(Photo Courtesy of WVU Athletics)
West Virginia leaves the friendly confines of Morgantown for their second Big 12 road game of the year. This time to Lubbock, Texas. The Mountaineers enter the contest 3-1 (2-1 conference) as a 3 point favorite over Texas Tech. Tech enters this matchup 1-3 (0-3 conference). The Red Raiders only win on the season came in the opener against Houston Baptist that saw them give up 600 yards of offense to the FCS foes, narrowly escaping disaster 35-33. WVU will look to add another one to the win column on their seemingly successful quest for improvement on a dismal 2019 season.
A nicked up Texas Tech team is coming off a bye week, hoping to be a bit healthier than they were two weeks ago against Iowa State. Senior offensive lineman Zach Adams will not be able to play this weekend. Tech is hopeful to get back a handful of inured receivers back after the week off. KeSean Carter has an elbow injury, McLane Mannix has a bad back, and Dalton Rigdon is in concussion protocol. Getting any combination of these receivers back could be a huge boost for new QB Henry Colombi. The junior signal caller was given the starting nod after replacing Alan Bowman in their latest loss at Iowa State.
The Red Raiders, as always, have had minimal trouble scoring this year when healthy. Their biggest concern comes on the defensive side of the ball. Giving up almost 500 yards and 40 points a game, the defense has kept this squad from a potential 3 wins. After squeaking by Houston Baptist, Tech went on to lose to Texas in a shootout, Kansas State, and Iowa State. So far, Kansas has been the only team worse than the Red Raiders in the Big 12. However, this team is fully capable of giving anyone issues, defense willing.
Last season, Jett Duffey and company rolled into Morgantown and throttled an inferior WVU team 38-17. The Mountaineers 4 turnovers didn’t help their cause. Tech scored touchdowns on their first 5 possessions and used 2 first half turnovers to hold a 35-10 halftime lead. Jarret Doege’s season debut came after Austin Kendall’s second interception with the game firmly in the Red Raider’s hands. This demolition derby turned around the 2019 season for WVU as Doege sparked a 2-1 run to end the year and take over the starting spot for 2020. This year, these two teams will play the complete opposite roles as WVU has an outside shot at a conference title and Texas Tech is fighting to find their footing.
Texas Tech Offense
The Red Raiders turn to Junior QB Henry Colombi after throwing in relief of Alan Bowman the last two games. Colombi transferred to Texas Tech from Utah State after last season and has experience with offensive coordinator David Yost playing under him in 2018. Colombi saw minimal action at Utah State, appearing in 11 games over two years, tossing 2 touchdowns and 1 interception. This year in relief, Colombi has thrown 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. Don’t expect much different from the Tech offense with the change at quarterback. They’ll continue the run and gun tradition and will create some big plays. The offense currently ranks 9th in the country in terms of overall yards per game. The matchup against the country’s top ranked defense will be a doozy.
Texas Tech doesn’t have a deep running back group, with sophomore SaRodorick Thompson taking the brunt of the load. Thompson and sophomore backup Xavier White both are averaging over 5 yards a carry but also don’t get many touches in this up tempo offense. Texas Tech will be a pass first offense, which tends to lead to big runs WHEN they decide to hand it off. Tech likes to pinch the end of the line of scrimmage and get their backs to turn the corner quick. They will bring a lot of guard pulls to either seal the edge or kick out the end and create a massive hole for the backs to hit going north. The line of scrimmage will look more like a mosh pit than synchronized poetry in motion.
These backs will also play a huge part in the pass game if the Red Raiders don’t have a healthy receiving corps Saturday. Yost likes to get the ball to the edge quick and used a lot of flare patterns out of the backfield against the tough Iowa State defense two weeks ago. The receivers that were left healthy against Iowa State didn’t have much success creating separation and getting open. This saw the offense sputter to just 15 points, 7 of which came from a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. If Carter can return from the elbow injury, he will be the difference maker to get this offense back on track. Carter has 21 catches for 215 yards and 4 TD’s in 3 games this season and provides a dual threat opposite of Erik Ezukanma who also has 21 catches for 295 yards and 3 TD’s. This is certainly the most dangerous group in this Red Raiders offense.
Texas Tech Defense
Texas Tech will show mostly a 3 man front to the WVU offense Saturday. They run a hybrid 3-4 of sorts with the strong side linebacker/rover rolling to the line most of the time. For a run heavy offense, they will stack the box and bring heat off this strong side. Fortunately, this pressure is just to try to keep opposing offenses to a normal play. Tech has had trouble creating negative plays with only 21 tackles for loss in 4 games. They’ve also only sacked the quarterback 6 times all year.
It’s usually tough to find a standout player on a defense that ranks in the bottom 5 of the country. Linebacker Krishon Merriweather leads the team in tackles and tackles for loss. 33 total tackles and 3.5 for loss aren’t spectacular numbers but that’s what will lead one of the worst defenses in the country. The linebackers have a tough time playing in space and will give up chunk plays regularly.
The Red Raider’s corners play with tenacity in the run game and will blaze to the ball. They are used in outside contain a lot in the defensive scheme. Unfortunately, they couldn’t cover a fire hydrant. Tech is giving up almost 347 yards per game through the air. The run game is a little better at 147 yards per game but this defense has to sell out to keep it that way. Last week, I said the Kansas team defensive stats were a bit misleading, but this week they are far from it. This is one of the worst defenses in all of college football.
Texas Tech Special Teams
I feel like I keep repeating myself, but this special teams unit might be as bad as Kansas’. 0-3 on field goals, longest punt return 11 yards, longest kick return 20 yards. There’s nothing special about this special teams and to be honest it’s downright awful. We might have found the only field goal unit worse than WVU’s.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Texas Tech LOVES to get the edge and they love to do it quick. So quick that they will move the end of the line of scrimmage for the ball carrier to catch the edge that much quicker. It’s imperative that the defensive ends and linebackers keep contain on the front side of plays. Passing wise, the outside linebackers need to cover well in the flats. Yost will throw the ball out there play after play if need be. Running wise, there hasn’t been too much misdirection, it’s not that complex of a run system. They do like to pull a guard to kick out the end man on the defensive line. This will be a big “prove it” game for Akheem Mesidor. If the young defensive end can play well in contain, West Virginia could be in for another healthy day on defense. Also, if he passes this test, you might see him on preseason lists next season.
Offensive Line Improvement
Another week, same key. For the last 3 weeks, this group has improved, little by little. This week, signs of improvement will be in a different area. No sacks. The Red Raiders only have 6 sacks on the season in 4 games. Their pass rush is almost nonexistent. Keeping Jarret Doege on his feet will turn a close game into a blowout quick. I don’t see a reason this group can’t continue to improve and show that by not giving up a sack this week.
It’s time this young team matures and cleans up the mental mistakes. No more being their own worst enemy. No more false starts, holding, penalties after the whistle. All of these are fixed between the ‘Eers (see what I did there?). A lot of times these penalties are stalling drives that could have this offense putting up better numbers than they already are. I want to see this team put together a clean, complete game. If done correctly, this could look like a very dangerous squad.
LINES & PICKS
West Virginia @ Texas Tech (+3)
I think this line is heavily in favor of Texas Tech. The 5:30 kickoff helps WVU, Tech is not a very good team, and WVU has been steadily improving. Tech just hasn’t gotten traction at all this season. Plus this defense is BAD. The total set at 54 is yet another tough line like last weeks. This has the potential to go way over if the Red Raiders don’t have a bunch of three and outs. WVU won’t score 40 but I’m not confident that Tech will stay under 20, making taking the over a hard call.
Pick: WVU (-3)