1. The Setting
Good Guys: Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2, 1-1)
Bad Guys: West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0)
When: Saturday, October 15th at 11:00 am
Where: Jones AT&T Stadium; Lubbock, Texas
TV/Stream: FS1 (FOX Sports Go)
Radio/Stream: 97.3 FM | Affiliates | TuneIn App
2. Uniform Tracker
|Stephen F. Austin||W, 69-17|
|Arizona State||L, 68-55|
|Louisiana Tech||W, 59-45|
|Kansas State||L, 44-38|
3. The Big Storyline
I don’t think it’s any secret about the middle of the Big 12, that part where we’re pretty sure about what’s at the bottom and we think we know what’s at the top, but how that middle shakes out is anyone’s business. And maybe this is one of those things that takes some getting used to, but West Virginia is ranked based upon beating the 22nd best S&P+ team in BYU, beating the 48th best team in Missouri at home by 15 and then beating the 50th best team in Kansas State, at home but by just 1 point. For what it’s worth, West Virginia is the 49th best team according to S&P+, while your Red Raiders are ranked 36th overall.
That’s right, for whatever reason, these arbitrary numbers like Texas Tech better than West Virginia.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s focus on what’s next. Texas Tech is sitting 1-1 in the conference and 3-2 overall. The season is about to hit its halfway mark and I think that if the team can reduce or eliminate these things, I think Texas Tech will have a successful season. These are all plausible things and things that I think are within the realm of concentration, therefore, they are within the realm of ability for this team.
- Sacks: Texas Tech currently is tied for 60th, with 13 different teams at 12 sacks given up overall and is 109th in total yards lost as a result of those 12 sacks. I understand that Patrick Mahomes tends to hang onto the ball a bit more, but the offensive line has to do a better job of keeping Mahomes clean for the remainder of the season. That was one of the sticking points to last year, was the fact that Texas Tech gave up about 2 sacks a game last year and are currently beating that trend at 2.4 sacks a game at this rate. Granted, the offensive line is replacing a ton of talent, but they’ve got to get their S together and work their tails off not to allow more than one sack a game. And there’s some work for Mahomes here too. He’s holding onto the ball way too long. I get that this is part of what makes him special and terrific, but 112 yards have been lost as a result of him taking absolutely terrible sacks. Sacks that cost drives and it is solely because he’s looking for that sliver of a play that can net positive yards. In Mahomes’ quest to become a quarterback robot, he has to learn to fight another day. Not every drive will result in a touchdown, that’s not reality. Throw the ball away, trust your defense (this isn’t easy, but it has to be done) and then play for field position.
- Penalties: Texas Tech currently sits 118th in penalties thus far with 48, which is good for 401 total yards, an average of 9.6 per game and an average of a shade over 80 yards per game in penalties alone. I know I could make an argument about how many penalties per play and justify it to some extent, the idea being that well, these penalties are probably marginalized a bit because of the number of plays run each game and that’s certainly true. You could make the same argument about the sacks in the item above. However, I’m not at all requesting that the team reduce all penalties. We’ve talked before about how there’s not always this correlation between penalties and winning percentage. I think it’s pretty random overall and if there’s a pattern, I’ve yet to really figure it out. Tempo teams can have fewer penalties, Houston only has 19 and Oklahoma only has 23. Baylor, being undefeated has 50 penalties. Again, it’s not an exact science and I think my bigger thought about the penalties is that some are unavoidable. The recent penalties with the illegal man downfield I somewhat get because of the new run-pass-options, but the idea here is that this team can do a better job of concentrating and making the effort. I can live with 5 or 6 penalties a game. That’s something the offense can overcome, but doubling that on a game-by-game basis (Texas Tech had 12 against Kansas and 11 against Louisiana Tech) is simply unacceptable. Just be better.
- Turnovers: This team is in a bad way in regards to turnovers and without the defense gaining any, this forces the perception that the defense has to be that much more perfect in order to keep pace with the other team’s offenses. Other than the two end-of-game turnovers gained against Kansas, the defense has been blanked against Arizona State, Louisiana Tech and Kansas State. And it’s not so much just being banked, but it appears to me that the team just isn’t even getting close. There aren’t any close pass break-ups or there doesn’t appear to be any forced fumbles or hard hits that would pry the ball loose. The defense just hasn’t even been close, or it hasn’t felt that way. The defense needs to start thumping the opposing team and start actively ripping the ball out because as of right now the defense has to pull it’s weight and it can do that by gaining some turnovers. this is, I think the most difficult of the three to accomplish, but Gibbs always preaches that this is a part of the defense and it needs to start showing up.
4. One Key Stat
West Virginia is 23rd in first down defense, which means that the Mountaineers very much limit the number of first downs that opponents gain, having only allowed 91 on the year. Meanwhile, the Texas Tech offense is 1st in first down offense, having gained 167 on the year. If West Virginia is able to slow the game and the Texas Tech offense down, this will be a pretty good spot.
5. What to Watch on Offense
The West Virginia offense will be varied and they’ll throw plenty of looks at you. In this play, you would think that WVU would ground and pound, but they send triplets left and are in a single back set.
This is the part that’s incredibly tough about covering Skyler Howard, which is that in this play, he’s able to avoid a sack, a sack that was seemingly inevitable, then take off and find a ton of green space for a touchdown. He simply runs to his left and is virtually untouched. Texas Tech will have to be mindful of Howard’s ability to run because that will absolutely be an option for WVU and Howard. He can run.
This is Holgorsen’s diamond package, three running backs and he’s got the two receivers split outside the hashmarks. You would think that this would be a for sure running play, but when you’re geared up to stop the run, play action can be a beautiful thing.
BYU is able to put pressure on Howard, but if you look to the right of the screen shot, there’s a West Virginia receiver, just all alone and Howard is able to complete the pass for an easy touchdown. The fact that West Virginia can run the ball so well can lead to wide open receivers. We haven’t even touched the running game, and it is not as good as it has been in the past, but it’s serviceable for sure.
6. What to Watch on Defense
This should look familiar because it is similar to what Texas Tech does. Three down linemen and a stand-up rush end. Two linebackers and a single safety over the top. The defensive backs are all at the first down marker, as it’s 3rd and 7.
What happens in the meantime is that West Virginia not only just brings those four defenders on the line of scrimmage, but they go on an all out blitz bringing the two linebackers sitting there. Count the defenders, that’s 6 defenders on 5 offensive linemen. The Texas Tech offensive line had better be ready to face this because pressure works and when you overwhelm the line, Mahomes can take a huge sack if he can’t get away.
Another seemingly standard look, one that I think we see, although BYU has a tight end and two running backs (that’s 21 personnel).
Again, West Virginia just down’t bring their four down linemen, but they also bring a 5th defender, a linebacker and notice here how the running back is making one last attempt at blocking that defensive end, the one that doesn’t give a flip about how the tight end is now in the route because WVU is gambling that the pressure won’t allow the quarterback to make the play (and the gamble paid off). This is going to be a fascinating chess match between Texas Tech and Kingsbury and how he adjusts to the pressure that I think the Mountaineers will bring. The offensive line better buckle up.
As of right now, the line has West Virginia favored by 1 so some money has come in on West Virginia as the week has progressed since Texas Tech was favored by 1 as the week started. I do like Texas Tech in this game quite a bit and rationally, I have no reason to expect a Texas Tech win, especially since West Virginia is coming in undefeated, having played some decent power five teams. I’m probably more shocked that West Virginia isn’t getting more love from Vegas, which maybe means that their 5-0 record is not quite what it seems. Either way, I’m actually going to take Texas Tech, by 4 or more. Bring. It.