Entering Saturday's contest with Texas Tech, the West Virginia defense as a whole knows it must find a way to slow down the Red Raiders' juggernaut of an offense. Much like they did to Bryce Petty in 2014, the Mountaineers' strategy will to be give Tech a lot of looks defensively and throw a myriad of blitzes at Patrick Mahomes, who has already thrown for 20 touchdowns on the season. Getting pressure on Mahomes will likely start up front, and veteran defensive line coach Bruce Tall knows all to well the importance of generating a pass rush on a good quarterback.
"You have got to keep him off balance," Tall said. "He moves really well in the pocket, has great vision downfield and he'll stress you. He can throw from any point, he doesn't just sit in the pocket."
The Mountaineers' pass rush appeared somewhat slow in its first two games of the year, but against BYU and Kansas State the unit was been much more effective at generating pressure. One defensive lineman who has started to make his way into the backfield is Noble Nwachukwu, who has picked up a sack in each of the Mountaineers' last two games. Despite only registering two sacks on the young season, Tall said he is more than pleased with the play of the senior defensive end.
"I think like fans and media, everybody wants statistics," Tall said. "But if you study the film and watch what he's been doing, he's been very productive. He's been beating guys left and right and he's been getting double-teamed in certain situations and it has affected the quarterback but unfortunately you only get credit for outcome. But from grading him and watching him and studying him, he's done a really nice job."
Of course, in order to generate a pass rush, the Mountaineers must be able to consistently beat the Red Raiders' offensive line, which is a unit that has impressed Tall after breaking down film of the TTU offense.
"They have those big lengthy guys," Tall said. "They really like those long guys. They're probably going to be the tallest collective group we face and they fill in their bodies well. They have a good mixture of experience with some younger guys and now going into game six they aren't as young as they were in game one. They're starting to grow up pretty fast and they're on the field so much that they're playing 80 or 90 snaps a game, so they're almost at game eight or nine for most teams when you look at the number of plays that they have actually played."
West Virginia defensive tackle Christian Brown echoed some of Tall's comments about Tech's offensive line and also discussed some schematics, making note that the Red Raiders' wide splits up front could give the Mountaineers' front a chance to penetrate gaps.
"They have big splits," Brown said. "The offensive linemen like to spread out and they like to run sideline to sideline so we have to do a good job of running to the ball. It really gives us the advantage because if they want to spread out more than we can hit it. We're going to run our defense, blitz and run to the ball."
And while most of the talk has been about slowing down the Red Raiders' vaunted passing game, which ranks No.1 in the country by a wide margin (second-ranked Washington State is averaging 163 yards less through the air), Brown said he is just as focused on stopping the run game and believes Texas Tech will mix it up and can be effective moving the ball on the ground.
"They say they don't run," Brown said. "But they like to mix it up, last year they ran half of the time. We just have to keep our options open and play them play-by-play."