The Horned Frogs, for years a defensive stalwart under head coach Gary Patterson, now lead the NCAA in average points per game at more than 50 after an 82-27 shellacking of Texas Tech last week. WVU, which ranked 101st a season ago in total defense, and 99th in scoring defense, has nearly cut those numbers in half at 58th and 54th, respectively. And with both teams, it’s been largely because of new coordinators.
Patterson named Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie coordinators, trying to awaken a once-slumbering style into a new, spread-and-shred machine behind mobile quarterback Tevone Boykin. The junior, once a receiver, has thrown a whopping 21 touchdowns against just three interceptions, and enters this weekend with 2,306 yards passing. Those numbers aren’t far behind WVU’s Clint Trickett, who has 2,763 yards to rank fifth in the FBS in passing. The Mountaineers, under head coach Dana Holgorsen, mimicked Patterson and elevated assistant Tony Gibson to the coordinator spot while also adding longtime Penn State coordinator Tom Bradley. The result has been a newfound confidence and freedom of play that has allowed WVU to actually win games with its defense, not merely try and survive them.
“Obviously they’ve done well,” Patterson said of West Virginia’s odd front multiple set. “Just watching the way they defended Baylor, and obviously I don’t watch that side of the ball as much aside from the Texas Tech game, but I believe they have done a great job. Obviously, to go along with this offense, you have to have a defense that can slow people down, and they’ve been able to do that starting with the first game versus Alabama.”
Texas Christian, meanwhile, has held serve offensively in averaging 60 points over their last three games. The No. 10 Horned Frogs (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) racked up 24 and 31 points in the first and third quarters, respectively, against Texas Tech, which has had some questioning whether Patterson enjoyed such status. The coach was quick to remind that his TCU team once allowed 70 points to the Red Raiders, and that, at times, games can snowball and it’d difficult to tell when to slow the pace; TCU lost a 21-point fourth quarter lead in a 61-58 defeat at then-No. 5 Baylor on Oct. 11, it’s only loss of the season.
“We had walk-ons in the game in the fourth quarter,” Patterson said. “It’s one of those games you can’t explain and you wish wouldn’t have happened the way it did. A little of it was the first quarter and how it started so fast that it lent itself to get that way one way or the other. The other thing you have to realize is that two weeks ago I had a 21-point lead at Baylor and lost it playing an up tempo offense, so it’s hard. Never do you want to get to a point where you are in that situation, but I’ve always been a guy who has ran the ball, ran the clock out and done those things.”
Boykin hit on 22 of 39 passing for 433 yards and seven touchdowns against zero interceptions. Two backs, Aaron Green and Trevorris Johnson, both rushed for 105 yards and averaged more than 10 yards per carry. Green hit the 105 mark on just six carries, an average of 17.5 yards per run. Four wideouts tallied more than 75 yards each on just four grabs, led by Deante’ Gray’s 165 yards and two scores.
“He was growing, and he was young, 16, when he came here,” Patterson said of Boykin’s maturity. “He’s been a young player. As far as I know there was never any thought process that he wasn’t going to stay here. For me, we are halfway through the (conference) season, so for us to be where we are at we obviously had to have somebody play like that for us. (The coaches) have had a lot to do with that and part of it is that we have also grown up at wide receiver. It’s been an offense, along with Trevone, that’s really grown up and grown together and it’s really moved forward.
Patterson said he sees similarities in West Virginia’s offensive maturity, and the way both units have been able to utilize far superior depth and experience, both at receiver and in the backfield, as well as solid overall execution along the line. The timing of the elevation of play for TCU and WVU (6-2, 4-1) coincides with what Patterson immediately expressed upon his team’s entrance into the Big 12.
“I’ve said that, and just watching Dana I think he’s the same way, I told people it was going to take three to five years to catch-up in recruiting and do whatever you need to do,” Patterson said. “Even a week ago, even before coming into this ball game, there’s high praise for what West Virginia has done. … The guys (Trickett) is throwing to, they’ve grown up. Kevin White, and really guys on each side with a guy that can really get open over the middle. You got two guys on both edges that can beat you vertical and who can go up and make the big catch.
“They’re running the ball well. They have three or four running backs who can really go. It’s a little bit like Trevone Boykin where (Trickett) is doing a good job and their skill players and offensive lines have gotten better than what they were a year ago. When that happens, you will have more success, and both offenses are doing that.”
The match-up in Morgantown is not only the first game outside the state of Texas for TCU, but also just the third time in eight games the Horned Frogs will play on the road. In its two road games, Texas Christian has traveled a total of approximately 140 miles combined to SMU (Dallas) and Baylor (Waco, Tex.). West Virginia, with its four road games, including one neutral versus Alabama in Atlanta, has logged approximately 3,400 miles.
“Even going there the first time and talking about how great their fans are as far as home field advantage, it’s a great place to play a football game and be a part of it,” Patterson said. “Dana has realized that and built on it. He’s recruited good players and guys have really stepped up and they are playing better on defense and, as usual, they’re always explosive on offense.
“It’s been fun for both of us because there have been so many critics as far as both coming into the conference. It’s a positive that we both have shown that we have the ability to compete. Number one, there’s just a lot of respect for what they do. I love states where there is a lot of passion, and Texas is one, where this state has a passion for football. West Virginia has a passion about football. To watch two teams coming from similar backgrounds, having a lot of success and then struggling for a couple years and then now being able to push forward again, it’s exciting for me knowing that both of us at this point in time have a chance to be a part of (ESPN’s College) GameDay. We talk about being relevant, and I think both programs are showing signs that we can be that now.”