Sat 10/19 12:00 PM ET
Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Baylor 42-73 L
Sirius/XM: 117 / 192
Iowa St 42-35 W
Series: Tied 1-1
First Meeting: 1937
Last Meeting: 2012
MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
The prime match-up in this game is so simple that it should have been analyzed to death. We haven't seen much mention of it, however, so it needs to be pointed out that Tech tight end/inside receiver Jace Amaro and West Virginia's midfield pass defense are going to have a huge impact on the outcome of this game.
Amaro is Tech's leading receiver, having snared 47 passes for 606 yards and one score this year. He thrives by winning match-up wars against linebackers and safeties who aren't fast or big enough to defend him, much as the current crop of top NFL tight ends do. He also benefits from the presence of a number of other skilled pass catchers, as seven Red Raiders have caught at least five passes this year, with Eric Ward, Jakeem Grant and Brad Marquez combining for 89 receptions. Those stats might lead to a debate as to which is feeding off the other more, but for the purposes of the game itself, it's not important. Amaro is a player that has to be accounted for in the game plan.
West Virginia probably isn't fast enough across the board to shut Amaro down completely. The important thing for the Mountaineers is to limit his yards after the catch,a nd not allow him to get free down the tracks, as Baylor and Oklahoma State receivers did on several occasions. WVU will have to be very sound in its execution, and can't get caught taking false steps toward the line of scrimmage when a pass is coming. Amaro just needs a small advantage to make a catch and turn in a big gain.
Unfortunately, this strength for Tech is an area of weakness for the Mountaineers. WVU simply doesn't have the length and field coverage skills to track Amaro (plus the buzzing wideouts) across and down the field, so the Red Raiders can be expected to get some completions there. What the Mountaineers have to do is keep the Techsters from getting behind them, come up quickly when passes are completed, and tackle crisply. The Mountaineers have shown good tackling ability for most of the season, and that will be critical to keep Amaro from pressing his advantage to the maximum in this game.
* * *
While WVU has been at least marginally better in getting pressure on opposing passes, it continues to fall short in actually getting them on the ground before they can get rid of the football. The Mountaineers have just nine sacks through six games this year, a number which puts them ninth in the Big 12 conference. This defense, which has to get negative-yardage plays and force turnovers to be successful, just hasn't been able to consistently get home and bring passes down with the ball in their hands.
Like most trouble areas, there are a number of reasons for the lack of sacks, including speed shortcomings and an absence of natural pass rushing skills, but at this point the reasons aren't important. The lack of productivity is the issue, and unless the Mountaineers can ramp up their takedown rate, stopping drives will continue to be a problem
Quite rightly, defensive coordinator Keith Patterson points out that sacks aren't the be-all and end-all of pass rushing. Getting a quarterback to move off his spot and forcing him to throw out of rhythm are important. So too is obscuring passing lanes and deflecting the ball at the line. All of those things contribute in the pressure game, but without sacks, it's like starting a chess game minus a bishop.
A NUMBER WORTH COUNTING
This week, it's the century mark -- 100 is the number to watch on Saturday.
While WVU's last two opponents have played fast, they haven't matched the snap numbers of the Red Raiders. Tech ran off 100 plays against Kansas and 101 against Iowa State in its most recent two games, marking the first time in school history that feat has been accomplished.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to score points as a result of all those plays, and Tech has done well in that regard too, piling up a total of 96 points in those contests. However, there are other itmes that are influenced by the play total which end up having a great effect on the game. First, and most obviously, defenses are at risk of getting worn down when facing such a number of plays. It was a factor in the Iowa State game, and it could well be so this week, as WVU battles personnel shortages on the defensive line and at linebacker.
If Tech comes anywhere near 100 snaps against WVU, it's going to win -- and probably win handily. WVU has to get some three and outs, force a turnover advantage and sustain some drives of its own if a second consecutive home upset is to be played out. Tech has gained 172 first downs this year, and if it is able to continue its per-game rate against the Mountaineers, it will take some strong counterbalancing occurences -- such as a two-or three-turnover advantage -- to keep the Red Raiders from sending WVU to its first loss of the year on its home surface.
BEER OF THE WEEK
About the only good thing that came out of our trip to the Pinstripe Bowl last year was the chance to sample Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout. It was tucked away in an Irish Pub near our hotel in Brooklyn, and it immediately drew my attention, as darks and stouts are always high on my list.
The first thing going for this beer is that it's brewed in the U.K., which gives it a label of authenticity right off the bat. That's not what makes this stout great, though. It's the blending of flavors, from coffee (obviously) to spice that combine into a really smooth brew. There's no bitterness here, and while that might make some been aficianados turn up their noses (figuratively and literally), it shouldn't be held against it. It went great with the fish and chips I ordered, and my only regret is that I didn't stick with it in my eagerness to try some other beers that aren't readily available in West Virginia.
ONE MORE THING...
Last year, Oklahoma State went three deep on its quarterback depth chart, yet didn't suffer any huge drop-offs in play. This year, Tech was seemingly in a hole for its opener when freshman Baker Mayfield took the reins at QB, but he played splendidly in helping the Red Raiders get off to a great start. When he went down with an injury, another freshman, Davis Webb, stepped in seamlessly and produced a 415-yard passing day against Iowa State.
Such quarterback progressions have to be frustrating to Mountaineer fans, who have seen injuries and inexperience at the position contribute to this year's struggles, but they shouldn't be too quick to place all of the blame on the quarterbacks themselves. While the jury is still out on their abilitiles to produce consistently at the Division I level, it should also be noted that their teammates on offense also have their own issues. The problems on the line have been well-documented, as has the wild inconsistency in the receiving corps, and those problems have as much to do with West Virginia's offensive woes as the throws and decisions of the QBs. Tech, for example, has an offensive line that is improving and getting healthier, and features enough quality receivers to stock two teams.