With an injury to walk-on-turned-starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, the No. 16 Red Raiders rode back-up Davis Webb to a 42-35 home win over Iowa State to move to 6-0 entering this weekend's game at West Virginia. Tech churned out 666 total yards – 415 passing – to mimic OSU's production when it lost a pair of quarterbacks last fall.
"It was more taking what was there," head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Our quarterback did a good job checking us into some runs and our O-line was getting some movement, so we went with it. Like I said all along, we are going to do what we feel we can do best each and every Saturday. We will see what's working. … We attack each week as a separate bowl game ourselves. We have West Virginia coming up next. Get better every day, get better every week."
Mayfield's return is an unknown of now. Kingsbury said prior to the Iowa State game to "know that he will not be out for the entire season. There wasn't the structural damage that we thought. He is going to have the attitude that he's on house money and he knows it. He's really resilient and he'll bounce back. We will see how it all shakes out."
West Virginia is also dealing with well-known quarterback issues of its own. Head coach Dana Holgorsen said the Mountaineers would know more about a starter after key practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Clint Trickett having rested all of last week to rejuvenate a beat-up shoulder. Ford Childress is still healing a pectoral muscle while Paul Millard is healthy. Unlike the Mountaineers, Tech was able to protect its quarterback with an efficient running game, amassing 251 rush yards on a surprisingly high 45 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per run. Three Red Raiders tallied 80 or more yards in a balanced attack.
"That's a big deal," Kingsbury said. "We have some guys that are utility players that can move around and play some slot, play some running back and things like that. You throw in three guys with that ability and it makes for tough matchups. We have three very talented guys and we have to provide running lanes for them and we did that Saturday.
"Defense has really carried us so far and special teams has been a strong point. If we get the offense caught up, we will feel pretty good about where we are at. (The defense) really stepped up all year and kept people out of the end zone. That's what we harped upon was, in the red zone, you really have to tighten down and they have done that."
Tech's 6-0 start is being questioned by many because of a lacking schedule, with the meat of Big 12 play left including Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas. But the raiders' road win at then-No. 24 TCU was impressive, as are the overall NCAA offensive ranks of third in passing (408.8 yards per game) and 14th in points (41.8 per game). Tech is holding foes to 17.3 points per game, good for15th. The latter has been triggered by a reinvigorated defense whose focus has been discipline and turnovers.
"As soon as we got here in the spring, we looked at two areas we thought we weren't very good at as a ball club the year before, and that was takeaways and penalties," Kingsbury said. "The penalties we are still working on, but the takeaways they have done a good job creating the last couple of weeks. If we can stay on that track, we feel that that could really improve us as a team and carry us through the year. The overall effort, when you turn on the tape, you see 11 bodies flying to the football each and every snap."
Kingsbury both played and coached under WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, though neither have made much of the relationship, which is very similar to a multitude of others in the Big 12. Holgorsen has already twice faced an Oklahoma State program with which he was an assistant, and will get his second shot at a Tech program where he coached from 2000-07, the longest tenure of his career.
"I would not have gotten into coaching if it wasn't for Dana," Kingsbury said. "And just watching him, how he game plans every week, how he installs the offense, I learned a ton from him when I was first getting into coaching. The biggest thing I think he is a master at is adapting to his personnel. He never tried to force a round peg into a square hole. If you don't have certain players to run a certain type of offense, then adapt your offense. That's one thing that has always stuck with me, is that you need to build your offense around the type of players you have and not vice versa."