The results weren't as desired in 2014, the last time a ranked West Virginia team played host to TCU. The No. 10 Horned Frogs beat then-No. 20 WVU 31-30 on a last-second field goal which ushered in a 1-4 finish and put a damper on the once-promising season. It's among the myriad of reasons the Mountaineers have to guard against overconfidence, or thinking they have achieved many of their goals with the 5-0 start. As quarterback Skyler Howard noted, above, West Virginia is right where it wants to be of now, but nowhere near the end target for season objectives.
It's with this in mind that this week's No. 12 team in the nation readies for among the more difficult challenges on all three sides of the ball. The Horned Frogs offer a 4-2-5 base defense, one which cuts the field in half in secondary assignments, often playing man on one side and a mix of zone on the other. It makes it difficult to decipher pre-snap, and has elevated head coach Gary Patterson to among the premier minds in the game. Howard addressed how to counter the scheme, primarily pointing to the idea that WVU's offense is built to take advantage of numbers and match-ups regardless of what, exactly, the set is. Numbers are numbers, and West Virginia will run through its defensive reads and play capabilities with respect to both TCU's alignment and the talent of a defense which ranks second in the Big 12 and seventh nationally with 22 sacks per game.
"The difficulty is the same thing we do every week in going through where their weak spots are and where we can attack them," Howard said. "It's not that much different than any other game. Take what they give us. We see things on film where certain things that we do are going to be open. It's how we approach every week. They move around, get to the ball a lot, swarm the ball. Great athletes, similar to what we have seen in other games."
Howard also details how the Mountaineers can maintain the proverbial chip on the shoulder as the season progresses, and as the wins continue to build upon each other.
"Just because they people change around us doesn't mean we need to change," Howard said. "The same people who who are ranking us No. 12 now are the same people who left us out of that conversation. We aren't paying attention to them, just as we didn't pay attention when they didn't say anything. We are still not respected. I don't know why I would think it would change now, why I would be respected as a quarterback and why our team would be respected as West Virginia, when it hasn't been in years past and weeks past. Continue to play ball, me doing me and our team doing us. ... Our next game is our best one. You gotta win six to win 12."
Howard also detailed, as he has in the past, how he doesn't truly feel that Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium is a home game to him. Whether that's true or simply used for motivation, it's an always-interesting take from the senior.
"Sometimes I don't fee like I'm at home," he said. "I get booed here more than I do at away games. It's whatever. I am going to play ball no matter what. For me to call it a home game, I don't know."
Gibson, whose unit held the nation's second-ranked scoring offense to just 17 points, points to the new challenges presented by a TCU team whose quarterback, Kenny Hill, ranks just behind Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes in the Big 12 in every major statistical passing category. The Horned Frogs have racked up 40.2 points per game and done so with an exceptionally balanced attack which has featured the passing and mobility of Hill (162-of-256 for 2,142 yards with 12 TD and 8 INT) mixed with the rushing of tailback Kyle Hicks (479 yards, 5.6 ypc, 7 TD). Hicks is also TCU's leading receiver with 27 catches with an 11.2-yard average, and often gets flared out of the backfield with the thought that defenses might ignore him.
It adds another dimension for Gibson's defense, which must play with as much discipline as it has in any game this season because of TCU's penchant for gadget and trick players. Gibson, below, delves into those issues and more, including a comparison of Hill and Mahomes and what allows TCU's offense to cause the opposition trouble.