Who: Texas Tech (5-4, 2-4) versus West Virginia (3-4, 0-4)
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, West Virginia
When: Saturday, Nov. 7, 11 a.m. (CT)
Media: FOX Sports 1 (TV), Texas Tech Sports Network (Radio)
Coaches: Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury (17-17); West Virginia, Dana Holgorsen (31-27)
Series: The series is tied at 2-2; most recent, 2014, West Virginia 37, Texas Tech 34
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Nobody has come close to stopping Texas Tech’s offense this season, although Baylor and Oklahoma slowed it down somewhat. And this fact strongly suggests that an underachieving West Virginia defense will be in hot water against the Red Raiders.
Currently Texas Tech averages 47 points per game, 413 passing yards per contest, and 604 total yards per outing. All three of those numbers are near the top of the heap nationally.
But there are two other stats that make the Red Raiders particularly tough to stop. First, the Red Raiders lead the nation in third-down conversion percentage. And second, Texas Tech is No. 12 nationally in yards per carry average.
Those two stats virtually guarantee that the Red Raiders will march the ball up and down the field, and therefore, it is the opposing defense’s responsibility to ensure that Texas Tech kicks field goals rather than scores touchdowns. The fact that the Red Raiders are among the nation’s elite in points per game simply underscores the difficulty of that task.
However, if there’s one area in which West Virginia’s defense excels it is in third-down conversion defense. The Mountaineers are presently No. 9 nationally in that category. Unfortunately, WVU is also No. 101 in sacks, No. 81 in rushing defense, No. 97 in pass defense and No. 97 in total defense. Those numbers should look pretty familiar to Red Raider fans.
West Virginia’s defensive struggles are slightly puzzling given the presence of talents such as linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, and defensive backs K.J. Dillon, Daryl Worley, and Terrell Chestnut. But the Mountaineers are not especially tough up front, and having played Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU consecutively will damage any defense’s statistical profile. Those numbers will not improve after having faced Pat Mahomes, Jakeem Grant and DeAndre Washington.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
West Virginia doesn’t possess quite the offensive firepower that Texas Tech does, but they’re facing a defense even more bedraggled than what the Red Raiders will see in Morgantown.
At any rate, WVU’s offense is very respectable. Were it in any other conference, it would be among the best. The Mountaineers are No. 27 in rushing offense, No. 43 in passing offense, and No. 30 in total offense. Those solid numbers, however, mask a few weaknesses. Hence, West Virginia is only No. 83 in third-down conversion offense, No. 88 in red zone touchdown percentage offense, and No. 86 in sacks allowed.
Most of the blame for those deficiencies can be pinned on quarterback Skyler Howard, whose play has deteriorated during the rigors of Big 12 play. He is neither athletic nor mentally tough enough to be an elite quarterback in this conference.
Wendell Smallwood, who has 791 rushing yards for the season, however, is a very good back, although he’s presently nicked up, and his effectiveness could be diminished.
The Red Raider secondary, along with the rest of the defense is a shambles, frankly. And this despite the fact that the defense is reasonably healthy for being a full nine weeks into the season. There just aren’t many excuses for what this group has done.
If anything, I’m going easy on the Tech defense. This unit is currently No. 116 in sacks, No. 123 in scoring defense, No. 125 in rushing defense, No. 122 in passing defense, No. 127 in total defense, No. 125 in third down conversion defense, and No. 122 in red zone touchdown percentage defense. And turnover creation, which had been a strong suit for this group, has dwindled over the last few games.
The one caveat for Tech’s defense is the one that West Virginia’s can also claim: the Red Raiders have faced TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. As respectable as the Mountaineer offense is, it is not quite in the same class as that quartet.
Look for the Red Raiders to try to rattle Howard, and expect the Mountaineers to exploit matchups on the outside with their receivers against Tech’s defensive backs. There should be many big plays in WVU’s passing game, some good for the Mountaineers, and possibly a few good for Texas Tech.
The Pick: West Virginia 47, Texas Tech 45