khalil Herbert amassed 291 yards by himself.

On the other hand, Texas Tech held Kansas to 112 rushing yards and gave up a mere 65 to Herbert.  Thus, look for the reinvigorated Texas Tech run game, which put up 313 yards last week against Kansas, to try to exploit the WVU defense with Justin Stockton and Desmond Nisby.

In the statistical column, this year’s matchup between Tech and WVU is more intriguing than any in three or four years.  These teams appear to be equally matched and it is hard to give one team a decided edge.

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Therefore, the home field advantage West Virginia will enjoy could play a large role in this contest. Fortunately, the game kicks off at noon in Morgantown meaning the consumption of libations and the burning of couches should be at a minimum.