Texas Tech in. West Virginia out. The Red Raiders cracked the AP Poll at number 24 after putting up 65 against an outmatched Jayhawks team. This is the first time Texas Tech has been ranked since 2013, and it looks like Kliff Kingsbury has the team trending in the right direction with a record of 4-1.
The Mountaineers are trending in the opposite direction. They have recently dropped from the polls to being unranked after losing to TCU 31-24. Despite being a two-loss team, there is no reason to give up on preseason expectations just yet. The Big 12 has multiple teams sitting at 1-1 with Texas at one of the top spots. Safe to say anything can happen in this high scoring gauntlet.
DATE & TIME: SAT, OCT 14 at 11:00 AM CT
LOCATION: Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, WV
FORECAST: Sunny, 80 F, light wind
BETTING LINE: WVU -3.5
Texas Tech (4-1)
Coach Kingsbury has Texas Tech still airing out the ball and putting up prolific numbers on the scoreboard and has seemingly picked up where they left off from last year. Quarterback Nic Shimonek may not have the same physical traits as former Red Raider QB Patrick Mahomes, but he has proven to be fully capable of lighting up opposing defenses. The senior signal caller has 1811 yards and a 14:3 touchdown to interception ratio.
Texas Tech has always had the scoring thing down, but it is their defense that has not always been where it needs to be. The Red Raider defense needs to get better and they are off to a good start in 2017. They only allowed Kansas to run for 112 yards. The defense is led by linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen with 42 and 39 total tackles, respectively. And while the defense is not in any danger of being considered elite, it has a pulse and at 105th in the country, ranks just one spot ahead of West Virginia’s defense.
In short, this isn’t your father’s Texas Tech team. They are proving the doubters wrong, playing with an edge, and in this matchup, have the better resume with wins over Arizona State and Houston in the non-conference portion of the season.
West Virginia (3-2)
West Virginia can never really seem to get over the hump. The hump, in this case, is beating a ranked opponent. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen has not beaten a ranked team in his last 9 attempts. The last time was in 2014 against number four Baylor.
They have a very underrated quarterback in Will Grier, who is putting up similar numbers to his Red Raider counterpart (1740 yards, 16 TDs). They also boast a 562 yard rusher in Justin Crawford. The question is not whether or not they have the weapons; they do. And that’s the reason for the hype around Morgantown. However, that hype is not translating to wins.
They have put up 50+ in each of their three wins against cupcakes, but they haven’t gotten job done against decent competition. They fell to 21st-ranked Virginia Tech to open the season and fell to 8th-ranked TCU last week to a score of 31-24 in both games.
With two losses on the season it is time to put up or shut up. We are reaching the point of the season where statistics are becoming more reliable, and FEI Ratings aren’t painting a pretty picture for the Mountaineers. They rank 70th in the country in efficiency.
Keys to the Game for TTU
Disrupt Grier – Morgantown is a tough place to win and even tougher if you let Will Grier get into rhythm. He has shown the ability to takeover games this season. The Red Raider pass rush comprised of Tony Jones and Eli Howard need to make the Mountaineer quarterback feel the pressure.
Offense Help The Defense – Despite the first key, it is a big task to completely stop West Virginia. The Texas Tech offense needs to be hitting on all cylinders and attack the Mountaineer secondary that is giving up 227 yards through the air.
Create Turnovers – One thing the Red Raider defense can do is get the ball back to its offense. They have forced 14 turnovers in 5 games, which bodes well for a such a high scoring matchup. Going into the game they have the turnover margin advantage at +1.40 to West Virginia’s +0.20. If they can get the offense a couple of extra possessions, it will go a long way to winning this game.
Keys to the Game for WVU
Win The Redzone – In the Big 12, especially between these two teams, there is little chance the defenses will be effective in the middle of the field. It’s just the strain of containing these offenses. Focus on not allowing one yard and you may give up 80. Focus on not given up the big play and these offenses will find plenty of room to work underneath. It’s when the field becomes compressed that the WVU defense needs to step up. This has the makings of a shootout, so any stop in the redzone should be considered a win. WVU is 23rd in the country in redzone scoring. Tech ranks just 75th. If there’s a flaw in the Red Raider offense, it is in this part of the field, and this is where West Virginia can win the game.
Establish Justin Crawford – If there was a game for him to run wild, it is now. The Red Raider defense is porous and has given up at least 100 yards in their last four games. And the more you can keep him picking up first downs, the longer the Red Raider offense is on the sidelines, and the more fatigued the Tech defense will become.
Do Not Beat Yourselves – Relating this last key to Tech’s last key, WVU is facing an opponent that loves to capitalize off of turnovers. The Mountaineers two losses have boiled down to coming out on the wrong side on a couple of key plays. In a shootout like this, a turnover can make or break their chances of winning.
I actually like West Virginia in this one. The Mountaineers are just a different animal at home and if they ride Justin Crawford and win the redzone, which I expect them to do, then they should pull out the win. Regardless, this game should be very entertaining as each squad puts up big scoring totals and beats each other up until one team makes a late mistake sealing their fate.