Today, for the first time since the season’s opening game, the Red Raiders will be facing an unranked opponent. However, that doesn’t make this week’s matchup with West Virginia any less important. In fact, this could be one of the most important games of the season.
With both teams entering the day at 3-3 on the season, this feels like a Saturday that will propel one of them to almost certain bowl eligibility.
West Virginia certainly has a tougher slate of games ahead. Three of their final five games will come against teams that are currently ranked (TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State) with the games against the Wildcats and Cowboys coming in the season’s final two weeks.
Thus, it is fair to suggest that the path to six wins for Neal Brown and his team likely involves beating Tech today and taking down Iowa State on the road and Oklahoma in Morgantown. But should they drop today’s contest, an upset of a ranked team will be required for WVU to get to the postseason and likely for Brown to save his job.
As for the Red Raiders, only one of their remaining six opponents (TCU) is currently ranked. What’s more, four of their remaining games will be played at Jones Stadium.
Therefore, even if Tech stumbles today, there’s still a way to envision Joey McGuire’s team getting to six wins. It is not unimaginable to see Tech beating Baylor, Kansas, Iowa State, or Oklahoma this year, especially as all of those games except the Iowa State contest will be played in Lubbock.
Still, it would behoove the Red Raiders to take care of business today against the Mountaineers. Should Tech bring home a homecoming victory, the Red Raiders will own a four-game winning streak against WVU and will put an end to a two-game losing streak on the season.
For that to happen, Tech is going to have to play well in some areas of the game that have been problematic at times this season. So let’s take a look at what the Red Raiders need to do to pick up the season’s fourth victory.
Make J.T. Daniels win the game
West Virginia quarterback J.T. Daniels is a decent player. However, he’s far from elite. That’s why Tech needs to make him win this game with his right arm.
There’s no doubt that West Virginia wants to run the ball. They are averaging over 191 yards per game on the ground and in their win over Baylor last week, they gashed the Bears for 217 yards.
In fact, in their three wins this year, they have gone over the 200-yard mark in rushing every time. On the other hand, in their three losses, they’ve failed to crack 200 rushing yards even once.
They are led in rushing by sophomore Tony Mathis Jr., who has gone for 459 yards and five TDs thus far. Meanwhile, C.J. Donaldson has run for 389 yards and six TDs. They provide the Mountaineers with quite the one-two punch in the backfield.
But Tech has been good against the run this year, outside of the Kansas State game. In the other five games Tech has played, opponents have run for just 107.2 yards per game.
Thus, Tech needs to sell out to stop the run and make Daniels prove that he can win a Big 12 road game with his passing ability. Not a huge threat to run with the ball, he’s put up average stats this year. Completing 63.8% of his passes for 1,492 yards, the former USC Trojan and Georgia Bulldog has tossed nine TD passes with only three interceptions on the year.
However, Daniels has not proven to be a game-breaker at the college level. This is the first year since his freshman season at USC that he’s been able to actually hold down a starting job and play more than five games. Also, in 27 career appearances, he’s managed to throw for 300 yards or more on just seven occasions.
The key to this game is likely going to be the Red Raiders’ ability to stop the run. That will force Daniels to take over and try to lead his team to a win through the air. That’s not something most are confident he can do so Tech must do everything possible to make Daniels have to carry his team on his back today.