The challenge was laid out early last week. Texas Tech had the top passing offense in the country, and one which ranked second in scoring and total yardage. Coordinator Tony Gibson harped upon the 50-plus points put up in an NCAA-record nine straight home games by the Raiders. And he asked his team what, exactly, they would do about it.
The answers came in spades. West Virginia pressured quarterback Patrick Mahomes, keeping the savvy signal caller uncomfortable in the pocket and largely contained on the scramble. WVU's secondary blanketed a series of explosive receivers, and the front six managed to limit the ground game while also keeping gap control and leverage. The result was an offense limited to its lowest total yardage of the season with 379 and its fewest points in the last 22 contests dating to a 34-13 loss to Texas in Nov. of 2014.
"We heard the defense wasn't any good, that we had lost eight starters," said safety Jarrod Harper, who finished with four tackles, all solo. "We have been playing with that chip on our shoulder all season. We played well, covered well, tackled well in space. We heard about their offense and we definitely took that to heart and we were eager to get back out there and play. We got the 'W' and I was proud of the guys."
Texas Tech entered with otherworldly numbers throwing the ball, amassing 544 yards per contest over their first five and carving up even solid secondaries like that of Kansas State for massive yardage. But West Virginia's 3-3-5 look locked in on Mahomes and the fleet-footed wideouts enough to hold the Raiders to 200 yards below their average while limiting the big play and forcing Tech to do what it detests most in piecing drives together via multiple plays and first downs.
"(Tackling) was definitely a point of emphasis," said corner Rasul Douglas, who had one sack. "We knew their guys liked to make one guy miss and then go the rest of the distance. We made an emphasis that when they catch the ball they have to be tackled then and there."
The Raiders didn't rack up their typical yards after catch, and partially as a result were forced into 19 third downs. TTU converted just 10 and failed to score on eight of 11 possessions, including consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game. That was largely because the wideouts couldn't break free, even when Mahomes scrambled to extend plays far beyond what a secondary could be expected to cover. Still, other than a handful of plays - notably Tech's first score of the game on a 44-yard pass from Mahomes to Jonathan Giles that Jeremy Tyler misplayed - West Virginia's back end held up as well as could be expected. It was also helped by a series of camouflaged pressures called by Gibson.
"Coach Gibby was doing coach Gibby. Blitzing. It's what he does," Douglas said. "When I blitzed today, I saw the quarterback run away. My eyes lit up and I ran full speed, tried to make a play. I knew I'd get there if he tried to outrun me. On the corner sack, Gibby told me this was it, right now. He ran it and it came through. Coach Gibby knows what he is doing. he has been through this many times and we put our trust in him. We believe in him, he's our leader and as he goes we go. This definitely gives us confidence. This was the No. 1 offense in the country, around 600, 700 yards a game. To do what we did, pretty good. It's what this defense does."
West Virginia's defense actually lowered its points allowed per game average entering from 20 to 19.4. The Mountaineers entered the weekend ranked 28th in the NCAA in the category, and have held its two Big 12 foes to a combined 33 points - or 16.5 points per game. WVU has also allowed just 97 points this season, best in the Big 12, while holding all but one opponent to 21 points or less.
"I think it is a statement game," Harper said. "That's the top offense in the Big 12; they put up 600 yards per game. I think we played well today and definitely opened some eyes. Now we gotta keep going and get back to work and prepare for next week.