TCU head coach Gary Patterson made clear he thought the teams that won Big 12 games in November would be the programs which "are the most physical on defense and get the most takeaways, they are the teams that win the league. If you look at Kansas State, they are being efficient, playing great defense and being physical on both sides of the ball, controlling the clock and winning games. They are coming right at you. They are doing the opposite of what everybody talks about Big 12 football."
It's a script the injury-riddled Horned Frogs (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) will try follow in their first visit to Morgantown. TCU, playing reserves at seven starting positions because of injury, will attempt to play a bit more ball control than past Patterson teams while defensively limiting the deep ball and controlling West Virginia's run game – or exactly what Texas Tech and Kansas State did against the Mountaineers. The problem for Patterson is the talent level. His young, beat-up squad can't match the Raiders or Wildcats in personnel, and while TCU continued its snake bit season last week in a 36-14 loss to Oklahoma State, WVU was off, at home and getting key wideout Stedman Bailey and, hopefully, running back Shawne Alston, healthy.
With games remaining for West Virginia (5-2, 2-2) against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Kansas, two of which are on the road, the TCU contest is one that could well shape the remainder of the year. There will be no better situation than coming off a bye week against a beat-up team at home, and with a trip to Stillwater and then the Sooners coming to Morgantown, one would think this is a huge game in terms of bowl eligibility. That goes for both teams, as TCU runs the gauntlet of Kansas State, Texas and Oklahoma after this week.
"I don't know about urgency," Patterson said. "The key is, you can only do what you can do. You have to play with who you can play with. I think we are a little bit of a tired football team, and we didn't practice (Sunday) to get ourselves back. The biggest thing for us is to get back healthy. That was what we tried to get accomplished.
"Our group hasn't acted much different. They understood the competition level going into the season. When you're closer in competition, there will be six to eight plays that are gonna be the difference in the ball game. We knew the competition level and the margin for error would be smaller from week to week, and our kids are learning that. You'd like to play with older players our first year in the Big 12, than younger players, but we have been happy with them. We have to get better at what we do."
TCU leads the Big 12 in fewest rush yards allowed (98.9 ypg), and will focus upon that segment first against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have fallen off considerably in run production, netting an average of 109 yards, and just 3.5 yards per carry, in the back-to-back losses after amassing 164 yards, five per carry, in the first five contests. The return of Alston could be a huge help to WVU in both the run game and pass blocking, and his availability, as well as that of Bailey, will dictate much of the outcome. TCU, meanwhile, is dealing with a freshmen backfield in running back B.J. Cantalon and quarterback Trevone Boykin. Both have played above excitations, with Cantalon averaging five yards a carry and Boykin completing better than 60 percent of his throws with 11 scores to rank eighth in the league in total offense. He did throw a pair of picks last week, one of which was returned for an OSU score.
"Trevone didn't play well last week on the road. He has to play better," Patterson said. "Other than that we are excited with what we are doing and we are trying to win more than we lose and get that sixth win. We have four more games to do that. (OSU) got to 36, but we threw two interceptions, one of which was brought back for a touchdown. With four or five minutes left it was 26-19, and we missed two field goals. Oklahoma State only allowed one touchdown, and when the other team only allows one touchdown, you give yourself a chance."
With West Virginia's defense sure to give up some big plays, Patterson has decided his team will live and die in this game by, again, focusing on stopping the run first, and slowing the deep ball with safety help over the top.
"The thing that makes West Virginia so good is Dana (Holgorsen) calls a great game, and they run the ball a lot better than people give them credit for," Patterson said. "Then you are in a situation with Tavon (Austin) and Stedman and the guys they have at wide receiver, they can throw it over your head any second. Very similar offense to Oklahoma State. You have to understand that you have to be able to play the deep ball and stop the run. For us, some similarities. I would say Oklahoma State doesn't have two wide receivers the caliber that West Virginia does. They can really get past you and get down the field one-on-one."