PITTSBURGH — MORGANTOWN Something has got to give this Saturday at 3 p.m. when West Virginia plays Texas Tech on FS1 in a game that’s close to being impossible to call. Only one group can come out on top. That’s a fact.
What we don’t know is that both teams are 3-3 overall and 1-2 in Big 12 play when they take the field on a day predicted to be hot and windy, 82 degrees and 21 mph winds. While “who will win” is certainly intriguing, the “why” question is more intriguing.
With Tech as the home team being favored by 6.5 points and an over/under of 64.5 points, most bettors expect a high-scoring match. Let’s pretend for a while that we are neither sportswriters nor sports fans or readers. Let’s put on our analysis hats and see if we can figure out the puzzles that experts in the fields of analytics and gambling are grappling with.
The first is whether or not playing in Lubbock gives Texas Tech any sort of distinct edge. Neither side had a winning home record in this series, with each squad posting a 2-3 mark in their own stadium.
Time for getting ready? Well, WVU has had a few additional days after their shock of Baylor last week in Morgantown on Thursday, but Texas Tech had a genuine off-week, which might work to their favor in allowing injured players to recuperate and giving them time to study WVU film and trends.
WVU’s film study is more challenging than Tech’s since the Red Raiders always have a fresh strategy. WVU head coach Neal Brown has described the offense as “a new style of offense week to week” with “different plays and various throw concepts,” while noting that the run game remains consistent each week. It’s a completely new difficulty level, unlike anything we’ve seen from our previous opponents.
All three of the Red Raiders’ quarterbacks have seen action this season owing to a slew of injuries at the position, but that may be more of a function of need than anything else.
Both starting quarterbacks, Tyler Shough and Donovan Smith, went down with shoulder injuries. This meant that McGuire had to start Behren Morton, a redshirt freshman, against Oklahoma State. Morton, unfazed, attempted 62 passes, completing 39 for 379 yards.
WVU has been preparing for whatever mystery offensive McGuire comes up with this week by practicing with all three quarterbacks. Tech has hinted that all three players may enter the field at the same moment. Up-tempo offensive is as much a part of the Red Raiders’ DNA as the zone defense is to Syracuse in basketball.
Brown said on Tuesday that the team has to be able to practice running 100+ plays this week because it has happened three times already in the team’s six games. To begin with, our defensive players must get in position and focus their attention where it needs to be. Next, we must huddle around the football.
WVU, of course, presents the Texas Tech defense with its own personnel enigma. With starting tight end Mike O’Laughlin out for the year after undergoing his third ACL surgery, West Virginia has to consider using not only last week’s leading rusher Tony Mathis in the backfield, but also pairing him at times with freshman CJ Donaldson, who was supposed to practice this week after missing the last game with a concussion.
Donaldson is a dangerous runner, but he is also big enough to have started the year in the tight end room, and he is a terrific blocker and pass protector if he is fully healthy enough to play.
Those two may play right away. Graham Harrell, the team’s offensive coordinator, thought it would be doable. In the previous game, quarterback Garrett Greene was given some time at running back. The most important thing is to put talented football players in positions to make plays.
Since I’ve been in charge, it’s been standard practice to give the ball to our most talented players while they’re in open areas of the field. But we have to execute it, either by passing or running the ball, making use of their skills.
Ultimately, everything appears to boil down to this. With Texas Tech’s passing offense ranking second in the country at 363 yards per game, West Virginia’s secondary is in jeopardy.
This means that West Virginia University will have to play keep away, relying on its strong running game, led by three backs in Donaldson, Mathis, and Justin Jackson Jr., and safe passes.
The Mountaineers average 32:52 of possession time per game, good enough for 13th in the country.
So far this season, they have had 18 drives of 60 yards or more, 11 drives of 70 yards or more, and 4 drives of 80 yards or more, with their longest being 92 yards versus Virginia Tech. Twelve times, they’ve had scoring drives of five minutes or more.