Big 12 Sports Articles

Big 12 Game of the Week Preview: #20 West Virginia @ Texas Tech

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 (20) West Virginia Mountaineers taking on the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Coverage will begin at 11 A.M. CT on Fox Sports 1 from Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas.

 

What’s at Stake

If there was a category for crazy in college football, you could just write the words Big 12 in permanent marker right next to it. We aren’t even halfway in conference play and it’s very possible that a two loss Oklahoma squad is the team to beat for a conference title this year. Unlike ESPN, we here at HCS realize that there are TWO undefeated teams in the Big 12 that are the conference’s best hopes for a college football playoff spot. Surprisingly enough West Virginia is one of those two teams. For a coach that was on the hot seat before the season, Dana Holgorson seems to be icing down the heat as he finds his unbeaten team traveling to Lubbock this weekend. Meanwhile out in west Texas, Kliff Kingsbury has heard some rumblings about how clear his future is at Texas Tech. It seems like the once golden boy for the Red Raiders, has struggled quite a bit over his past few seasons and people are starting to wonder if he can lead Texas Tech back to where it was when Mike Leach was in charge. There’s no doubt the stakes are enormous and that the game could be as predictable as the wind out in west Texas. Just ask Dana Holgorson about his undefeated 2012 team when they took the trip out to Lubbock.

For West Virginia, this is their first road conference game and a win here would continue the momentum for the Mountaineers as they look to carry the torch for the Big 12 playoff chances.

For Texas Tech, this a much needed win as they try to put together a winning season. Every win counts for bowl eligibility as well as keeping Kliff Kingsbury’s job safe. Kingsbury is just 11-18 in Big 12 play and he could use all the help he can get at this point.

 

West Virginia Offense

Leading the way for the Mountaineers is the gutsy gunslinger, Skyler Howard. Howard doesn’t get a lot of respect due to all the good quarterbacks in the Big 12, but this season he is getting the job done in the win column for his team. He is completing 65.8% of his passes while tossing 7 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. Skyler is surprisingly averaging 318 yards per game through the air. He isn’t all that flashy at his position but his toughness separates himself from other quarterbacks in the conference.

In the backfield West Virginia will feature a two headed rushing attack. Justin Crawford has been quite the runner for this football team averaging 82.8 yards per game on 5.5 yards per carry. Crawford is the slippery back of the two, seeing the end zone twice so far this season. While Crawford may be the more finesse back, Rushel Shell is the exact opposite. Shell is a complete bruiser at running back who is tough to bring down on every carry. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has scored 3 touchdowns in his first four games.

What a surprise, Shelton Gibson continues to be the play maker at receiver for this offense. Gibson is an absolute home run threat every time he touches the football. He is averaging a whopping 114.5 yards receiving per game while scoring 2 touchdowns so far. The number two target for Skyler Howard is Daikel Shorts, who has scored twice while averaging 79.5 yards per game. Rounding out the receiving core is Ka’Raun White who has 16 grabs for 194 yards and one score. I still would like to see White take that next step but I have yet to see it from him.

The offensive line has had a few shake ups this year but I still believe they are the best the Big 12 has to offer up front. The starting five will be LT Adam Pankey, LG Tony Matteo, C Tyler Orlosky, RG Kyle Bosch and RT Marcell Lazard. The three to watch in this group are Pankey, Orlosky and Bosch who are all playing solid football right now.

 

Texas Tech Defense

Up front the Red Raiders will use starters DE Kolin Hill, NT Ondre Pipkins and DT Breiden Fehoko. This group has been very sub-par when it comes to shedding blocks to tackle ball carriers. DE Kolin Hill does have 4 TFLs on the season but former ESPN 300 player DT Breiden Fehoko is the leader on the defensive line.

Of the four Texas Tech linebackers, true freshman MLB Jordyn Brooks is the bright spot of this group. He currently leads the team in tackles and is possibly one of the very few positives for this defense. Alongside Brooks, is sack leader DE/OLB Kris Williams who has 4 sacks in five games. The other two of this unit will be WLB D’Vonta Hinton and SLB Malik Jenkins who will need to step up to get this defense going.

In the back end, this defense has seen a bit of improvement from last season. The CB position will feature Justis Nelson and D.J. Polite-Bray. Nelson is 4th on the team in tackles and has broken up 5 passes in coverage while Polite-Bray has 3 PBUs of his own. Keep in mind the Polite-Bray is a former wide receiver last season. At SS will be Keenon Ward who started 7 games last season and has intercepted one pass so far this year. I saved the best for last with FS Jah’Shawn Johnson. Johnson is the best cover man that this secondary has to offer and does a good job covering a lot of ground in little time.

 

Matchup

West Virginia is one of the few offense is the Big 12 that truly has a balanced attack. They can play whatever style needed depending on the opponent they face week in and week out. Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, they can get the job done. I expect a heavy dose of RB Justin Crawford and Rushel Shell against a very poor Texas Tech run defense. I believe the game plan for this offense will be to control the clock and pound the football as much as possible to keep Patrick Mahomes on the sideline. The last thing Dana Holgorson wants to do on the road is get into a shootout in Lubbock. As for the Texas Tech defense, they need to stack the box as much as they can to stuff the rushing attack for the Mountaineers. Make Skyler Howard and beat you through the air as well as making someone else besides Shelton Gibson beat you in the receiving game. Don’t be surprised to see safety help on Gibson when West Virginia does decide to throw the pigskin. This matchup will all depend on the Tech defense stopping the run and if they can’t, it will be a very long day for this defense.

 

Texas Tech Offense

Under center or should I say in the shotgun, is the best quarterback in the Big 12, Patrick Mahomes. Patrick is averaging an eye popping 454.8 passing yards per game! Don’t forget about his ridiculous 72.8 % completion percentage along with tossing 20 touchdowns. Mahomes in my opinion is the best quarterback in the country and his stats can certainly back it up. He’s dangerously accurate with the football and has the ability to extend plays when needed. There have been reports of his shoulder having some issues, but he still is playing out of this world for the Red Raiders. Keep an eye on him in the red zone as Mahomes has 7 rushing touchdowns on the season. It looks like Kingsbury has struck gold at quarterback once again.

In the backfield, Texas Tech has seen Demarcus Felton emerge as the premier running back over Justin Stockton. This offense doesn’t run the ball very much, but Felton has done a good job averaging 54 rushing yards per game in this air raid attack. Even though Mahomes is the one to look for in the run game, Felton has come on strong as of late.

Jonathan Giles is the go to target at receiver for Patrick Mahomes. Giles has been deadly for the Red Raiders averaging 122.8 receiving yards per game and scoring 7 touchdowns in 5 games. After Giles there is a slight decrease in production with the next three guys. Dylan Cantrell is a big target at 6’3 scoring 4 touchdowns while Cameron Batson has seen the end zone 5 times himself. The last guy to talk about in the receiving corps is Devin Lauderdale, who most thought would be the go to man before the season started. Cantrell, Batson and Lauderdale are all very similar in terms of yardage, but all 3 have seen their fair share of the end zone.

On the offensive line, Texas Tech will use LT Baylen Brown, LG Jack Reichel, C Tony Morales, RG Justin Murphy and RT Terrance Steele. Brown and Morales are the veterans of this group with Murphy starting a few games in 2015. Reichel played some small college ball in California while Steel redshirted in 2015.

 

West Virginia Defense

On the defensive front, DE Noble Nwachukwu is looking to disrupt offenses as he is the best pure pass rusher the Mountaineers have. He has 2 sacks in his four games. Beside him will be NT Darrien Howard and DE Christian Brown. Defensive ends Nwachukwu and Brown will have plenty of opportunities on the edge to rush the passer. This line will be key on creating some pressure on Patrick Mahomes.

The second level of this defense has been pretty impressive for being so inexperienced. SLB Justin Arndt and MLB Al-Rasheed Benton have been playing very well at their linebacker spots. Both have a knack for finding the football and making a play. Arnt currently has 4 TFLs with 2 of them being sacks. Benton has done a good job but will have hands full facing this offense. WLB David Long will be in the lineup as well closing out the group.

Arguably the best unit on this defense, is the secondary. They are feisty and very aggressive playing the football. The CB position will feature Rasul Douglas and Antonio Crawford. Crawford is a former Miami transfer who has 4 PBUs on the year while Douglas is a tall, lengthy corner who is second on the team in tackles. Douglas also has 2 INTs on his impressive season so far. Playing the Mountaineer SPUR position is Kyzir White. White much like Douglas at CB, is very lengthy as well at 6’3. Jeremy Tyler will get the nod at FS and the do it all cover man Jarrod Harper is holding down the fort at SS. Harper currently leads his team in tackles so far on the season and is playing fantastic football.

 

Matchup

Texas Tech will do what they best, throw the football all over the yard. When you have a quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, it makes life easy for the coaching staff. The Red Raiders will spread out this West Virginia defense as much as they can to get their wide receivers in space. This offense has made a killing throwing a five yard pass and taking it to the house with one of their speedy wide receivers. Patrick Mahomes isn’t afraid to throw to any of his weapons on the outside and he is extremely accurate passing the ball. As for the Mountaineer defense, there are two main keys in their game plan. The first key is to disrupt the timing of Mahomes and his wide outs by creating pressure and jamming some of the Tech wide receivers. West Virginia has very big, physical corners and they should use that to their advantage in this game. If the Mountaineers are able to pressure Mahomes only using four, they should find some success making stops. Also tackling in space will be huge for this defense, even when they are tired from the fast paced Tech offense. This all starts and ends with the pressure up front. If Mahomes has time, he will burn this defense all game long.

 

Wins If…

West Virginia wins if they are able to control the clock and run the football on offense. On defense they will need to create havoc on Patrick Mahomes so he doesn’t get too comfortable in the pocket.

Texas Tech wins if they can keep quarterback Patrick Mahomes on his feet. When he has time, he is deadly throwing the football. As for the defense, they need to stop the run game of West Virginia to get the ball into their offense’s hands.

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