Kliff Kingsbury looks to finally best West Virginia DC Tony Gibson

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 15: Sean Walters #27 of the West Virginia Mountaineers sacks Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the game on October 15, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 15: Sean Walters #27 of the West Virginia Mountaineers sacks Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders during the game on October 15, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury has struggled when facing West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.  Will this finally be the year Kingsbury gets the better in this battle of wits?

West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson seems far less worried about facing the nation’s top offense this weekend than most defensive coordinators would be.  And for good reason.  Since taking over as the Mountaineers’ DC in 2014, Gibson has had more success against the Kliff Kingsbury “Air Raid” than almost any of his colleagues.

In the past four meetings between the Mountaineers and the Red Raiders (all WVU victories), Gibson’s defenses have allowed on average just 28 points per game, ten points below what Texas Tech has averaged overall in that span. And Tuesday, Gibson gave DKPittsburghSports.com some insight into his success against one of the nation’s best offensive programs.

"“We won’t have a lot of calls. That’s been our recipe for the last four years with this team. It’s so we can get lined up quick,” he said. “The one thing that helps us is that we’re not a field and a boundary defense. That’s the one advantage we have is that we play against tempo teams. Then, also, we get to go against our offense every day and during camp. We don’t do a lot of formation stuff, but we can go really fast, as well.”"

In common language, what Gibson is saying is that, unlike many defensive coordinators, he prefers to keep each of his defensive backs on the same side of the field each play rather than flipping them back and forth to put the best corner on the wide side of the formation.

So far, that plan seems to have worked.  The most Texas Tech has scored on a Tony Gibson defense was the 35 points the Red Raiders scored in last year’s 46-35 loss.  While that number is close to Tech’s overall scoring average under Kingsbury, the Mountaineer defense kept Tech off the score board for the final quarter-and-a-half last season giving the offense an opportunity to rally from a 17-point deficit.

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Gibson also takes pride in the way his teams handled former Red Raider quarterback Patrick Mahomes. In 2015, Gibson’s defense held Mahomes to just 196 yards on 21/34 passing in a 31-26 WVU win.  A year later, the star Texas Tech QB went just 28/44 for 305 yards and a quarterback rating of just 47.1 as the Mountaineers rolled to a 48-17 road victory.

So what will make this year different for the Red Raiders?  In a word: balance.

Every offense is tougher to defend when it can run and pass with equal effectiveness and the 2018 version of the “Air Raid” offense is proving to be the most balanced offense of Kingsbury’s tenure.

Tech is running for 185.3 yards per game this year, 38.1 yards per game more than it has averaged since 2014. Moreover, Texas Tech is running the ball on 47% of its offensive snaps this year.   That is an increase of 6% from what Kingsbury’s offenses have averaged in the previous four seasons.

And going back to the two seasons (2015-16) in which Gibson’s team locked down Patrick Mahomes, Tech ran the ball only 43% and 38% of the time respectively.  Unless Texas Tech falls behind by multiple scores early in this year’s game, WVU can count on seeing a much more balanced Red Raider offense which should be more difficult to defend.

The Mountaineers are allowing just 118.7 yards per game on the ground but that could be due in large part to their ability to jump out to big leads and to the fact that they have yet to face a competent offensive team this year.

The Mountaineers play a 3-4 defense as they try to match up with the multiple receiver formations in the Big 12.  Therefore, the Red Raider offensive line may be able to get blockers onto the linebackers opening up significant running lanes.

But it would not be a surprise to see the Mountaineers make Alan Bowman and the passing game prove that they can make plays early.  Look for West Virginia to key on the Red Raider ground game until Bowman and his receivers can make some plays against the WVU secondary, which Gibson feels is the best aspect of his defense.

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Many people love to talk about the matchup of head coaches when Tech and WVU meet as Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen are friends and former roommates.  However, the key coaching battle will be between Kingsbury and Tony Gibson and after four years, it is time for Kliff Kingsbury to finally gain the upper hand.