Date: November 10, 2018
Time: 12:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
How to Watch/Listen
Streaming: FoxSports 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 IMGon TuneIn Radio.
Spread: WVU -11.5
Know Your Enemy
Series History: (3-4). With the exception of back-to-back beatdowns (one each way) in 2015 and 2016, our games with these guys always seem to come down to the last possession. The memory of the bogus offensive PI that derailed our comeback attempt in last year's 31-24 loss still makes my blood pressure spike.
Record: (4-5, 2-4). TCU's season is a bit of a mystery to me. They looked so good through their first 10 quarters of the year that by halftime of the Ohio State game I was looking at them as the 2nd toughest game in our November stretch run, but ever since then the wheels seem to have fallen off, and through some combination of injuries, bad bounces, and just outright bad execution the season has really gotten away from them.
Head Coach: Gary Patterson. Patterson has done as good a job in Fort Worth as just about anybody anywhere - there just aren't many programs who have been as consistently competitive as TCU over the last two decades.
Offensive Coordinator: Sonny Cumbie. Cumbie is now in his 5th season in charge of TCU's offense, but unfortunately it seems that his units are regressing ever so slightly. Turns out that maybe having guys like Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson makes things easier on an OC.
Defensive Coordinator: Chad Glasgow. Glasgow is now in his third season as the sole defensive coordinator on Patterson’s staff, but he was a part of Patterson’s original staff all the way back in the early 2000s. His defense (under Patterson’s seasoned wing) is again among the league’s best in most statistical categories.
By the Numbers
Welcome to “By the Numbers”!
First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.
Second, definitions for the uninitiated:
Big Play Differential (10+ yard runs, 20+ yard passes) = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)
Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin
NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position
Havoc Rate = (Total TFL + Passes Defended + Forced Fumbles)/Total Plays
TCU’s defensive profile is predictably impressive across the board, but it’s very apparent that the offense has been lagging a bit behind this year. Of particular note here is a glaring lack of big plays and an overwhelming number of turnovers, both of which are uncharacteristic of a TCU offense, and both of which play right into what we like to do defensively. I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but this one looks like it may be teed up nicely for a #Dawg Party.
When we have the ball..
Players to watch: DE Ben Banogu, DE LJ Collier, LB/SS Garret Wallow, SS Ridwan Issahaku
Defining success: Attack them downfield
We're going on two decades now of Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 scheme consistently pumping out some of the better units in the country, and that appears to be no different this year. The [Horns Down] Frogs' defense is statistically impressive across the board, landing in the 70th percentile or better in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game, and yards allowed per play. They’ve been particularly stingy against the pass so far this year, where they’ve overcome a mountain of injury-related attrition in their secondary to lead the conference by allowing just 190 yards per game.
They’re led up front by a pair of defensive ends in LJ Collier and Ben Banogu who will likely be playing on Sundays next year. Their ability to generate pressure without committing additional defenders to the pass rush is critical to everything they do defensively, so we’ll need big games from McKivitz and Cajuste at tackle if we want to get anything going. Linebacker appears to be a bit of a revolving door for them, but all four of the guys that they run out there are in the top 5 on their team in tackles so it’s obvious that all of them are capable players. Ridwan Issahaku leads a depleted secondary, where Patterson’s quote this week about how he’d “never been down to his 7th safety in a 3-safety system,” tells you everything you need to know about the adversity they’ve faced back there this year. They’ve performed admirably under the circumstances, but even the deepest of teams have limits regarding the number of losses they can sustain.
As for how we'll attack them, I think we’ll definitely look to keep the stretch game rolling on the ground, but I expect us to push the ball downfield early and often. Ohio State, Texas, and Oklahoma were all able to find success through the air against TCU, and some of that was before some of injuries. As long as we’re able to keep Banogu and Collier away from Will, there’s no reason to think we won’t be able to do the same.
When they have the ball...
Players to watch: QB Michael Collins, RB Darius Anderson, RB Sewo Olonilua, WR Jalen Reagor
Defining success: Fly to the ball, and beware Jalen Reagor
The Horned Frogs established a reputation for explosive offense in the middle of the decade, but they’ve had trouble recapturing those heights following the graduation of guys like Trevone Boykin, Josh Doctson, and the quietly excellent Aaron Green. That’s not to say they don’t have their share of individual talent, but a combination of circumstances has seen them slide down the Big 12 in most offensive categories to the point where they rank 8th out of 10 in scoring and 7th out of 10 in total yards. The most glaring deficiency so far this year though has been a lack of explosiveness - the Frogs are generating big plays on just 10.5% of their snaps (11.7% of their runs, 9.3% of their passes), which lands them all the way down in the 18th percentile nationally.
Their biggest issue personnel-wise has been at quarterback, where Mike Collins is now the starter after the disappointing Shawn Robinson was lost for the year with an injury. Collins hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, but through two starts he seems to at least be taking better care of the ball than Robinson ever did, and not giving the ball to the other team is a start.
Talent abounds the rest of the skill positions. Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua share the load at running back and are both plenty effective in their own ways. The wide receiver corps has plenty of talent, as well, and though they took a hit with the loss of KaVontae Turpin, they still have a couple of dudes out there who are more than capable of giving us problems if Collins is able to get them the ball. Of particular note are freshman Taye Barber, who has hit the ground running in his first year on campus, and sophomore Jalen Reagor, who remains one of the most dangerous big play threats in all of college football. If I’m being honest, I don’t know a whole lot about the quality of their offensive line, but the fact that they’re averaging over 4 yards per carry and are at or near the top of the conference in both sacks and TFL allowed seems to indicate that they’re playing pretty well.
As for how best to stop them, they have a greenhorn at quarterback who’s never seen our 3-3-5 before and they don’t generate a ton of big plays - I can’t think of a more ideal situation for exactly who we’ve been this year. We’ve made our bacon this year by playing an extremely aggressive brand of football, selling out to create negative plays on early downs and flying to the football in space. That’s what we need to do again tomorrow. If we put Collins in bad situations, he’s going to make mistakes. Simple as. The one thing that can kill us is the big play ability of their wide receivers (just because they haven’t hit them doesn’t mean they aren’t capable), but as long as we’re cognizant of where Reagor is and gang tackle in space I think we should be just fine.
Defining Success: Beware Jalen Reagor
Punt and kick coverage are quietly the areas where I’m most concerned tomorrow. There’s not a more dangerous return man in the country than Reagor, so we shouldn’t be kicking anywhere near him.
We have as much history with TCU (read: reasons to dislike) as we do with any team in the conference. The aforementioned call on Sills that derailed our comeback attempt last year, the walk-off field goals in 2013 and 2014, the unflagged Trickett decapitation that ruined our 2014 season, the controversial walk-off 2-point conversion that totally wasn’t a catch in 2012 - that’s a lot of near misses both ways crammed into a pretty short period of time. Simply put, the games are always competitive, and looking back on those near misses breeds contempt.
As for tomorrow, there’s no doubt in my mind that TCU has the talent to challenge us, I just don’t see them doing anything more than that. We’re just a bad matchup for them. Offensively, we have the tackles to handle their pass rush, the passing game to exploit their inexperienced secondary, and a revitalized running game that appears to be turning a corner after last weekend. On the other side of the ball they have a new starter at QB who’s never seen Gibby’s 3-3-5, they don’t hit big plays (which you have to be able to do to punish us for our jailbreak blitzes), and they turn it over a ton (we’re top 40 nationally in turnover margin).
On top of all that, they have to travel 1000 miles for a nooner in front of a sold out True Blue Mountaineer Field, and don’t look now, but there’s a sense of optimism radiating out of our team and throughout the fan base that I haven’t felt for a decade. As Mountaineer fans, that’s generally our cue to go SHIELDS UP! and brace for impact, but something about this feels different. We’re hungry, and what’s more, we know we’re good. You can just tell that the entire state senses how special our opportunity is over these next few weeks. If we let the Frogs hang around til halftime we’re in for a dog fight, but I think there’s a very real chance that we run them off the field tomorrow. Let’s go.
West Virginia 45 TCU 23