WVU, TCU Try To Avoid Implosions

While the styles vary widely, West Virginia will be facing a very similar opponent in its overall approach for a second straight week.

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Series: Tied 1-1

First Meeting: 1984
Last Meeting: 2012
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TCU, like Kansas State, lacks the flash and dash of most other Big 12 programs. There's not much in the way of disguise or confusion on either side of the ball. What has made head coach Gary Patterson successful, like KSU's Bill Snyder, is to focus on fundamentals, toughness and simplicity. It might seem an antiquated approach in the more modern fun-and-gun age, but it appears physicality and ability to handle the basics remain very much the backbone of football.

Patterson's team will be helped by the play of quarterback Casey Pachall, who completed 13 of 34 passes for 139 yards and an interception in a 30-7 loss to Texas last week in his first action in five games. TCU, like it has much of the year, was forced to play from behind against the ‘Horns, and thus couldn't mix Pachall with running quarterback Trevone Boykin in the first game in which both have been available since the second week of the season. TCU has run the football far better than it has thrown it recently, but the return of Pachall could aid the pass game. Boykin, as Mountaineer fans will recall from last season, is dangerous with both his arm and legs, but the offense has been prone to turnovers deep in its own end, putting the defense, and itself, in terrible position in terms of field position and score.

TCU fumbled once inside its own five-yard line, setting up a Texas score, and its spread sets never really got traction against Jackson Jeffcoat and the Longhorns' front. TCU will certainly be able to block West Virginia more effectively, but its offense isn't something the Mountaineers haven't seen. WVU has faced far better receivers, and it should be able to adequately cover the slip screens and at least limit the run, as it has fit up well and maintained leverage against the vast majority of foes this season. But, if Kansas State's passing game can shred the back end, what's to say TCU's won't do the same? West Virginia continues to have fundamental breakdowns at inopportune times, and it seems that foes make adjustments, some of which WVU adapts, and some that leave the defense grasping at – and for – air.

Again, the player-on-player match-ups are solid regarding the line and linebackers. West Virginia can handle TCU's line to at least a stalemate, and its linebackers should be able to identify and slow the run, as long as they remain patient, read keys well and tackle in space, as TCU will utilize misdirection at times. But what of the secondary, which, again, can't flip its hips well enough to recover off a bad route read? How long until TCU finds and begins to poke and prod at a weakness. As WVU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said, it's difficult to understand exactly why the Mountaineers continue to make the mistakes they do. And, at least on this side of the ball, it's tough to fault coaching, as Patterson is among the most level-headed and methodically sound coaches on staff.

"I can't really put a thumb on it," Patterson said. "Sometimes, yes, they are trying to do too much. If you ask them what happened and ‘Why would you not peel that running back?' they just look at you. Sometimes you just get caught up in the game. Things happen so fast and you just get caught in the moment. You are playing so hard every play then all of a sudden it hits you. It comes down to making sure you can focus and win the game. … I think what it boils down to is confidence. We need to play to win, and not play just hoping to win and that something good is going to happen to us. That is how I have felt over the past couple of weeks. Instead of going out there and trying to take the win, we have played flat. We need to go out with confidence and take the win."

Until West Virginia does that, however, all the scheme and style examinations won't make much difference. The best hope, in this game, is that TCU continues to make self-inflicted mistakes and turn the ball over deep in its own territory. West Virginia is starting to put at least three quarters of games together, but a couple drops on the carpet would significantly aid the Mountaineers in try to gain their first road win.

Onto TCU's defensive side. There's a misconception that Patterson went to the 4-2-5 scheme during his WAC tenure because he wanted to slow the passing attacks. Patterson has said the idea was to recruit solid interior linemen and pair them with three to four hybrid players where TCU could disguise fronts, pass defenses and assignments on a per-snap basis. The idea was never, in its formative stages, to slow the pass. But now, with a pair of NFL-caliber defenders in the secondary, the Horned Frogs are doing both, ranking as the top defensive unit in the Big 12, allowing just 323 yards per game to rank 16th in the NCAA.

The setup is nothing special. Like most winning coaches, Patterson is as successful as his talent level, and with All-American Jason Verrett – recently named a Jim Thorpe candidate as the nation's top corner – the staff has a reliable cover player that can take away solid sections of the field and significantly narrow passing windows. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett, expected to start, has said that the TCU defensive backfield most resembles that of Oklahoma State in talent and execution, noting that he thinks throwing the ball will be more difficult this week than it has been in several, but that the Horned Frogs don't do much to try and fool teams. Like Kansas State, the idea is to line up and allow their own players to execute without confusion.

"Gary Patterson has been the same for as long as he's been there," WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. "He's probably one of the best defensive minds out there in the country. It's the same as we saw last year; same with last week with Kansas State. You know where they are going to line up, they won't try to trick you at all. Gary Patterson isn't going to come in with a different scheme every time. It comes down to execution.

"You can consider them similar to us with where they're at. They've been in every game and they've had the chances to win the games, but they have just been losing. We are similar teams, but offensively we need to score more points in order to win. We can't score 12 points and beat many people. Hopefully we can do a better job this week; we need to prepare better and get the players ready to play."

WVU was able to run the football in stretches, and it will need to do that this week. Patterson's hybrid players allow TCU to pressure the backfield from a variety of odd angles, and attack rush lanes a bit differently than they typical 4-3 or 3-4 sets. Trickett has been a tad slow at times in progression and reads, though that has bettered as his play within the offense has continued. WVU likely must hit some downfield shots, as it will implode itself before being able to piece together 10-play, 80-yard drives. With the Mountaineers still – this is week 10 of the college season – searching for the buzzwords of chemistry and trust, it simply doesn't appear this year's team will be able to do much of anything on a consistent basis.

Can one expect West Virginia to be able to run the ball against TCU? Yes. Can one expect some completions? Sure. Can one expect the Mountaineers to play a full game, to be competitive, at least, and convert at least 50 percent of their third downs? No. There will be a pass dropped here, one off the shoulder pad there. A miscommunication, a receiver that runs the wrong route, a misfired pass, bad protection, poor effort. Taken individually, none are cause of major concern, or the reason for the string of losses. But when one must factor in that each of these things will happen at least once, and perhaps multiple times over in each game, there isn't enough talent to overcome. There just isn't much point in delving deep into match-ups or schemes. It won't matter until the aforementioned is cleaned up – because the implosion is coming. It's a matter of when.

"West Virginia? They're a little bit like us," Patterson said. "They've had opportunities. They've not been able to find a way in the end to finish ballgames."

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