(Photo Courtesy of wvusports.com)
West Virginia returns home from Austin to try and right the ship against TCU. The Mountaineers’ luck at home has been much better than the road, posting a 4-0 mark in Morgantown. TCU on the other hand, enters Morgantown 2-0 on the road in their 2020 campaign. Which squad will give? Stats give WVU an edge, but this TCU team isn’t any slouch. Entering his 20th season at the point of the TCU program, Gary Patterson always gets his team the mismatches that expose opposing teams. Even in the midst of his worst stretch as a head coach (record wise), Patterson is always tough to beat.
The Horned Frogs are about as average of a team as you can possibly be. They enter this matchup with a 3-3 record, scoring 27 points per game, and giving up 27 points per game. They average just under 400 yards per game offensively while they give up just under 400 yards as well. Each of their first three games were decided by one score; with losses against Iowa State and Kansas State. However, they were able to trump Texas in Austin between those games. After a 19 point loss against Oklahoma, TCU was able to pull off two score victories against Baylor and Texas Tech. The Horned Frogs look to knock off WVU to jump another spot up the Big 12 rankings on Saturday.
Last year, the Mountaineers ended their season in Fort Worth with a 20-17 win. If you were a fan of ugly football, then you loved this game. Neither team eclipsed the 300 yard mark offensively. Both quarterbacks threw multiple interceptions. Doege with three, Duggan with two. 16 combined tackles for loss, a punt return touchdown by Jalen Reagor. TCU committed 10 penalties, two of which kept the WVU offense on the field late and allowed Doege to find Isaiah Esdale for the winning score. A grind-it-out, ugly, tough game to finish two ugly seasons for these programs. This year they both look to take the step towards improvement.
Sophomore Max Duggan, in his second season as the TCU starting quarterback, has improved as a passer. Unfortunately for him, he lost his top target Jalen Reagor to the NFL after last season. Without a go to receiver, Duggan has had trouble pushing the ball down the field. His completion percentage however has increased from 53% to 65%. Duggan has also decreased his turnover rate with only 2 interceptions on the year. Throwing the ball isn’t exactly the identity of this TCU team as they rank among the bottom third in pass yards per game nationwide.
Due to the struggles in the passing game, the rush offense for TCU is their bread and butter. And who better to lead the team in rushing than Duggan? For the third week in a row, WVU will have to defend against a mobile quarterback. TCU totes five players with more than 20 carries on the season. Freshman Darwin Barlow leads the running back group with 50 carries for 291 yards. Four of the five players with 20 carries also average 4 yards per carry. Patterson creates lanes with exotic blocking schemes; including traps, zones, pulls, and reads that often have three possible ball carriers.
The Horned Frogs receiving corps has a lot of catching up to do. Junior, Taye Barber, is the only receiver with multiple touchdown catches on the season (2). Four other pass catchers have a touchdown reception on the year. The big play potential is the piece missing from this unit. TCU’s longest pass play on the year is a 50 yard reception by Quentin Johnson. If anyone has the big play potential it’s Johnson who averages over 17 yards a catch. I wouldn’t expect much from these receivers against the WVU secondary on Saturday.
Gary Patterson has a perfect mixture of experience and youth on the defensive side of the ball. Up front, TCU is led by Sophomore defensive end, Ochaun Mathis who has a nose for the quarterback. Statistically he only shows 4 sacks and a quarterback hit on the season but on film, he seems to be just a step away almost every other play. Defensive coordinator Chad Glasgow doesn’t send much pressure from the back 7 but will stunt up front early and often. WVU’s offensive line has had a lot of trouble with protecting movement across their face this season. Look for stunts to be plentiful on Saturday.
The two Horned Frogs linebackers are doing their jobs this season. Garret Wallow and Dee Winters rank first and second on the team in tackles. TCU doesn’t create a bunch of negative plays but play a fundamentally sound style of defense. Linebackers fill gaps and are able to filter the ball carrier to where they have extra defenders. This is the MO of the TCU defense and shows statistically with under 400 yards given up per game.
Youth shows up in the secondary of this defense with three sophomore defensive backs. Yardage wise, they do a good job, but this is partly due to TCU winning time of possession battles often. A few short yardage drives for opponents thanks to special teams helps this stat as well. They do a good job of keeping most of the action in front of them and have only forced four interceptions all season. TCU’s solid front 6 helps out the back end but I believe there are holes in this secondary and chances to take shots. There’s a lot of man coverage, especially on third and long situations. Almost as if they are daring the offense to take their shot at a big play. Doege could have a couple opportunities on Saturday to hit a few shots and keep the defense on its heels.
TCU Special Teams
A sign of a well-coached team is a solid special teams unit. TCU has excelled, for the most part, on special teams this season. Three blocked punts, a punt return touchdown, and a net punt yard average of 43 plays into the hands of the field position game. The only downfall of this group is four kicks of their own have been blocked this season. I suppose on the bright side, kicker Griffin Kell hasn’t missed a kick aside from the ones that have been blocked. TCU definitely has the upper hand in special teams to WVU and this could prove vital in such a close matchup.
KEYS TO THE GAME
TCU’s run game is as complex as it gets. The beauty of football is you can make it as simple as you want. Forget all the noise in front of you, plant your feet in your position, let the chaos filter, read, and react. TCU will send two and three linemen in one direction and the rest the other. The idea is to create a crater in the middle of the defense. A plethora of their rushing yardage is up the middle. WVU will have to be sure to not overreact to the chaos and stay home. There may not be as many opportunities for negative plays Saturday, but if WVU can keep everything as a stalemate that’ll be just as good. Keep an eye on the defensive line. If they are unblocked, staying at home will be the best decision they can make instead of chasing.
Offensive Line Improvement
The offensive line keeps hitting the goals I’ve been setting each week. Ossai was kept in check last week against Texas. However, it’s like they take two steps forward and one step back. The running game just couldn’t get going in Austin. It looks like it’ll be even harder this week with a questionable Leddie Brown. Keeping pressure off Doege will be imperative for a WVU win this week. The Mountaineers will need to be able to create offense through the air with a banged up Brown. NO sacks on Doege this week is the goal.
Am I putting too much pressure on a guy that just got 6 of his 7 grabs on the year last week? Yes, most definitely. But he is the only receiver that has shown any WANT TO this season. Esdale showed he WANTED the football last week going up and snatching an underthrown ball away from the Texas defender. Can he parlay that into a reliable target for Doege and this offense? We’ll see. And if he can, this offense will turn the corner. Esdale caught the go ahead touchdown last year at TCU. Let’s see him grab 8-10 balls this week, get in the end zone, and keep our perfect record at home intact.
LINES & PICKS
West Virginia vs. TCU (+3)
I think both of these bets weigh heavily on the status of Leddie Brown. If TCU is going to score touchdowns it’ll only be on the first drive of either half. Aside from that, this WVU defense will lock down and hold them to field goals. TCU has one of the best red zone defenses in terms of touchdowns scored. WVU just simply doesn’t allow teams to the red zone. Brown probably plays a 4-6 point swing in the spread and without him healthy I don’t have much confidence in playing a spread. The lack of 7 point scores as compared to 3 point scores gives me more confidence in the total.
Pick: under 45.5 these teams score a max of 3 touchdowns combined