The West Virginia Mountaineers turned in their most complete performance of the season, and they did so in their first true road game. The Mounties marched into Lubbock and overwhelmed the Texas Tech Red Raiders on both sides of the ball. What can we learn and how much can we take away from this excellent performance?
The first quarter had its share of frustrations for the Mountaineers. Some early no calls, a horrific coverage breakdown in the end zone on a very broken play, and a missed field goal allowed the Red Raiders to make it look closer than it actually was throughout the first quarter. The Mountaineers piled up 223 total yards but had only 10 points to show for it. To this point, the Mountaineers had not capitalized against a defense that has been accurately compared to a sieve.
Against an offense as potent and prolific as the one that Kliff Kingsbury has put together at Tech, the fear is always that the momentum will shift and then the points start coming quickly. WVU wide receiver Shelton Gibson had made a bold claim in an interview that the Mountaineer defense would hold the Red Raiders to 10 points. It’s usually unwise to give a team that has eclipsed the 50 point mark in their last nine home games bulletin board material.
Defensive Coordinator Tony Gibson’s squad answered the call. They got after Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes II early and often. Pressure had been an area of concern for this defense through the first four games of the season. Yesterday they had four sacks against a very quick and agile quarterback and eight total tackles for loss. They totally eliminated any rushing attack. Tech managed just 34 yards on 27 attempts for an average of 1.3 YPC.
WVU held the Red Raiders scoreless in the second quarter, and allowed just a field goal in the third. In fact, they did not manage to prove Shelton wrong until after Mahomes had been pulled because the game was out of hand. If this defense can bring this level of hard hitting, mostly well disciplined, effort week in and week out, they will be excellent.
On the offensive side of the ball, WVU had a few early drives sputter deep in Texas Tech territory. After the first quarter, however, they scored touchdowns on both of their full possessions in the second quarter and stretched the lead throughout the second half. They put up 332 yards on the ground and 650 total. They effectively utilized various weapons including the read option, jet sweep, and screens.
Skyler Howard was efficient and did not turn the ball over. He was 21/31 (68%) for 318 and a touch down. He also was making excellent reads in the read option. He added 89 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 12 attempts.
The offense was as balanced and competent throughout all positions as it has been in a long time. The depth at the ball handling positions (excluding quarterback) is beyond anything in recent memory. The offensive line blocks well in both the run and the passing games. WVU showed that they can be very good on both sides of the ball.
What does it all mean?
With this performance, it would be very easy to overreact. You could almost see the collective eyes of the Mountaineer faithful growing wider as the second half progressed. WVU is 5-0 and 2-0 in conference play. No one in the Big 12 looks unbeatable, and more than a couple look down right bad. This season looks to be WVU’s most promising chance to date to claim a Big 12 title.
The schedule breaks the Mountie’s way. TCU, Oklahoma, and finally Baylor all have to come to Mountaineer Field. There is a possibility that both Baylor and West Virginia could come into that final week matchup undefeated. If that were to occur, not only would the conference championship be on the line, but also a berth in the College Football Playoff. It goes without saying that this is a dream scenario for the Mountaineers, the Bears, and the Big 12 conference.
Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is easy to forget that WVU needed a last second miss two weeks ago to get past Kansas State, a team that may not be very good. The same thing goes for the last second interception needed to escape with a win against a driving BYU team. If they come out flat and lose to the horned frogs next week, all of these lofty dreams will look very foolish.
The takeaway from yesterday is that this team showed that of which they are capable. They put on a very impressive performance and should jump up five or six spots in the polls. The Big 12 has already announced that the TCU game next week will air in the showcase spot on ABC at 3:30. There are already reports swirling that contract extension talks will resume with head coach Dana Holgorsen.
The most important thing now is to build momentum and not get too far ahead of themselves. They have to remain focused on executing one game, one series, one play at a time. This team and coaching staff look like they are up to the task, but can and will they perform at that level consistently enough to achieve their goals?