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West Virginia Football First Look: Texas Tech Red Raiders

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The Mountaineers will make their a trip to Lubbock midway through the season. Have we seen this story before?

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Gameday: Saturday, September 29, 2018

Location: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, Texas

Opponent: Texas Tech Red Raiders

Predicted Season: 6-6, Offense - 63rd ; Defense - 39th

Streak: West Virginia has won the last four

In 2012, the trip to Lubbock was the kick in the balls to the West Virginia Mountaineers that completely derailed what was set to be the flag-planting statement by the Mountaineers. West Virginia rolled into Lubbock, 5-0 riding high and looking unbeatable. They left Lubbock after a humiliating 49-14 defeat and preceded to lose their next 4 games. The ship was finally righted when Iowa State and Kansas were played but the damage was done.

When Kliff Kingsbury was hired in 2013, it seemed like the perfect marriage. Texas Tech’s record setting, prodigal son returns to take Texas Tech back to its high-flying roots. Kliff even started out 6-0, with a win over the Mountaineers but the tides have turned. West Virginia has won the last four meetings, ever since Tony Gibson and his 3-3-5 took over the defense. In that time, Texas Tech has fielded a top flight offense but a basement dwelling defense. Last year appeared to be a turning point but it wasn’t enough as the Red Raiders finished 6-6 and then lost in the Birmingham Bowl.

Now, with the Mountaineers setting their sights on a Big 12 Championship, they will have to travel to Lubbock to defend their title in the “Battle For The John Denver”

The John Denver Trophy
John Radcliff

Offense

Texas Tech has been home to some very prestigious passers throughout the past fifteen years. Graham Harrell, Seth Doege, Kliff Kingsbury, Patrick Mahomes, Nic Shimonek have all started behind center for the Red Raiders and put up gaudy numbers. Entering the 2018 season, Kingsbury will now really have his hands full trying to implement his version of the Air Raid with an unknown passer and a young receiving corp.

Kingsbury is likely to hand the keys to his Ferrari over to McLane Carter, a 3-star JUCO quarterback from the Tyler Junior College Apaches. In 2016 at Tyler, Carter put up a 30 TD, 9 INT season with 3226 yards. He seems like the next great Texas Tech signal caller.

If he is the next “bag of chips”, he will have to do it without Justin Stockton, who put up 1,032 combined yards last year and without a receiving corp that helped produce 2,931 yards, 25 touchdowns on 241 catches. That loss of production is why Texas Tech ranks 69th in returning offensive production. It also speaks to Kingsbury offense that it can lose a passer who generated 3,000 yards and a receiving corp that caught almost 3,000 yards and still return over half your production.

The new receivers however are possibly as good as their predecessors. T.J. Vasher is a 6’-6” monster who averaged over 18 yards per catch last season as a freshman. He will likely be joined by Antoine Wesley and Zach Austin. The Red Raiders are who they are at this point under Kingsbury and are never going to be mistaken for the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers. The Red Raiders are going to pass the ball and they are going to dare you to find a way to stop them. This system puts up yards and points and until it completely fails, there is no reason to believe this year will be any different.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

As Dana Holgorsen has figured out, you can be the best passing team in the land, but if you can’t run the ball then life finds a way to become difficult. Last season, the TTU enjoyed Justin Stockton at the tailback position, where he consistently made teams pay for focusing on the pass. This season that falls on backup Tre King, who was used as much as Stockton was. Stockton only had 132 carries while King had 131. King was able to generate 623 yards for a healthy 4.8 YPC and 5 touchdowns last season.

Whoever wins the position battles will be very happy to have the Red Raiders offensive line in front of them because Kingsbury’s crew will return all five starting offensive linemen from last season. The left side of the line were all conference honorable mentions last season while the right side with guard Jack Anderson has a freshman All American. The TTU offensive line is going to be good and good for a while.

Defense

The sentence you are about to read is not a joke: Texas Tech could field one of the better defenses in the Big 12. Kingsbury, after years of attempting to just outscore everyone, finally found a system that got teams off the field. For the longest time, Texas Tech was the epitome of the Big 12 conference. A top 5 offense that could barely win more than 6 games simply because the defense was so bad that teams scored as much as Texas Tech. Now, defensive coordinator David Gibbs has continuity in his defense and has seen tangible results.

Gibbs recruited the JUCO circuit hard and was able to pull immediate players to help the woeful defense. Vaughnte Dorsey and corners Octavious Morgan and Jaylon Lane all helped to shore up a pass defense that has been at the bottom of the rankings. Now the Red Raiders still ranked near the bottom in completion percentage and Passing S&P+, but they were almost a top 20 team in yards per completion. Tech last year was bend, bend and bend so more just don’t break. And it worked.

West Virginia v Texas Tech Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

Eli Howard returns to shore up the defensive end spot and brings with him his 6 sacks from last season. He’ll likely be joined by Rice transfer Preston Gordon who had 7 sacks last year. Broderick Washington Jr will hope to replace Mychealon Thomas along the interior of the line. Thomas was Vince Wilfork-like in his run defense as teams averaged less than 1.5 yards per carry against him. Washington will need to be similarly stout in Tech wants to continue its defensive progression.

The linebackers are a fun group with former Last Chance U star Dakota Allen back for his senior season. Allen, who played at Tech as a freshman before a burglary charge dismissed him from the team, played two seasons at East Mississippi and returned to the Red Raiders last season. All he did was combine for 80 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups and a forced fumble. Allen has the skillset to join David Long as All Big 12 linebackers this season.

Surrounding Allen will be Jordyn Brooks, who actually makes the calls on defense, not Allen. Brooks, a junior, had 70 tackles last season. Defensive coordinator David Gibbs is really excited about Riko Jeffers. Gibbs has told reporters he believes that the sophomore has potential to be better than Allen or Brooks in his career.

Special Teams

Thanks in part to a hip injury to kicker Clayton Hatfield, Texas Tech’s kicking duties was a constant revolving door. Once Hatfield returned, the job stabilized. Hatfield is 31 of 35 on FG attempts and was perfect on all of his point after tries. TTU will bring in Australian punter Dominic Panazzolo. The big question is will the Red Raiders have someone who can return the ball? If so, they have the opportunity to be dangerous on special teams.

Game Outlook

Just thinking about a trip to Lubbock has me all shook. If Tony Gibson can continue his Red Raider magic, this should be a solid win for a team that will likely be tougher than their record should indicate.