With the excellent breakdown of West Virginia’s defense, and how it might handle the stress placed upon it by Texas Tech’s spread available in another our of stories linked at the bottom of this page, this dissection will delve into how the Mountaineers might best move the ball against a defense that, thus far, has allowed an average of 472 yards and 40 points per game, the latter statistically ranking 120th out of 125 FBS teams.
Every foe has scored at least 26 points, and the three BCS foes in Arkansas (49-28), then-No. 24 Oklahoma State (45-35) and then-No. 23 Kansas State (45-13) have amassed 45-plus. But those three benefitted from some poor fit ups by a Red Raider team led by, in the case of the Arkansas game, a different defensive coordinator, and in the case of all three, let down by an offense that combined for 11 turnovers in the contests. Consider, too, that Texas Tech has also been hurt by penalties. Against Oklahoma State, Tech was flagged 16 times for 158 yards; last week, the numbers were a bit better at nine for 89 yards.
It should be noted that Tech hasn’t truly had to defend a short field extremely often in the last three games – indeed, against Kansas State, the Raiders turned the ball over twice inside the Wildcats’ red zone, once on an interception in the end zone on the initial drive of the game. So its defensive numbers are likely more accurate than those of most teams with 11 turnovers in three games.
Now, new defensive coordinator Mike Smith – promoted from outside linebackers coach – has simplified the defense, and has shuffled a couple players around to different spots in an effort to get his group to play faster, both mentally and physically. Smith, who took over when Matt Wallerstedt resigned Sept. 18 after his defense allowed 49 points to Arkansas, is the fifth defensive coordinator in Lubbock in the last five years.
Thus far, the early returns say the move seems to be working to an extent, as Tech did seem to be surer of itself on the field against Kansas State than Oklahoma State and Arkansas, but simply couldn’t stop the power run game by Bill Snyder’s crew. That’ll be less of an issue against West Virginia, but one can be sure the Mountaineers will test a soft Raider front that has allowed an average of 259 yards per game, and five yards per rush.
KSU rolled up a balanced 290 yards passing and 245 rushing against a defense that utilized four down linemen. Expect Smith to rotate between three and four linemen against WVU. The problem for Tech is coverage in the secondary for any kind of extended time. The Raiders have pressured opposing quarterbacks adequately, but not exceptionally, with five sacks over the last three games. But Smith’s unit did continually force Kansas State’s Jake Waters to move his feet and slide within the pocket. The backfield broke down, however, and Waters was excellent at keeping his eyes downfield and finding open wideouts across the face and over the top when the TTU DB’s pulled up in coverage.
Keep an eye on West Virginia’s Clint Trickett, and how much time he is afforded to throw. The Raiders can’t handle WVU’s wideouts for more than two to three seconds, especially in the slot as they are moving across the defense. The corners, pending how far back they play, should be able to hang in a bit longer. But any time over three to four seconds should allow Trickett to survey the field and find an open target.
Tech has stout play in the interior. Watch WVU’s interior line, and see if they are able to hold up against juniors Keland McElrath(6-4, 312 lbs.) and Rika Levi (6-2, 367 lbs.). Whichever way that battle goes will go a long way toward both pass protection and the running game which the Mountaineers would like to establish to force a seventh defender into the box. West Virginia was able to overwhelm Kansas, and it has rushed effectively in most of the games. I’d expect at least an adequate performance here as well.
The bet here is that Texas Tech can bring some pressure on the pass game, so look for a series of adjustments after a feeling out phase, especially the use of screens and some misdirection to back that heat off. Trickett doesn’t have the mobility of Waters, and won’t be able to exploit some open gaps created by a collapsing pocket as well. Quick throws will eliminate some of that, but West Virginia will also have to use tosses to backs, the run game and varying screens designed to slow the upfield push.
Also check how Texas Tech decides to defend the passing game in terms of safeties high. Are likely won’t start out in a conventional cover two, which would likely dare WVU to run. As WVU backs coach JuJuan Seider noted, any “defensive coordinator worth his salt” wants to take away the run first. At least early, Tech likely sticks one safety high with the corners matched against Kevin White and Mario Alford, with the balance shifted slightly toward White because of his extreme vertical threat. That could open the deep ball to Alford, and it should leave the slots in single coverage with just a pair of linebackers depending upon single or empty back sets.
Tech was awful in managing the misdirection plays against Kansas State, and the Mountaineers can feed a constant diet of such. There won’t be confusion, exactly, as Tech will be more hesitant to over pursue because of the understanding of how often WVU uses that aspect, and because Tech sees quite similar play from its own spread uptempo offense in drills every day. West Virginia will have to win this game, at least offensively, with superior execution and a solid rhythm if it can be established; keep in mind that Tech opponents are scoring on 40 percent of their drives, the worst efficiency rating of any power five team.
The nice aspect of facing a team with a similar style is that one needn’t worry that a couple consecutive three and outs could mean a major reduction in the clock. Tech will operate as fast as the Mountaineers. But that also means that no lead is safe, either. West Virginia must continue to move the chains, finish with touchdowns instead of field goals and play the quick game well. Tech’s defenders are used to operating in space. But they didn’t execute well versus Oklahoma State’s same spread offense, mainly because the Cowboys got the ball out quick, ran effectively with some misdirection and challenged vertically without risking turnovers. Sounds like the winning recipe here as well.