Big Preview: Texas Tech Hosts No. 20 West Virginia

Texas Tech hosts No. 20 West Virginia 11 a.m. Saturday at Jones AT&T Stadium in a contest neither team can afford to lose. Get all the details on the matchup below.

Who: Texas Tech (3-2, 1-1) vs. West Virginia (4-0, 1-0)

Where: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX

When: Saturday, October 15, 11:00 a.m. (CT) 

Media: Fox Sports 1 (TV), Texas Tech Radio Network (radio)

2015 Records: Texas Tech (7-6, 4-5), West Virginia (8-5, 4-5)

Coaches: Texas Tech (Kliff Kingsbury 22-21), West Virginia (Dana Holgorsen 40-28)

Series History: West Virginia leads 3-2

Last Meeting: West Virginia 31, Texas Tech 26, November 7, 2015

When West Virginia Has the Ball

The Mountaineer offense is the epitome of balance. It is an offense designed very much like Texas Tech’s, but rather than throw the ball to the almost complete exclusion of running, WVU practically splits the difference—52 percent of their plays have been runs and 48 percent have been passes. And while the Mountaineers are stupendous neither in the passing nor the ground game, they do both well enough to present problems for defenses.

West Virginia is No. 17 nationally in passing offense and No. 42 in passing efficiency. Veteran quarterback Skyler Howard, who reminds one of a poor man’s Chase Daniel, pilots the WVU attack. He’s a reasonably accurate passer and enough of a scrambling threat to keep defenses from dropping and covering with impunity. Howard came into the season with a rep for being easily rattled by pressure, but so far the WVU offensive line has kept Howard’s jersey clean (the Mountaineers are No. 14 nationally in sacks allowed per game).

Aiding Howard tremendously is a quartet of receivers which may be second best in the Big 12 behind Texas Tech’s fleet of jets. Junior Shelton Gibson has emerged as WVU’s biggest threat, catching 19 passes and averaging 24 yards per grab. Daikiel Shorts, Jovon Durant, and Ka’Raun White are also formidable receivers in their own right.

West Virginia’s ground game features two backs who can flat out get it done. JUCO transfer Justin Crawford has been an excellent surprise for Dana Holgorsen. To date, he has rushed for 331 yards while averaging 5.5 yards per pop. Dependable workhorse Rushel Shell has contributed 244 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per tote. 

Texas Tech will counter with a defense that is still very much a mystery five games into the season. Against Arizona State and Louisiana Tech the defense was as godawful as any of its predecessors this century. But in the last two outings, against Kansas and Kansas State, the defense has shown signs of turning the corner. The unit has played respectably against the run of late, and has shown some real backbone when its back has been against the wall. 

Freshman linebacker Jordyn Brooks leads the defense in stops with 29, while unsung defensive end Kris Williams has recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss. The secondary is anchored by Justis Nelson who is on the verge of earning the sobriquet “shut-down corner,” and Jah’Shawn Johnson who is doing many things well, and few things poorly.

When Texas Tech Has the Ball

Texas Tech’s offense seems to be testing the hypothesis that if your passing game is spectacular enough, you don’t need a running game. As of the present, the Red Raider passing attack is the deadliest in college football and nobody else is even close. The Red Raiders pass for 544 yards per game, while second place Washington State passes for a mere 381 yards per outing. The gap between the two is little short of astounding. 

Conversely, Texas Tech’s rushing offense is No. 121 nationally and No. 110 in rushing yards per attempt. Thus, West Virginia knows darned well what’s coming. The only question is, can they slow it down?

Statistically, the best defense in the Big 12 belongs to Kansas State and the Wildcats held the Red Raiders to 38 points in Manhattan last Saturday. West Virginia prides itself on playing good defense, but to this point the Mountaineers are only No. 78 nationally in total defense.  

WVU’s passing defense appears better than the defense as a whole, but exactly how much better is a matter of opinion. Presently Tony Gibson’s passing defense is No. 64 nationally, albeit No. 8 in passing defense efficiency. After facing Pat Mahomes and a depleted yet still dangerous group of Texas Tech receivers, this picture will be clearer. 

Compared to last season, the current WVU defense is rather a no-name group, but in cornerback Rasul Douglas, who has a pair of picks and four PBUs, the Mountaineers have one of the Big 12’s best. Likewise, linebacker Justin Arndt, who has four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks, is a player to watch. 

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