The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - TCU Game

Get ready for West Virginia's only weeknight game of the year with these last bits of analysis and items of interest prior to the Mountaineers' match-up with TCU.

West Virginia is first in the Big 12 and ninth nationally in third down conversion defense – typically a key for solid performance overall on that side of the ball. The problem for the Mountaineers is that they have given up a number of drives where opponents have rarely gotten to third down – this eliminating that strength from the WVU arsenal. That's not to say that the Mountaineer defense is a sieve – far from it. But there have been enough four and five play drives resulting in quick scores to counter WVU's good numbers in this play phase.

The other counterpoint to this stat is TCU's preternatural performance offensive on third down. The Frogs are first not only in the Big 12, but also nationally, as they turn thirds into firsts nearly 56 percent of the time. TCU is averaging just more than 13 thirds downs per game, and moves the chains in those situations more than seven times per contest.

So, for this game, third down is something of a Texas two-step. Just getting the Horned Frogs to third down will be very important, as the Mountaineers must limit big plays and keep TCU from tearing off yardage in big chunks. That won't be easy, as the Frogs are second nationally in quick scoring drives, having scored 27 of their 44 TDs in fewer than two minutes of possession. How will the Mountaineers do this?

As Matt Keller described earlier this week, WVU might have to make some alterations to its defensive strategy, but whether or not that will result in fewer blitzes, or just fewer types of blitzes, remains to be seen. There's no one sure path to success, so the best hope is for WVU to mix its coverages, but there's a problem with doing too much of that, as it could lead to confusion among the backups now playing prime roles in the secondary – and that could lead to even more big plays. Give the choice, though, of long drives versus quick strikes, the former seems to be more preferable.

If WVU can get to third down, it has to keep quarterback Trevone Boykin from becoming a runner. That's much easier said than done, but if Boykin gets out of the pocket he's going to put up yardage, and usually in big chunks. There’s more that can go wrong on a pass than a run, so keeping Boykin in the pocket again seems to be the best of what admittedly is a tough lot of choices. In doing so, the Mountaineers will have a better chance of dictating the action and getting the Frogs off the field.

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The same numbers, as we always maintain, can be used to support both sides of an argument. This week's example:

Head coach Dana Holgorsen is currently sixth on West Virginia's all-time head coach wins list. Holgorsen (31 wins) sits just ahead Clarence Spears (30) and Gene Corum (29). It's taken Holgorsen a comparable amount of time (4 1/2 years) to reach this level, as Corum took six years to get his 29 wins, while Spears piled up his 30 victories in just four campaigns.

On the minus side, though, Holgorsen's winning percentage of 54.3% puts him 25th on WVU's win percentage list, which includes 33 coaches overall. That list includes 11 coaches who had just one year at the helm, however, which tends to skew the results somewhat.

The point here isn't to quantify Holgorsen's success or failure, however. It's to reinforce the need to look closely at statistics being used, no matter the side taken, and to make sure to include a wider context with some depth of analysis. That may not convince an opponent in a debate, but it does make for a more well-rounded evaluation.

To remove this from the present situation, here's another comparison. Don Nehlen has 149 wins at West Virginia, lapping the field by a wide margin. But his win percentage of 61.4% puts him just 14th all-time among Mountaineer mentors. Which stat carries more weight?

There are also weird stats and factoids that have no basis for analysis, but are just fun to know. Such as: In the three seasons (2010, 2014, 2015) immediately following a TCU baseball College World Series appearance, the Horned Frogs are 32-1 in football. TCU went 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl in 2010, while going 12-1 with Big 12 and Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl championships last year. The Horned Frogs are 7-0 this season.

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TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson is getting a deserved lion's share of the attention among Horned Frog receivers. His 1,067 yards and 12 touchdowns are 39% and 44% respectively, of the Frogs' totals this year. That doesn't mean, though, that WVU can ignore the other passcatchers on the field. While no other TCU receiver has more than 19 catches this year, they make the most of their chances when the ball does come their way. Twelve players are averaging in double figure yardage on their catches this year, and while four of those have just one or two grabs, the rest are putting up those numbers on more than just one or two plays. This sort of productivity, even though it never gets highlighted, is one of the keys behind TCU's success.

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While most schools have one or two special dress schemes for their fans, TCU has one for every home game – and only one is a duplicate. The Horned Frogs began and will end the year with an all purple scheme, but in between will also have a white out and a black out, the latter of which will be the theme for West Virginia. TCU is also doing a “sidelines purple – end zone white” and a half and half split this year.

We still want to see a stripe theme with even rows one color and odd rows another. That would take a lot of attention on the part of the fans, but it would look awesome if it could be pulled off.

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Both teams have suffered significant injuries on defense, but TCU is probably in a bit better shape in this regard than WVU. Many of the Frog fractures came in the preseason or early on, and while five projected starters are either gone for the year or missed significant time, the TCU staff has had time to build replacements and get them practice time and game experience. While not at the level of some of their recent units, it looks as if they are getting more comfortable and seeing fewer outright busts in assignments. West Virginia, on the other hand, has had a couple of weeks to begin working around Karl Joseph's loss, but potential absences of Terrell Chestnut and Rick Rumph have the Mountaineer secondary thinner than a third-grader's explanations for lost homework.</p> <p>This doesn't mean it's a lost cause, of course. West Virginia defeated Baylor a year ago with starting DBs sidelined for big chunks of the game. But the big reason for that win was rattling the quarterback, and given TCU's ability to protect Boykin (only five sacks yielded this year), it's unlikely a similar storyline plays out in this contest.

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WVU is 35-32-3 all-time in Thursday games. West Virginia has also dropped to the .500 mark in nationally televised games. The Mountaineers are now 108-108-1 in such contests. They will have the chance to get back on the plus side in the next two weeks, as both the TCU and Texas Tech games are slated for national audiences.

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Neither team has won a game against the other within its home state boundaries. TCU lost to WVU at home two years ago and in the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston in 1984, while the Mountaineers dropped home decisions in 2012 and 2014.

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If this game ends up as the previous three have, coming down to the final moments, the Mountaineers will be looking to reverse a current trend – and perhaps call on a bit of mojo that last occurred in Amon Carter Stadium on TCU's campus. West Virginia has lost its last three overtime games, but before that skid its last win came on the site on Thursday night's game. Josh Lambert hit a 34-yard field goal in overtime two years ago to give the Mountaineers a 30-27 win over the Frogs. That win broke a three-game West Virginia losing streak – the same situation the Mountaineers find themselves currently in.

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