Date: October 14th, 2017
Time: 12:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
Streaming: WatchESPN or the WatchESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: West Virginia -3.5 (Oddshark)
The Mountaineers striping their jerseys to go along with Striping the Stadium. We’ll rock the traditional blue helmets with gold tops and blue bottoms.
Texas Tech: Tech will probably just wear their standard black-white-black away strip, but have not officially announced at the time of writing.
Know the Enemy
Series History: The Mountaineers lead the all-time series with Texas Tech 4-2 after sweeping the last three games.
Record: (4-1). Texas Tech has quietly put together a very nice year. They started strong with wins over Arizona State and Houston before falling to Oklahoma State at home, but rebounded well last weekend with a big win over Kansas.
Head Coach: Kliff Kingsbury. Kingsbury is midway through his 5th season in charge at Tech, amassing a 26-23 record over that period. His teams have routinely finished in the Top 10 nationally in scoring and total offense and look strong in spurts, but to this point he’s struggled to put together a complete season.
Offensive Coordinator: Eric Morris. Morris is in his 5th year on Kliff’s staff and 4th in his current role. His offenses have consistently finished near the top of the country in both scoring and total offense.
Defensive Coordinator: David Gibbs. Gibbs is in his 3rd year at Texas Tech. His defenses have routinely given up a considerable amount of yards and points over that period, but as you’ll see in a moment, they’re also notable for generating a bunch of takeaways.
By the Numbers
As a reminder, I define explosive plays as runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards based on data found on cfbstats.com.
- Explosive Play % is calculated by dividing the number of explosive plays generated (or allowed) by the total number of plays run (or faced).
- Big Play Differential is the number of explosive plays generated minus the number of explosive plays allowed.
- Toxic Differential is simply Big Play Differential plus Turnover Margin.
Ok, so, a few observations. You can see that both teams are very similar offensively. We are marginally more explosive and have been a bit better in the red zone, but points per game, yards per game, and yards per play are all pretty close. This worries me because I watch our offense every week, and I’m pretty sure that our defense could not stop it.
On the other side, Texas Tech has been better on D than they usually are, but they’re still middle of the road or worse pretty much across the board and I think we should expect to move the ball just about any way we want. One area where they do excel though is with regards to generating turnovers. They already have 14 takeaways and have scored 3 defensive touchdowns this year, and that’s something we absolutely can’t allow to happen Saturday.
When we have the ball
Players to watch: S Jah’Shawn Johnson, LB Jordyn Brooks, LB Dakota Allen
Texas Tech enters Saturday ranked in the bottom half nationally in both scoring and total defense, but as I just mentioned, they're actually playing better than they have in years past. They have a bunch of playmakers on that side of the ball, as evidenced by the number of turnovers they've already forced. Names you'll recognize include Jah'Shawn Johnson and Jordyn Brooks, but Tech has also been buoyed by a breakout campaign from Dakota Allen, who pairs with Brooks to form one of the better linebacker duos in the conference. Those three guys all fly around and make plays, and they give the defense a solid foundation in the middle of the field. Unfortunately though, Tech doesn't have a whole lot around them. They're a little light up front and aren't very good on the outside, which are both weaknesses that I expect us to be able to exploit.
Key to the game: Big plays in the passing game
Running the ball and controlling the clock has always been part of our winning formula against Texas Tech and I expect that to be no different this year. They’ve actually been decent against the run so far this year (138 ypg, 53rd nationally), but they also haven’t played anyone who runs the ball nearly as well as we do. I expect Crawford to get his touches and hit 100 again and see no reason why McKoy and Pettaway shouldn't get another 20 or so carries between them, especially if we're trying to put the game away down the stretch. However, there’s another are where I think we can hurt them even more, and that's with big plays in the passing game.
Tech ranks way down at 124th nationally in pass defense, while we have one of the best passing attacks in the country. We saw last week what a difference hitting a few big plays through the air can make; this week should be no different. I expect Grier and Co to take their shots downfield, and don't be surprised if we look to get Simms involved early in an effort to make him forget last week.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Nic Shimonek, RB Justin Stockton, WR Keke Coutee, WR Dylan Cantrell, WR Cameron Batson, WR Derrick Willies
Offensively the Red Raiders will look fairly similar to the group we’ve seen over the past few years with one notable exception: Pat Mahomes. In his place is senior Nik Shimonek, who through five games has Texas Tech looking very much like Texas Tech - the Red Raiders currently find themselves in the Top 10 nationally in scoring (2nd), passing offense (4th), and total offense (7th). Shimonek has individual numbers befitting a Texas Tech QB, as well - 72% completions, 362 yards per game, and 9.3 yards per attempt, with 14 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions.
On the outside, the receivers are a year older and better. Cameron Batson is back operating out of the slot while Dylan Cantrell and Derrick Willies (both missed our game last year with injuries) provide a physical presence on the outside. The biggest threat though is probably junior Keke Coutee, who through 5 games has 39 catches for 586 yards and 5 TDs. They have a handful of guys behind those four that they can throw out there, as well, making this by far the deepest and most balanced group we’ve faced to this point.
On the ground, Justin Stockton is on his way to a very solid senior campaign, carrying 57 times for 385 yards (77 ypg, 6.75 ypc) and 4 scores. He’s complimented nicely by 6’1 235-lb Desmond Nisby, who’s serving as the team’s short yardage back and has chipped in with 6 scores of his own. It's not a great rushing attack in and of itself (though it's their best since the departure of DeAndre Washington), but it's definitely been effective as the counterpart to their air raid and provides a threat we have to be cognizant of.
Key to the game: Disrupt their timing
A big part of what makes Texas Tech so tough to stop is the tempo they play with. They do everything in rhythm, including getting rid of the football. That makes the key in my mind disrupting that rhythm, and there’s two ways that I think we can accomplish that.
First, I expect us to play a lot of press coverage this week in an attempt to knock their receivers off their routes. Texas Tech generates more than their share of big plays through the air, but where they really excel is in the short-to-intermediate passing game. They throw a lot of timing patterns - ins, outs, digs, slants, curls - that are designed to pick up 5-15 yards and give their guys a chance to make a play after the catch. If we can delay those routes at the line though, even by a half-second, it gives us a much better chance to be successful.
Second, we have to get after Shimonek. I don’t care how many guys it takes, we absolutely cannot let him get comfortable. While pressing them on the outside will hopefully make him hold it longer than he wants, pressuring them in the backfield will hopefully make him get rid of it quicker than he wants, and if we can do both I think we have a real chance at forcing them into some mistakes. This strategy has worked well against them in the past; no reason to think it can't work again.
Players to watch: KR/PR Cameron Batson
There's nothing really spectacular to see with Tech’s special teams. Batson is a pretty good returner, but shouldn’t be anything we can’t handle. They’re in the bottom half of the conference in punt returns, kick returns, punt coverage, and kick coverage (though they do kick it into the end zone a lot). They’ve missed 3 out of 9 field goals. And their punter is second worst in the conference with an average of 40 yards per kick (guess who’s is worse). Hopefully that means this is a week where we can finally play the opposing specialists to a stalemate.
Key to the game: Win the field position game for once
I know that you could say this just about every week, but we reaaaally need this one. We need to wash the taste out of our mouth from last week, and we need to get this thing rolling forward before we put ourselves in too much of a hole. No better time than Homecoming in front of a striped stadium, right?
Looking forward, a win this week gets us to 4-2, with 5-2 likely to follow before heading into Oklahoma State, and makes 9 wins a real possibility. A loss leaves us 3-3 with 3 of the toughest games on our schedule still to come, and makes 7-5 much more likely. What kind of season do we want to have gang? LET'S GO!
West Virginia 42 Texas Tech 34