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#23 West Virginia Mountaineers vs #8 TCU Horned Frogs - Season 125, Ep 5 - The Litmus Test

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West Virginia travels to Fort Worth with plans to make a huge statement against TCU

West Virginia v Kansas Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

When/Where

Date: October 7th, 2017

Time: 3:30pm EST

Venue: Amon G. Carter Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas

Watch/Listen

TV: FS1

Streaming: FoxSports Go 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.

Odds

Spread: TCU -13.5 (Oddshark)

O/U: 67

UniWatch

West Virginia:

The Mountaineers are going with their gold-white-gold look on Saturday, which is right up there with blue-white-blue among my favorite away threads.

TCU:

TCU looks to be breaking out a new white-purple-white look with Gameday in town. I generally enjoy their threads when they stay away from camo, and this combo should contrast very nicely with our gold-white-gold.

Know the Enemy

Series History: The Mountaineers evened the all-time series at 3-3 with a 34-10 win in Morgantown last year.

Record: (4-0). TCU is flying high after a stellar opening month that saw them blast Arkansas in Fayetteville before waltzing into Stillwater to knock off Top 5 Oklahoma State. It's hard to find too much fault with the resume - these guys seem legit.

Head Coach: Gary Patterson. Simply put, Gary Patterson has been one of the most successful coaches in the country since the turn of the century. He's now in his 17th season at TCU, where his 153 wins rank him 10th among active coaches.

Offensive Coordinator: Sonny Cumbie/Curtis Luper. Cumbie and Luper are in their 4th and 5th seasons at TCU respectively, and have engineered several of the nation's most prolific offenses over that time period. They look to have things back on track early in 2017 after a bit of regression a year ago.

Defensive Coordinator: Chad Glasgow. Glasgow is an OG Patterson staffer, now entering his 16th season at the school. He was promoted to Defensive Coordinator last year following a few years as Co-DC and Safeties coach.

By the Numbers

A new graphic for our By the Numbers section this week. This radar chart is comparing the percentile that each team falls into for each of these respective stats, so the higher the percentile, the better. To clarify a few of the statistics on there that you might not recognize, 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. First, it’s easy to see that we are elite offensively. Points per game, yards per game, yards per play, explosive plays; percentiles in the mid-to-high 90’s right across the board. Unfortunately that’s been mirrored to this point by a less-than-stellar defense that falls between the 15th and 25th percentile in many of the same categories, but hopefully the addition of David Long will give us a boost.

On the other sideline, TCU’s peaks aren’t quite as high, but neither are their valleys quite so low. Of particular note is their nation-leading third down offensive efficiency and their ability to prevent touchdowns when their opponents enter the red zone.

When we have the ball

Players to watch: LB Travin Howard, S Nick Orr, CB Ranthony Texada, DE Ben Banogu

TCU enters Saturday ranked in the Top 30 nationally in both scoring and total defense, which is particularly impressive given that they’ve already played Oklahoma State and their supposedly unstoppable offense. Most of the familiar faces return, including preseason All-Conference selections Travin Howard and Nick Orr, who both had big games against us last year.

The Frogs have been excellent against the run so far this year, giving up an average of just 94 yards per game (13th nationally), but we've been just as good at it offensively with Crawford, McKoy, and Co averaging 5.8 ypc and hitting big plays on 21% of their touches (4th nationally). It'll be important to get that established Saturday, but the area where I expect us to really take advantage of them is in the passing game where they’ve given up back-to-back 300-yard performances to SMU and Okie State. They’re particularly susceptible to big plays through the air (10th percentile nationally), which is fortunate for us because we’re one of the best teams in the country at generating them. In summation, I expect us to be able to move the ball on them. However, I don't think that's where this game will be won or lost.

Key to the game: Finish drives

It'll be won or lost based on whether or not we’re able to finish those drives. As you can see in the graphic above, TCU has been excellent at forcing teams into field goals once they get down into the red zone. We have to (read: HAVE TO) convert our drives into touchdowns if we’re going to have a chance Saturday. We’ve been excellent at it all year, turning better than 4 out of 5 red zone trips into touchdowns (88th percentile nationally), but we have to carry that trend into Fort Worth if we’re going to leave there with a W.

When they have the ball

Players to watch: QB Kenny Hill, RB Kyle Hicks, RB Darius Anderson, RB Sewo Olonilua, WR KaVontae Turpin

TCU returns just about all of their offensive production from last year, but they’re utilizing those guys slightly differently now than they did in 2016. Last year I think they maybe got caught up in the Kenny Trill hype train and tried to give him too big of a role in the offense; this year they’re more focused on running the ball, and so far they're running it very effectively. The Horned Frogs are currently edging us to lead the Big 12 in rushing, and that’s with last year’s leading rusher, Kyle Hicks, having only just returned from injury. Even worse, his absence gave way to the rise of sophomores Darius Anderson (422 yards, 6.2 ypc, 6 TD) and Sewo Olonilua (145 yards, 5.4 ypc, 3 TD), giving TCU a three-headed monster in the backfield that rivals our own. And worst of all, you can bet that they noticed the success that Kansas had against us with the diamond two weeks ago (covered here by my partner Jake Lantz) and will throw all three of them out there together. I expect that to provide plenty of problems for our defense, and that's before we even get into Hill and his guys on the outside.

On that subject though, if Most Improved Player was a thing in college football, Kenny Hill would surely be a front runner. Attempts per game are down, but completion percentage (72.6%!!), yards per attempt, touchdowns, and passer rating are all way up. A lot of that is probably related to his being able to lean on that running game, but there's a lot to be said for not trying to do too much and the guy just seems like a different player this year.

His wide receivers have been much improved, as well. Or maybe they're just healthy. Either way it'll be a much more balanced group than we saw a year ago. KaVontae Turpin is their YAC guy while seniors Desmon White and John Diarse are the chain movers. I'm not sure any of them besides Turpin would see a lot of time on our team, but they're a reliable bunch that has generally made plays when Hill has looked their way.

Key to the game: Get off the field on 3rd down

I touched on it above in By the Numbers, but through the first month of the season TCU has been the best team in the country at converting 3rd downs. Against Oklahoma State they converted 11 out of 19, which allowed them to hold the ball for nearly 40 minutes. I’m not sure what the exact correlation is between time of possession and winning, but I can’t imagine that teams lose too often when they have the ball for two thirds of the game.

We’re going to have to accept it as a fact of life that TCU is going to move the ball and put up points on us; their offense is simply too good and our defense is too average. However, I also think that this will be the first week that we’ll see Gibby take the shackles off our defense, and that’s guaranteed to lead to some long down situations. In those instances, it is absolutely imperative that we complete the series and force them to punt. If we can hold them to less than 50% conversions I like our chances. If we let them play to their season average, it’s going to be a long day.

Special Teams

Players to watch: KR/PR KaVontae Turpin

TCU seems pretty solid in the third phase - they haven’t missed a FG yet this year, they’re excellent in kick coverage, and they have one of the country’s most dangerous return men in the aforementioned Turpin. However, one X-factor to keep an eye on is their punt game, where they rank dead last nationally with an average of 34.9 yards per kick. We’ve already seen this year how big of an impact field position can have on the outcome of a game, and with luck we might be on the positive side of things for once.

Key to the game: Bottle up Turpin

Final Thoughts/Prediction

This is a huge statement game for us - on the road, with Gameday on-site, against a Top 10 team that's already knocked down one of the supposed conference front-runners. One hell of an opportunity.

It seems like it should be one hell of a matchup, as well. Our strengths align with their weaknesses and vice-versa. Games like that often seem to come down to quarterback play. Kenny Hill’s improvement seems real, but I’ve made my feelings regarding the BFG extremely clear. There’s nobody in the country I’d rather have, and I think he leads us our biggest win in quite a while.

West Virginia 45 TCU 35