The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - Texas Game

A battle of running games, road woes and more are in our discussion as we go to the chalkboard for our final look at the West Virginia - Texas game.

Texas, like West Virginia, has had widely varying swings in performance. Both also share a big swing in terms of performance on the road versus at home – a nice advantage for the Mountaineers if that continues to play out.

In three true road games this year, the Horns have scored just 10 total points. They were routed by Notre Dame and TCU, then shut out by Iowa State. The Mountaineers have been a bit more productive away from home, scoring 72 points in their trio of games, but only in one (Oklahoma) were they competitive for much of the contest. At home, though, WVU has scored 187 points in five games, with 57 of those coming in their two Big 12 contests.

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This contest appears to be a battle of running games, as both teams average more than 200 yards per outing on the ground. UT features a number of different runs, from power to zone, while West Virginia's inside zone has been its best sequence all season. Both teams also get significant contributions from their quarterbacks, although Texas's numbers from that position dwarf those of WVU. (The two teams have given up an almost identical number of sack yards – WVU's 166 to Texas' 165 -- so a straight-up comparison of the QB rushing totals is valid.)

Horns' starter Jerrod Heard is the team's leading rusher with 540 yards, and provides electric moves in the open field. He's backstopped by one-time starter Tyrone Swoopes, who helms the “18 Wheeler” rushing package that was mostly employed in red zone situations before last week's win over Kansas State. Against the Wildcats, he also ran some series in the open field, and responded with dominant running to sew up the victory. He's a different type of runner than Heard, and is very tough to bring down. In the rushing game he's similar to Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes, and has added 266 yards and nine rushing scores to the Texas attack.

For WVU, Skyler Howard doesn't have numbers quite that size, but has still managed 256 yards to the positive to date. He has been credited more than once by head coach Dana Holgorsen for his decision making in running the zone, and in getting his team into the right play call against shifting defensive looks. He's also just shifty and speedy enough to force opposing defenses to account for him, which takes one player away from other other potential runners.

The key for West Virginia is to keep UT's quarterbacks from getting up a head of steam. When Heard gets past the line of scrimmage, he's very difficult to contain, much less tackle, in the open field. Mountaineer linebackers aren't the fastest in the league, so they, along with the defensive line, have to keep Heard from getting vertical. With Swoopes, it's a matter of getting him on the ground, as he uses his 245 pounds to full effect in his play package. He isn't a slowpoke by any means, but making the tackle on the first try is key in limiting his effectiveness.

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Texas, or whoever put together their game notes, is not paying much attention to Big 12 news. Their scouting section lists Karl Joseph as one of the top defensive players in the nation. On one level, that is probably still true, but a note that he is out for the season would be more accurate. Or maybe they think he's still playing?

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With the running games looking to be evenly matched, the passing games could be a difference maker. UT has had two games of very good air productivity (364 yards vs. Cal and 299 vs. Kansas), but the Horns have also had three games in which it didn't top 100 yards, and four others in which it gained no more than 128. WVU has had its own struggles, with Holgorsen noting “that's not what it's supposed to look like” in reference to his passing attack.

Both teams will try to hit passes that build off the success of their running games, but the Longhorns may have an advantage on defense, given their better ability to pressure the quarterback. WVU didn't give up any deep passes against Texas Tech, which chose to attack the Mountaineer defense more horizontally than vertically, but don't expect the Longhorns to follow suit. They will likely try to get downfield threats such as freshman John Burt involved in play action or pass options off read option fakes, so WVU's deep defenders can't be all-out in supporting the run on each snap.

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West Virginia's wide receiver rotation is something to keep an eye on, even if the Mountaineers end up running the ball much more than they throw it. Shelton Gibson and David Sills were still listed as the outside starters this week, but Gibson was replaced by Ka'Raun White for long stretches against Texas Tech, and responded with a team-best five receptions for 80 yards. On the opposite side, Sills twice lined up wrong, drawing penalties, one of which negated a successful fourth down conversion. Jovon Durante has had issues with drops the past two games, so keep an eye for who gets the early call against the Longhorns.

The story is the same inside, where Daikiel Shorts has been tough to find at times. Dependable Jordan Thompson came up with a pair of nice catches inside against Tech, and could be a safety blanket for quarterback Skyler Howard. It seems like every time he's called upon, he makes a grab, and while he's not likely to break anything deep, he catches the ball well and doesn't require it to be right between his numbers to do so. Maybe it's time to stick with him?

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