This season, WVU has won three of five, and played Alabama and Oklahoma in respectable fashion in the defeats. Tech, at 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big 12, has slogged through a series of miscues and self-inflicted mistakes in losing its last three against Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State after a 2-0 start versus Central Arkansas and UTEP. The game, Tech’s first at home in a month, also marks the first conference road game of the season for West Virginia, trying to best the Red Raiders for the first time in Big 12 play.
The contest looms large for both, with the remainder of the Big 12 slate thus far showing itself to be among the most difficult and balanced league jaunts in college football after TCU’s upset of Oklahoma combined with having five teams ranked.
Head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s Raiders were in that position last year, starting 7-0 in Kingsbury’s inaugural season – including a 37-27 win in Morgantown – before losing the last five regular season games, all but one by at least 18 points. Tech rebounded to beat No. 21 Arizona State 37-23 in the Holiday Bowl, and Kingsbury was surprisingly rewarded with a contract extension through 2020. His original deal, inked in December of 2012, ran through 2017. The Red Raiders, with the 2-3 start this season, have now lost eight of their last 11.
“You stay the course,” said Kingsbury, at one point among the hottest coaches in the nation. “You look at these games we have lost, 11 turnovers and over 30 penalties in the last three games, you aren’t going to win any no matter who you play. We’ve been trying to focus on improving those areas, because the effort has been good, they have been playing hard, they’ve been trying to win. But we have to clean those things up if we want to win. Be resilient, continue to work hard and good things will happen. Eventually the ball will begin to bounce our way. I’m sure people are frustrated because I’m frustrated. I’m proud of the way they are playing in terms of effort, but we aren’t playing smart enough to win games right now.”
Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in penalties after being flagged 16 times for 158 yards in the loss to Oklahoma State and nine times for 89 yards versus the Wildcats. TTU has 55 penalties on the season. The Raiders do rank 11th in the nation in passing yards with 335.4 per game, and 69th in points per game at 29.6. West Virginia is sixth in passing yards (381.8) and 32nd in points (36.6).
Kingsbury said his biggest issue, besides mental mistakes, was Tech’s penchant for giving up possessions, especially early in multiple series. Kingsbury said his squad’s ball security has been an emphasis, especially facing another quick-strike offense in Mountaineer team that already has a 1,900-yard passer with 10 touchdowns. Texas Tech turned the ball over four times in the 45-13 loss at No. 23 Kansas State last week.
Quarterback Davis Webb played with a sore shoulder, and that might have factored into his career-high four interceptions. The 6-5, 209-pound sophomore is 140 of 225 passing this season for 1,603 yards and 16 scores. His counterpart, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters threw for 290 yards and rushed for 105 yards to go with five touchdowns responsible for – four thrown and one a 50-yard keeper, as K-State jumped to a 31-7 lead. Waters, who connected on 24 of 31 passes, was aided by 245 rushing yards on 50 carries, a solid 4.9 yards per rush. Tech tailback Deandre Washington, who has totaled 326 yards this year, ran just seven times for 27 yards as KSU took the Raiders out of their game plan early.
That’ll be the goal of both Kingbury and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorson, both of whom came out of the Mike Leach coaching tree before putting their own touches on the offense tagged as “Air Raid.” The two worked together at Houston under then-Cougars and current Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Holgorsen, previously the offensive coordinator under Leach at Texas Tech when Kingsbury was the quarterback, coached the UofH receivers coach while Kingsbury worked quality control.
When Holgorsen left to take the coordinator position at Oklahoma State, Sumlin promoted Kingsbury to co-offensive coordinator. Kingsbury then accompanied Sumlin to Texas A&M, where was the OC in 2012 before taking the Texas Tech head coaching job. His move freed up a position for former WVU quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital on the A&M staff.
“He’s what got me into the profession and gave me an opportunity at the University of Houston,” Kingsbury said of Holgorsen. “That’s something that I will always be indebted for. Watching him work, watching him game plan, watching him install an offense, I was just very fortunate to be there. We run a very similar offense. A lot of what I have learned and how to do things, I take that by watching him.”
Which isn’t to say the two are exact mirror images. Holgorsen, using his best players, has begun to run the ball more, though both coaches have an emphasis on play calling based around the defensive look and numerics in the box.
“Having known Dana a long time, he is going to take what he sees and what you give him. He’ll hand it off 70 times or throw it 70 times, whatever is working,” Kingsbury said. “(WVU has) a good rhythm on offense right now. That’s something that’s the philosophy of this offense and obviously we come from the same (approach). If there’s a light box, run it, and if they’re stacking it in there, you try to throw it. That’s nothing new. I think with the changes, both teams are doing it more effectively this year.”