Sat 10/13/12 3:30 PM
Jones AT&T Stadium
Texas 48-45 W
Oklahoma 41-20 L
Series: WVU 1-0
First Meeting: 1938
Last Meeting: 1938
MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES
Texas Tech Crowd vs. WVU Calm
Maybe we should have included this item last week, but it's applicable anytime West Virginia goes on the road. And in reality, it applies whenever the Mountaineer face adversity -- something that head coach Dana Holgorsen has preached throughout his tenure.
In the first part of the 2011 season, the Mountaineers didn't handle adversity very well. That's not to suggest they crumbled under pressure, but if things went wrong there was likely to be some head hanging and bad body language on the sidelines. One glaring example of this was West Virginia's reaction to the blocked field goal in the Louisville game. The Cardinals turned that play into a ten-point swing that enabled them to steal the game. Afterward, Holgorsen noted that the play threw his team into something of a funk from which it never recovered.
Compare that to WVU's reaction to a USF interception that was returned for a score in the 2011 regular season finale -- a potentially crushing blow in the fourth quarter that could have ended the team's BCS bowl hopes. Instead, the Mountaineers marched right down the field for winning scores. That swagger has only intensified this year. Two Geno Smith fumbles and some blown defensive coverages allowed Texas to score from short range on more than one occasion, and with the crowd in Austin going bonkers, West Virginia could have folded. Instead, the offense responded with scoring drive after scoring drive to win the game.
WVU will face a different kind of intensity this week -- something more akin to their own rabid home environment. While Jones AT&T Stadium is some 40,000 seats short of Texas' monolith, it figures to be almost as loud -- and probably more passionate. When things go right for the Red Raiders, watch how West Virginia responds. Unless the Mountaineers get totally out of character, they won't panic. They'll be calm, they'll go out and play, and won't worry about what's happening around them.
Texas Tech Receivers vs. WVU Pass Defense
'Well, of course,' we hear you saying. 'West Virginia's pass defense is always going to be something to watch this year.' While that may be true on a general level, the key item here goes a bit deeper than that.
This sort of share-the-wealth presents different problems to a defense. It makes it impossible to impact an offense by shading coverage to favor one player, or by double-teaming a specific player in man-to-man. It forces the defense to truly cover the whole field, because just about every eligible player on the Tech roster is a threat to catch a pass. From wide receivers to running backs, they can all catch the rock. Without a doubt, Tech has looked at Texas' exploitation of the WVU defense with receivers out of the backfield and from the tight end spot, and will attempt to duplicate that this week. And they have plenty of weapons to do it with.
Other than shoring up some weaknesses in the pass coverage design ("They got us with that [pass to the running back]," co-defensive coordinator Joe DeForest said after the Texas game), WVU will have to be fundamentally sound and generate pressure with a base pass rush. Tech QB Seth Doege is good enough to find hot receivers against sell-out blitzes, and with so many accomplished pass-catchers, it's not as if he has to look to see if the guy in the pattern is capable of catching the ball. WVU might be better served by playing coverage mode and keeping receivers in front of them -- but those are goals that have eluded it on a consistent basis this year.
The most amazing stat of all concerning Tech's receivers: The fewest number of receivers that Tech has had catch at least one pass in any one game is nine (against Iowa State). In every other game this season, at least ten different receivers have caught at least one ball. WVU will have to account for every eligible receiver on every play -- no on is overlooked in the Red Raider passing game.
THINGS TO WATCH
West Virginia's defense has been hampered throughout the fall and the first half of the season with injuries -- something that hasn't been discussed much. While the injury situation of running back Shawne Alston has been a round-the-clock vigil since the Maryland game, WVU's defensive absences haven't been scruitinized nearly as closely. However, they have had a big effect on what WVU has been able to do in several games.
In fall camp, the Mountaineers missed players such as linebacker Shaq Petteway and more than one defensive back, which curtailed their ability to install passing down defensive coverages. Linebacker Jewone Snow was absent for a while, then fellow 'backer Jared Barber sat out two games and only returned to dress status for the Texas contest. Nose tackle Christian Brown missed a game. Travis Bell, after putting on a good showing early, didn't make the trip to Austin. Add all those up, and it should be easy to understand why West Virginia has struggled to find continuity. While all those players aren't starters, each has played key roles in different situations and on different packages this year, and without them it has been a juggling act to get all of the pieces on the field, not to mention in the right spots.
In this game, keep an eye out not only for those starters, but also for those key subs. Their presence (or absence) will dictate how many different things West Virginia is able to do defensively.
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Against a Tech defense that hasn't blitzed much and doesn't take a lot of chances, West Virginia must be patient on offense. That hasn't been an issue for the Mountaineers to date, but they must guard against becoming frustrated if the Red Raiders hang back and don't allow deep throws, or if they tackle well and force WVU to string together eight or ten plays to get in scoring range.
Watch Tech's positioning on defense at the snap, outside of the potential blitzers. Are they playing two deep safeties, or even deep third to prevent against big plays? How quickly do they rally to the ball to tackle? Can they keep West Virginia's receivers from generating yards after the catch -- one of the biggest attributes the Mountaineers possess? Those factors, as well as WVU's patience, will be the true keys in the passing game.
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Statistics can often be decieving things, but one to watch in this game, and one which should give a pretty good inicator as to the outcome, is first downs. While time of possession and total yardage are often looked at more closely, Tech and WVU both value first downs as a metric, because they show the ability of a team to dominate play, string together possessions and gain yardage. Of course, the utlimate goal is to score points, but get enough first downs and those opportunities will come.
The Mountaineers and Red Raiders stand 1-2 in the Big 12 conference in all games in that measure. Texas Tech has 148 first downs this year, for an average of 29.6 per game, while WVU has 137, good for a 27.4 per game tally. The team that holds the edge here figures to come out on top in the end.