The atmosphere in Fort Worth should be electric with ESPN’s College GameDay coming to town. It is more than that, though. The first three years these two schools joined the Big 12 conference this game was decided by a margin of five points, and two contests went into overtime. Adding fuel to the fire, the past two years have seen both teams blow the other out. In 2015 it was TCU’s turn with a final score of 40-10. West Virginia returned the favor last year by having all the fun in a 34-10 rout.
This year the game returns to Fort Worth as both teams hope to prove to be a contender for the Big 12. TCU wants to show the win over Oklahoma State wasn’t a fluke and West Virginia looks to prove they have some bite to go with their bark.
If that is not enough to get you salivating over this game, it is also an interesting Xs and Os matchup. Gary Patterson, a defensive guru, has been running a 4-2-5 defense for years. A defense that utilizes four defensive linemen, two linebackers, and five defensive backs (usually two corners and three safeties) to stop the spread. West Virginia is also built to stop the spread, but they do it with a 3-3-5 defense. Can Kenny Hill remain consistent? Can the interior of the Mountaineer’s defense hold up to TCU’s rush attack? Both teams have also had an extra week to prepare, so let’s look at the matchup.
DATE & TIME: SAT, OCT 7 at 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: Amon G. Carter Stadium (Fort Worth, TX)
FORECAST: 83 degrees, Partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain
STREAM: Fox Sports Go
BETTING LINE: TCU -13
West Virginia (3-1, 1-0)
West Virginia started the season off with a tough loss to rival Virginia Tech. Since then, they have all but righted the ship, but this will be their first true test since week one.
The growing concern has been this year’s defensive struggles to stop the run, especially after lowly Kansas ran all over them two weeks ago. The uninformed will blather on about how three-man fronts cannot effectively stop the run. However, that wasn’t something anybody mentioned when Alabama was running a 3-4, or for the many NFL teams that run a three-man front scheme. As Dana Holgerson pointed out, nobody was complaining about run stopping when WVU was running the 3-3-5 previous seasons. West Virginia doesn’t have a scheme issue. They have a personnel issue.
While the defense is giving up a whopping 226 yards rushing per game, but if there is a bright side, they are only giving up 225 yards per game through the air.
The Mountaineers will have to rely on enforcer Kyzir White. The 6-foot-2, 210 pound safety out of Lackawanna Community College in Scranton, PA, — the Electric City — is a heat seeking missile just looking to party. And there ain’t no party like a Scranton party, ’cause a Scranton party don’t stop. It seems like West Virginia produces one punishing safety after another, and White might be the hardest hitting one yet.
On offense, West Virginia will need quarterback Will Grier to have a big day. Currently, Grier has a QBR of 81.7 which is good for eighth best in the country with 13 touchdowns to three interceptions on the season, but he struggled in his first game out against Virginia Tech. He needs to show the performance against Virginia Tech was just rust, and that he can step up in a big game.
Grier is complemented in the backfield by dynamic running back Justin Crawford who has 461 yards and six touchdowns through four games. Crawford is averaging a ridiculous 7.4 yards per carry. He has the build to be an every down back and the speed to outrun defensive secondaries. In short, he presents a defensive headache.
Catching the ball the Mountaineers have David Sill V and Gary Jennings as the main targets. Sills has a crazy seven touchdowns on the season already, and his 6-4 frame presents a tough match-up for opposing cornerbacks. This is a defense that can hurt teams through the air or on the ground.
TCU (4-0, 1-0)
Last we saw of TCU they were shocking the college football world by handily beating Oklahoma State in Stillwater. The defensive line was too much for a Cowboy depleted and inexperienced offensive line to stop. Meanwhile, the secondary shut down OSU’s extremely talented wide receivers for long stretches. Gary Patterson has his 2017 defense playing up to his normal standards, and offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie has the offense clicking on all cylinders and humming smoothly.
Speaking of the offense, Cumbie seems to have unlocked the key to Kenny Hill’s consistency. On the season Hill is completing 72.7 percent of his passes with 9 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ranks sixth in Total QBR.
Cumbie has done a good job of taking some of the pressure off of Hill by leaning on the run game. Currently TCU is averaging 232 yards a game on the ground, which is tops in the Big 12. This has meant that the Horned Frogs have not had to do too much in the passing game. But, you can bet that KaVonte Turpin is just waiting for teams to fall asleep in pass defense so that he can house a quick score.
On defense, TCU might have the best defensive line in the conference. This defense is only allowing 94.5 yards rushing in large part because blocking this line is like blocking a mountain. In other words, you are not going to get it to move much. If you think that means that opposing offensives are airing it out, I have bad news for you. The Horned Frogs are allowing a paltry 229 yards a game passing. This is a team that face both SMU and Oklahoma State, two teams known for getting yards through the air. Ask them how that worked out for them?
Keys to the Game – West Virginia
STOP THE RUN – This might mean unleashing White in the running game more. Or, it might mean keeping the linebackers close to the line playing the run. Whatever West Virginia does, it needs to stop the run. This is a TCU strength against a West Virginia weakness going into the game. If West Virginia wants to win they have to turn it around now on run defense.
CONVERT THIRD DOWN – No team is going to pick up chunks of yards and quick scores at will on this defense. That means that teams need to be in manageable third down spots and to convert those spots. West Virginia has the personnel to do this whether by optioning Grier and Crawford or throwing up the ball to David Sill V and his 6-4 frame. TCU’s starting corners are all below six feet, West Virginia needs to capitalize on it.
CHARGE THE HILL – In short, the West Virginia needs to get to Kenny Hill on passing downs. Hill is a slick runner. But, he is prone to make very bad decisions when feeling pressured becoming a turnover dispensing machine. West Virginia needs to unlock that side of Hill and the best way to do that is to hit him when TCU drops back to pass.
Keys to the Game – TCU
RUN THE BALL – As Kansas showed last week, West Virginia has trouble against the run. This is TCU’s offensive strength and they should play to it. The best way to keep opposing offenses from scoring is to keep them on the bench. TCU was able to do this against OSU, they should be able to do it against the Mountaineers, too. Feed the rock to Darius Anderson early and often and go to work on this West Virginia defense.
BE THEMSELVES – Seems an odd thing to say, but then again you see teams do odd things. TCU matches up very well against West Virginia. On defense they just need to be themselves. So far the defensive line has been enough to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with just a four-man rush. They have also been a brick wall when teams run. David Sill V is going to cause problems with his height, but TCU needs to focus on stopping the run and getting to Grier first and foremost. If they do that then the defense should put the Horned Frogs in a position to win.
CONVERT THIRD DOWNS – TCU fans are already grabbing pitch forks and yelling, but calm down a second. The Horned Frogs have the Big 12’s best third-down offense, that is true. Converting around 66 percent of third downs. That is two out of every three for those keeping track at home. However, West Virginia has the Big 12’s best third-down defense, only allowing opponents to convert 33 percent, or one out of three. This is a strength vs. strength match-up that TCU needs to win if it wants to secure a victory.
History favors the Horned Frogs in this one. Gary Patterson has never lost at home when ranked in the top 10. TCU has also never lost when featured on GameDay with an impressive 5-0 record. Conversely, West Virginia has been featured on GameDay three times and has only won once. One of those losses was to TCU in Morgantown.
However, West Virginia presents some unique challenges to TCU, and the Horned Frogs cannot count on their opponent shooting themselves in the foot every time it plays a ranked team.
What decides this game will be the Horned Frog’s ability to run the ball on manageable third downs. Kenny Hill has proven himself enough that WVU cannot leave eight in the box to compensate for their poor rush defense. Grier should be able to will life into the Mountaineers as David Sills V uses his height to cause Patterson’s neck veins to bulge enough that viewers at home are legitimately concerned about him having an aneurysm on the field, but it won’t be enough. This is not going to be the prettiest game, nor is it going to be a run away. TCU covers, but not until the end of the fourth quarter.