High Ranking Challenger

Texas had the talent. Texas Tech has fundamentals.

And that well might be the difference in what it reads here will be a tougher outing for the West Virginia offense. Texas Tech, under Tommy Tuberville, has taken on the fundamentally-sound approach of its head coach. The Red Raiders (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) operate out of a base 4-3 look, and their defensive mindset is to be in the right position at the right time and to tackle well. None of the trio worked well in a 41-20 loss to then-No. 17 Oklahoma, and Tech got behind when it got tight and hesitant as the Sooners surged in the second half.

Unlike Texas, whose two safeties and read 2 look were designed to slow WVU's passing game, Texas Tech's set-up is more similar to the Maryland team that was, indeed, able to limit the Mountaineers to their lowest point total of the season. The idea will be to limit the run – and Tech should, much more effectively than did Texas – and force WVU to pitch and catch while limiting big plays. That means yards after catch (and, as always, turnovers) will be a key stat. It took a couple Tavon Austin breakaways and a returned fumble for a score for WVU to get past the Terps, and the set-up could be similar this weekend.

"They're not very tricky," West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They're very, very sound and are never out of position. They blitz eight percent of the time. They're not a gimmick defense - they're a sound, effort defense. They play hard, and their guys are in position. That poses problems when you don't know what they're going to do and that aggravates you from a game-plan standpoint."

Quarterback Geno Smith should face far less pocket pressure than he did last week against Texas' NFL-caliber defensive ends. But he also won't have as open a running game, and will have to resort to being content with shorter passes. WVU (5-0, 2-0) must click on the shallow, underneath routes and passes down the seams. It can't get anxious about big play desires, and ball security and execution should move more to the forefront.

Texas Tech, under defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, was clearly overrated at No 1 in total defense following wins over Northwestern St., Texas St., New Mexico and Iowa State. None of those offenses were rated above 94th when TT faced them, and an ultra-fresh (one game in three weeks) Oklahoma squad proved those numbers to be inflated. But the Raiders, still ranked second in total defense at 210 yards, 3.7 yards per play, also aren't as mediocre as the Sooners showed. Tech missed tackles, it allowed the development of plays in space and it simply shut down when it got behind. But it did force Oklahoma to make long drives (12, 10, 9 and 8 plays, among others), and if it could have gotten off the field on three key third downs (two of which went for scores), would have been in the game.

"The thing that really got us in trouble was our third down conversions in the red zone on both the offense and defense," Tuberville said. "We gave up two third downs for touchdowns, and we couldn't convert third downs in the red zone. We just weren't consistent enough to make big plays, and you've got to make big plays in games like that."

Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1 Big 12) also allowed the Sooners to gain 150 yards after contact. Kaufman, who came from North Carolina, has traditionally run sound, if not overly talented, defenses, and the tackling should be better. The issue is if Tech has enough ability to contain West Virginia's athletes in the open field. Texas didn't, though their set-up didn't aid in the run game.

"Every game has its own story, and I expect them to be tough," said Smith, who leads the nation in pass efficiency on a team averaging 570 yards and 52 points per game. "They do a great job on making it tough on quarterbacks. They get a lot of interceptions and turnovers. They really make things complex with the way they react to the ball. They do a great job of reading the quarterback's eyes and reacting to the ball."

It's worth noting, too, that West Virginia hasn't been able to win going away in any of its games against BCS foes. That's not a knock on the Mountaineers as much as it is an indication of the competition level and what it will be in the Big 12. WVU, ranked fourth in the latest Coaches Poll, has won the last three games by 20 points, or an average of less than one touchdown with PAT.

"It's all about staying on the grind," Holgorsen said. "If these guys want to win a national championship then they need to learn how to do that. The next game has to be every bit important as the previous one. We've had three pretty emotional games in a row, with Maryland, Baylor and Texas, and these guys have to understand that it is college football."

Note: The Lubbock weather forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-70s with just a 10 percent chance of rain on game day, down from 50 percent on Friday. The always pesky west Texas winds are projected to swirl at 17 mph. This is about as good as the conditions at Tech get, and it rarely hindered former head coach Mike Leach's pass attack. Last week the Raiders faced Oklahoma shortly after dust storms and with 40 mph wind gusts.


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