Here is everything you need to know ahead of the matchup between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Houston Cougars.
Thursday, October 12; 6:00 p.m. CT; TDECU Stadium, Houston TX
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network (Tony Caridi, Dwight Wallace, Jed Drenning); KPRC 950 AM (Kevin Eschenfelder, Ted Pardee, Jeremy Branham)
Records: West Virginia (4-1, 2-0); Houston (2-3, 0-2)
Last Week: Both teams coming off BYE week.
Series History: No previous matchups
Last Meeting: N/A
Line: West Virginia (-2.5)
Fun Fact: This game will be the first time that Dana Holgoren faces West Virginia since leaving Morgantown and taking the job at Houston. During his time at WVU (2011-18), Holgorsen held a 61-41 record but was just 2-5 in bowl games.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
QB Garrett Greene
No, his passing stats aren’t flashy, and in some cases, they just aren’t great. Against TCU, Garrett Greene completed 10 of 21 attempts for 142 yards with no scores or interceptions. However, Greene provides a true threat on the ground, which he showed against TCU with 12 carries for 80 yards (6.7 ypc) and two scores in a 24-21 win. With he and CJ Donaldson sharing the backfield, West Virginia is going to try and play bully ball behind a good offensive line.
LB Lee Kpogba
Against TCU two weeks ago, West Virginia linebacker Lee Kpogba led the Mountaineers with 11 tackles while adding one sack, one tackle for loss, and one pass breakup. He was all over the field for the WVU, as I expect him to be for the remainder of the year. Against Houston, who is becoming more confident in what Donovan Smith can do at quarterback, Kpogba will be busy yet again.
QB Donovan Smith
Despite it being in a lopsided 49-28 loss to Texas Tech, Houston quarterback Donovan Smith turned in his best statistical game of the season, going 30-41 for 336 yards and four touchdowns through the air. West Virginia is dead average in pass defense, ranking eighth in the Big 12 allowing 220.6 yards per game, but ranks fifth in defensive passing efficiency (115.7). Smith will need to be a factor through the air and with his legs in this game.
DE Nelson Ceasar
Through five games, Houston defensive lineman Nelson Ceasar is fourth on the team in tackles (21), first in sacks (4.5), and first in tackles for loss (6.0). Against a good West Virginia offensive line, Ceasar and the rest of the Cougars’ defensive line will need to play well. The Mountaineers are going to try and run the ball early and often, so the game plan here is simple: force Garrett Greene to score points with his arm.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS
Can West Virginia continue to find success playing their style of football? The Mountaineers play good defense and run the football effectively, allowing them to dominate the time of possession. In fact, West Virginia ranks 11th nationally and first in the Big 12 with an average of 32.8 minutes per game. The formula is simple: Neal Brown wants to play keep away and score just enough points to win.
Can Houston slow down West Virginia’s rushing offense and sustain enough drives to win this game? The Cougars rushing defense ranks 12th in the Big 12 and 96th nationally allowing 163.6 yards per game. Offensively, Houston struggles to score points in the red zone despite having a capable runner at quarterback. In fact, they rank 116th nationally with points on just 72.7% of their red zone trips. The good news? Houston ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin (1.20), while West Virginia is tied for 64th (0.00). That should give them an extra chance or two to steal some points.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 23, Houston 20
I’m taking the under in this game, as I expect a low-scoring sloppy football game, and that gives West Virginia the edge here. I think the West Virginia offensive line is the key here, as they give Garrett Greene and the offense the ability to sustain long drives that will chew up lots of clock. In this game, it feels like the clock will be on West Virginia’s side as they build an early lead and are able to play keep-away thereafter, which will be frustrating for the UH offense. Give me West Virginia to win on the road, and cover the 2.5 points by a nose.