Gunning For Guns Up

It's little wonder Texas Tech racked up 666 yards of offense against Iowa State – the Cyclones entire defensive approach was puzzling. Game Scorecard
Sat 10/19 12:00 PM ET

Morgantown, WV

Mountaineer Field at
Milan Puskar Stadium
Record: 3-3

Last Game
Baylor 42-73 L
TV: FOXSports1
Sirius/XM: 117 / 192
Record: 6-0

Last Game
Iowa St 42-35 W
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

Series: Tied 1-1

First Meeting: 1937
Last Meeting: 2012
Press Release
Season Stats
2013 Schedule

The 42-35 Red Raider win was among the more enigmatic defensive set-ups viewed this year. The idea seemed to be to force Texas Tech freshman quarterback Davis Webb to piecemeal down the field, keeping everything in front and forcing the back-up – who was beaten out by now-injured walk-on Baker Mayfield – to make solid decisions for a string of consecutive plays. ISU rarely rushed more than four to five players, and sat back both at linebacker and on corner coverage outside. To his credit, Webb seemed relaxed and shredded the scheme for three touchdowns. And it's no wonder. The pocket held, and he had time to run through progressions. Iowa State never gave up too much deep (the longest pass was 39 yards), but seven Tech wideouts had catches of at least 12 yards, with six averaging at least 8.3 yards per grab.

The team netted a mean of 11.9 yards per completion, with Texas Tech's receivers thriving at least in part because they were given a free release off the line by corners and linebackers that often played more than five yards off scrimmage. It was a surprising approach by Iowa State that led to 415 passing yards on 35 of 56 completions by Davis Webb. Tech's receivers ran fee for much of the game, weren't bumped even within the allowable five yards and were able to easily find and settle into areas of the secondary, making Webb's decision making easier. That goes against the grain of typically pressuring young quarterbacks and forcing them into quick decisions – an approach more likely to be taken, a least to a greater extent than did ISU, by West Virginia.

Expect several different styles of blitzes to try to collapse the pocket and force Webb into faster reads and throws, and the mixing and matching of which players are dropping and rushing. It wouldn't be a shock to see a linebacker come up with an interception after dropping off the line, especially if Will Clarke and Dontril Hyman can defeat opposing tackles. Stunts should open some secondary blitz possibilities as well, but Tech will go vertical and attack single coverage, so having some safety help over the top, as always, is beneficial. It's a matter, really, of picking spots with down, distance and game situation considerations. Webb has thrown five interceptions, and Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said his staff would try to cut down on that number. With WVU's offense, and expected rainy weather, this might be a case where Tech goes a bit more conservative offensively.

On the outside, the Mountaineers won't play the Florida State version of the bump and run – they lack the coverage ability – but with their size and strength in the secondary, one would expect more physical play and a better attempt to bump Tech's wideouts off routes. That's not a fool-proof method, as one of the strengths of the stem systems of routes ran out of the Air Raid-styled spread is that receivers simply find an open area and settle. Tech should be able to find some match-ups it likes with its slot wideouts - and tight end Jace Amaro, who leads the Big 12 with 47 catches for 606 yards - especially if it can drag them across the face of the defense. West Virginia's deficiency here is that it lacks some speed at linebacker, and it doesn't run well, especially across the face and down the seams, an Amaro specialty. Fortunately, that sword cuts both ways, as the routes take longer to develop, giving the Mountaineers more time to pressure.

And that's another area that puzzles while watching Iowa State against Texas Tech. The Cyclones were routinely outmanned in the box and at the point of attack. They failed to seal the corner on runs, got gashed up the middle and were pushed inside far too often in allowing major gains. One of the primary aspects of Keith Patterson's West Virginia defense is that the coordinator demands a solid run fit, and has gotten it for the most part this season save the Baylor debacle. If WVU can hold the point and not get shoved back several yards, as it did versus BU – if that happens, it won't matter what Tech does – the Mountaineer linebackers and safeties should be able to bottle the run. Texas Tech's style is quite similar to West Virginia and Oklahoma State, and Patterson's defense has seen it enough that there shouldn't be too many major surprises. Pressure, run contain, leverage on the football and discipline – and not necessarily in that order.

Another area that seems to lean in West Virginia's favor, if it can adequately field punts, is special teams. Texas Tech had numerous gaffs in the return game, including a punt fumble that was recovered and a 95-yard kickoff return for touchdown by Iowa State, the program's first since 1994. Tech seemed to lack concentration at times, and that could be an issue with West Virginia. Tech, 6-0, has kept winning despite its mistakes, and sometimes it takes a loss for focus to snap back, even with coaches harping upon all the fundamentals. The Raiders' issues, should they continue, will be a major advantage for the Mountaineers, which have been knocked around in the return game and scoreboard enough now that if the lessons haven't taken, they aren't likely to in the last half of the season. Add in punter Nick O'Toole's booming ability, and this checkmark goes to the home team.

Offensively, this is an intriguing match-up. Quarterback Ford Childress is out for the season, Clint Trickett is trying to return from an ailing shoulder, and a fully healthy Paul Millard is waiting in the wings for another opportunity. The sense is that Trickett will get the start, and the junior looked far better on Tuesday in terms of simply walking around than he did after the Baylor game. Of course, merely walking around and actually playing are far different. But with coordinator Shannon Dawson saying that reps were split 50-50 – truth or lie, who knows? – apparently between Trickett and Millard, one assumes Trickett can throw well enough if he's taken that much of the practice load.

For better or worse, it would seem this offensive line and Trickett are married. The line needs his mobility, and ability to throw the deep ball, even if he might select that option more than seems necessary. There's certainly the realization that match-ups dictate much of where the ball goes, but that well was dried up and dusty by the mid-second quarter against Baylor. Tech, however, lacks BU's ability along the defensive front, and West Virginia should be able to create at least a stalemate in the passing game, especially with Trickett siding around. The question is if it can get the run game going where its dependability is enough that one can rely upon it a least situationally.

That aspect will go a long way in determining what West Virginia can do offensively, and how much down and distance pressure is placed on the passing game. WVU's receivers, like Tech's have some edges, but passes must be caught and the ball put in solid locations This isn't an offense that's going to rack up 30-plus points on its own. It must grind out a few drives, hit the big play when single coverage presents itself and give Trickett a fighting chance in the pocket. Check the tackle play for West Virginia. With Pat Eger and Quinton Spain, the right side of the interior line is solid. And Nick Kindler has settled into his tackle spot reasonably. Mark Glowinski can be hit or miss, and Curtis Feigt, while not having the best feet, gives legit effort, If Kindler, Glowinski and Feigt can hold ground, WVU should be able to operate functionally on offense, getting the ground game going and allowing Trickett to progress through reads without feeling as though he must chuck it deep within the first two seconds of the snap.

And on that latter point, check those as well. Eger said snap accuracy as one of his major focuses during the open week, as well it should be. Poor snaps have blown up plays and become far too numerous, though anyone believing that Eger isn't serious and studious about his craft is mistaken. Eger knows they haven't been good, and he's worked at better it. Let's see how the results pan out this weekend. Tech's defense, much like WVU's, will understand and recognize some of what the Mountaineers are doing. The issue, really, is winning individual match-ups at the skill and trench areas and being able to execute enough in the early downs not to get behind the chains. Solid line play and an adequate run game should allow West Virginia to do that. Start getting bullied up front, and Tech could become the first team to defeat WVU at home this season.

One might be best suited to ignore the NCAA statistical rankings entering this game, as the level of competition faced by both teams has been vastly different. This, as many have pointed out, is where the rubber a least begins to meet the road for Texas Tech. Besides the obvious on-field aspects, factor in travel, weather, kick time and some intangibles like level of desperation and desire, and this game shapes up well for West Virginia.

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