The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (16) West Virginia Mountaineers taking on the Texas Longhorns. Coverage begins at 11 AM CT on Fox Sports 1 from Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.
What’s at Stake?
After another great weekend of football, not a lot has changed for the contenders of the Big 12 (besides Baylor, but you could see the writing on the wall there). There now are three Big 12 teams ranked in the top 16 of the playoff rankings and those are the real contenders. It started out as ten, but now it seems like only three stand tall to have a chance to be the champion of the Big 12. While there are many intriguing matchups this week, I am here to focus on two teams that are fighting for survival for two completely different reasons.
Even after a loss to Oklahoma State a couple weeks ago, West Virginia is still in the mix to compete for a conference championship. Dana Holgorsen went from being on the hot seat to being in the driver’s seat in the Big 12. The Mountaineers are 2-5 in true road games since the start of last season, and they can’t afford to have another road mishap or else it’s going to be a long trip back to Morgantown.
Head Coach Charlie Strong’s job status seems to be on a roller coaster each and every week. When he wins, his job is safe but when he loses, everyone wants to kick him to the curb. Texas finally looks like they have picked up some momentum after two big conference wins and will look to continue that streak in Austin on Saturday.
For West Virginia, a win here would keep their Big 12 title hopes alive. This is a must win for the Mountaineers but in the Big 12, nobody hands you wins (even Kansas).
For Texas, this is a must win for their own head coach’s sake. Charlie Strong has three games left and each game will count tremendously if he wants to be the coach for the Longhorns in 2017.
West Virginia Offense
Coming in as the most scrutinized quarterback in the Big 12 is Skyler Howard. Like I have said a million times before, his effort and toughness is what make him a unique quarterback. He has the mindset of a linebacker playing the quarterback positon. Howard is averaging 286.6 passing yards per game while throwing for 16 touchdowns and 6 picks. He also is completing 65.1 % of his passes on the season. While these aren’t great numbers, he does a good job managing the offense.
In what was a backfield duo, now can be called a trio. The bruiser of the three is Rushel Shell. Shell is averaging 71.9 yards per game on 4.9 yards per carry. He also has seen the end zone 5 times this year. This is not an easy guy to bring down. Next up is Justin Crawford, who is the most balanced of the trio. Crawford has been a little banged up as of late, but is still a force in the backfield. He is averaging 6.2 yards per carry as well as 73.4 yards per game. Last but not least is Kennedy McKoy. McKoy is in your sight one moment, and then in the next he is gone. Speed is the name of the game for McKoy.
Just like the running back position, the West Virginia wide receivers are stepping up. Shelton Gibson is still the man in Morgantown averaging 79.5 yards per game and scoring 6 tuchdowns. He is the home run threat for this offense. Leading the Mountaineers in yards per game is Daikiel Shorts, who is averaging 84.8 yards per game while catching 4 touchdowns. Rounding out the group is Ka’Raun White, who brings a nice physical presence to the position averaging 50.8 yards per game.
Up front West Virginia will use starters LT Adam Pankey, LG Tony Matteo, C Tyler Orlosky, RG Kyle Bosch and RT Colton Mckivitz. Just like before the season started, this group is still the best in the Big 12.
Breckyn Hager is a force to be reckoned with on the defensive line for the Longhorns. Hager has 8 TFLs, 5 sacks and a forced fumble on the season. He brings the wood each and every week playing the FOX positon. At SDE is Charles Omenihu, who has been a little quiet on the year, but has had 3.5 sacks so far. DT Poona Ford and NT Chris Nelson will handle the duties in the middle. Both are good against the run combining for 10.5 TFLs and a forced fumble. This group is the heart and soul of the defense.
At Linebacker Texas will roll out with starters SLB Edwin Freeman, MLB Malik Jefferson and WLB Anthony Wheeler. Wheeler and Jefferson are the two leading tacklers on the team. Wheeler is a head hunter finding the football while Jefferson is the speedy rusher that a defense looks for. Jefferson has 6.5 TFLs with 4.5 of those being sacks. The guy that doesn’t get talked about a lot is Edwin Freeman who has 5 TFLs on the year.
In what everyone thought would be the best unit of the Texas defense, has been the most disappointing. I will say however that this group is getting better each and every week since Strong took over the defense. John Bonney and Kris Boyd will be the two guys at CB. Bonney has 4 PBUs and Boyd has 4 as well as 1 INT. Boyd is a very physical corner who isn’t afraid to take chances. P.J. Locke will handle the duties at NB when needed. Third year starters Jason Hall and Dylan Haines will once again be the starters at the two safety spots. Hall is an excellent tackler and Haines is the guy who gets the defensive backs in the proper positon. Haines brings a more intelligent approach instead of an athletic one.
West Virginia will do what they do best by running the pigskin. In a hostile environment, Dana Holgorson wants to control the game at his own pace. With a three headed backfield and that offensive line, the Mountaineers are capable of running the football. If Texas does decide to load up the box, watch out for a deep shot to either Shelton Gibson or Daikiel Shorts to keep the defense honest. The last thing West Virginia wants to do is get into another shootout on the road like they did in Stillwater. For the Texas defense, the key will be stopping the run. Texas has struggled against the run all year long and this could be trouble when you face an offense like the Mountaineers. I expect the Longhorns to crowd the box and play a lot of single coverage on the outside. As much as this defense struggles against the run, the more you have in the box, the better. Also watch out for QB Skyler Howard scrambling around. Texas has really had problems running up the field and giving up a lot of free space up the middle.
Cool, calm and collected are not words used typically to describe a true freshman quarterback, but someone forgot to tell Shane Buechele that. Buechele is averaging 250.7 yards through the air while tossing 19 touchdowns on 2 interceptions. While he may not be the most accurate passer at 61.8%, Buechele throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the Big 12. Shane has been excellent moving the chains for this offense and it seems like Texas has finally solved its quarterback woes.
Speaking of moving the chains, RB D’Onta Foreman has been doing that and then some for his team. Foreman is the current active leader in consecutive 100 yard rushing games (10). He averages 180.7 rushing yards per game while scoring 13 touchdowns in only 8 games. If that doesn’t impress you maybe his astonishing 7 yards per carry will. Foreman is the second leading rusher in the country and his stats will certainly prove it. This is a big guy, who will require more than one defender to bring him down.
Texas will use quite a few different receivers on any given week. The Longhorns currently have 8 receivers with 195 receiving yards or more. The leader of the group is Armanti Foreman, who averages 46 yards per game and has caught 3 touchdowns. Freshman Devin Duvernay is the speedster of the bunch while Jake Oliver is their possession guy. Beyond that, look for Dorian Leonard, Jerrod Heard and John Burt to round out the group.
Up front Texas will use starters LT Connor Williams, LG Patrick Vahe, C Zach Shackelford, RG Kent Perkins and RT Brandon Hodges. LG Jake McMillion is out this week and it seems like Vahe will take his place. This group is putting in some serious work opening up lanes for RB D’Onta Foreman.
West Virginia Defense
On the defensive font, DE Noble Nwachukwu is looking to disrupt offenses as he is the best pass rusher the Mountaineers have. Nwachukwu has 6 TFLs this season with 3 of them being sacks. Beside him, will be NT Darrien Howard and DE Christian Brown. Howard has been solid in the middle accounting for 4 TFLs with 2 of them coming from sacks. DE Christian Brown has been playing well for the line as well.
Paving the way for the linebacker core is SLB Justin Ardnt. Ardnt is currently leading his team in tackles and has been stellar in stopping the run with 4 TFLs. He also has 2 sacks on the season as well. In the middle, will be MLB Al Rasheed Benton who is 2nd on the team in tackles along with grabbing an interception. Both of the guys have been excellent finding the football and making things happen. Also WLB David Long should see plenty of action this week in a run heavy opponent.
After praising the secondary a couple weeks ago, they finally came back to reality in their game against Oklahoma State. They still are a very physical bunch, and they will look to play well as expected this week. Rasul Douglas and Marice Fleming will lock down the corner spots for the secondary. Fleming is filling in this week with some injures while Douglas is a tall, lengthy corner. Douglas has been outstanding this season nabbing 5 INTs on the season. At the famous SPUR positon is Kyzir White, (brother of WR Ka’Raun White) who is known for his hard hits. White has 3 TFLs and 2 PBUs so far this year. Jeremy Tyler will get the nod at BS while Jeremy Tyler will hold it down at FS. Both of these guys have been great for the back end all season long.
Texas will run D’Onta Foreman until he either runs out of gas or gets shut down by the Mountaineers. The Longhorns have been riding the Foreman train both in the rushing game (D’Onta) and in the passing game (Armanti), all season long. This offense is not successful unless they are able to run the football. Yes, Shane Buechele has been great for Texas but you don’t want to rely on a true freshman to put the game on his shoulders. Look for a heavy dose of running the football as well as their fair share of throwing vertically down the field to any one of their receivers. West Virginia struggled with the intermediate passing game against OSU, so WR Jake Oliver could be a name to keep an eye on. For the Mountaineers, I expect them to fully commit to stopping the run. They will keep at least 7 in the box at all times if possible. West Virginia has some big physical corners, but what Texas will have on them is quickness. They may be able to slow down the bigger guys like Foreman, Burt and Johnson, but they could have a bit more trouble against guys like Leonard and Duvernay. Still, the main goal will be to slow down RB D’Onta Foreman as Texas has very little of a rushing threat behind him.
West Virginia wins if, they are able to slow down D’Onta Foreman. If they can do this, they will put the game in true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele.
Texas wins if, they are able to stop the Mountaineer rushing attack. Texas needs to jump out to an early lead so West Virginia can’t control game. They want Skyler Howard to throw the ball as much as possible. Whoever wins the rushing battle will most likely win this game.
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