Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium will be the biggest test of the Texas Tech defense this season. WVU is versatile and multi-dimensional. Multiple skill position players for the Mountaineers have game-breaking speed. The Texas Tech defense will have its hands full defending WVU and the consensus is that if West Virginia is slowed down to under 40 points, a feat of incredible proportion will have occurred. With the understanding that West Virginia is lighting up scoreboards like a pinball machine, let's focus on what Texas Tech will do offensively versus a defense that has given up 108 points the last two weeks.
Passing game: This isn't a newsflash, but this is largely dependent on the performance of Seth Doege. The senior QB has acknowledged that his performance the first two games of Big XII play hasn't been up to par, even going as far to say that he's played only one good half.
"I think I've played two solid halves of each game, and then an average, and a poor half," Doege said. "With the first half being average in Iowa State, and the second half against Oklahoma being pretty poor. But I just need to relax and put four quarters together, and I think we'll be fine."
West Virginia will also put a lot of pressure on the QB. Doege has to see this and take advantage of it. Against Maryland, their defense pressured their young QB to a tune of 5 sacks and 5 forced fumbles. After watching the OU tape, they'll dial it up until Doege makes them pay.
In addition to Doege's play, the receiving corps also has a responsibility. Aside from Eric Ward, who had a very rough afternoon last Saturday thanks to Aaron Colvin, there has yet to be a receiver step up and prove they can make an impact in conference play. 6 receivers have caught 12 or more passes for the Red Raiders, but no one has more than 20 catches. That means the leading receiver is averaging 4 catches per game. Some players have missed games due to injury or suspension, but no one is standing out from a group that was ranked among the top 10 WR corps in the country.
"As an offense, we need to be a threat every single time we step out on to the field, regardless of the score, regardless the time of the game. Just knowing that we needed to score points every time we touched the football. It's not realistic that you're going to score every time you have it, but that's the mindset we have. And I think we lost that a little bit in the second half (of the OU game)."
Running game: The plan early was to run the ball on OU, and it worked until Tech put itself in difficult situations on 3rd down. I don't know if Tech will try to run the ball a lot versus WVU because the glaring weakness of West Virginia is their pass defense. 575 yards allowed to Nick Florence and Baylor, 400+ pass yards allowed to Marshall, and 300 to a true freshman from Maryland. That said, Maryland did try to run the ball versus WVU, albeit to a tune of 1.4 yards per carry. And Maryland did keep West Virginia to their lowest point total of the season.
Defensively, the Red Raiders know the task they have in front of them. We'll see how this team rebounds against a more potent passing attack. West Virginia is going to complete passes. Geno Smith is on a pace to set an NCAA record for completion percentage in a season. The Tech defense must tackle at the point of the catch or they'll be playing catch up all day. The 150 yards after contact that Oklahoma gained were the difference in Tech getting off the field on 3rd down and OU extending drives.
"We (gave up) 150 yards after contact," said Tuberville. "We didn't tackle very well at the point of attack. We didn't have any real big plays to speak of. We've got to make bigger plays in open field on both sides of the ball."
Passing defense: Tech fans know who West Virginia is and what they do. So do the players. The Tech defense has to stay positive, even after West Virginia scores. The nickel and dime defense will be on the field quite a bit and those guys have to make some plays. The number that the Mountaineers put up will be directly affected by the attitude and perseverance of the secondary. Keep playing. Make a play. The DL also has to put some pressure on Smith. He fumbled twice against Texas. Make him do it again.
Rushing defense: The front 4 will be more of a key to beating WVU than the secondary, but stopping the run and forcing them to pass. Even though they are averaging almost 10 yards per pass and Smith has thrown no interceptions, the WVU offense has gone into overdrive because of the running game. Andrew Buie ran for over 200 yards against Texas. They kept the horns off balanced defensively. That was done because of the running game.
Key Matchup: If I have to pick one, Doege has to have one of his best games. He is the variable in the equation. We know WVU puts up points. We know they give up points and yards. Doege has to take advantage of that and put a little pressure for Geno Smith and company to feel they have to score as well.
Biggest mismatch: On paper, it's the Tech WR versus the WVU secondary. They need to show up and prove it.
Keys to the game:
1) Defense has to make a big play. No turnovers versus OU didn't sit well with D.J. Johnson and company. They have to find a way to force a sack or turnover versus WVU.
2) Attack and be physical, on both offense and defense. Exceed the intensity of your opponent. This was lacking most of the game versus OU.
3) Tackle. Anything over 75 yards after contact is too many.
4) Short memories. The Mountaineers will make some plays, but Tech will have to bounce back and play the next play.
5) Have fun. No really. Enjoy the Texas Tech homecoming.