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#12 West Virginia vs #25 Texas Tech - Season 126, Episode 4 - The First Test

The #12 Mountaineers travel to Lubbock to do battle with the high-flying Red Raiders of Texas Tech. Tech's offense is again among the nation's best, but it's actually their progress on the other side of the ball that makes this test unique.

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


Date: September 29, 2018

Time: 12:00pm EST

Venue: Jones A&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX

How to Watch/Listen


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 IMGon TuneIn Radio.

Gambler’s Corner

Spread: WVU -3.5

O/U: 75


West Virginia:

Dana picked the combo because we beat the hell outta them the last time we wore them. I can get behind that reasoning.

Know Your Enemy

Series History: (4-2). The Mountaineers lead the all-time series and have won four on the trot, but the average scoring margin is less than 1 point over our six matchups. West Virginia won 46-35 last year in Morgantown after erasing an 18-point 3rd quarter deficit.

2018 Record: 3-1. Tech's season opening loss to Ole Miss looks even worse now than it did at the time, but they've rebounded extremely well since then, culminating with last weekend's dismantling of Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Offensive Coordinator: Kevin Johns. Johns is in his first year as coordinator in Lubbock, but has extensive experience in the role after spending the previous three seasons rowing boats in Western Michigan.

Defensive Coordinator: David Gibbs. Now in his fourth year running the show at Texas Tech, Gibbs finally appears to be turning things around after fielding a group that finished 6th nationally with 29 takeaways in 2017. There's still work to be done, but there are signs that they might finally be heading in the right direction.

By the Numbers

Welcome to "By the Numbers”! Quick refresher:

First, Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.

Explosive Play Differential = (Explosive Plays For - Explosive Plays Against)

Toxic Differential = Explosive Play Differential + Turnover Margin

NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position

As you can see, Tech is far and away the best offense we've played by just about any conceivable metric, and while their defense will give up their share of yards, they've also done a pretty solid job of limiting explosive plays. Two things to pay close attention to this weekend: field position and turnovers.

You can see that we hold an edge in the former, while they have the advantage in the latter, and considering how well-matched we appear to be elsewhere (at least on paper), you'd expect the game to swing in one or both of these areas. I'd imagine that at the very least our offense spent a little more time than usual on ball security this week given how good Tech is at forcing turnovers and how careless we've been at times this year.

When we have the ball..

Players to watch: LB Dakota Allen, LB Jordyn Brooks, LB Tony Jones, S Vaughnte Dorsey, S JahShawn Johnson

Defining success: Take care of the football

Texas Tech obviously hasn't been a defensive juggernaut over the past few years, but they've certainly started to show signs that they're improving behind a new, ball-hawking identity. As I mentioned above, they finished 6th nationally last year with 29 takeaways, and with 7 through 4 games this year it seems that the trend is continuing.

As for the pieces they bring back, safety JahShawn Johnson is finally back from injury and should provide a boost to a secondary that's given up more than their share of yardage so far this year. Expect both he and safety partner Vaughnte Dorsey to be heavily involved at all three levels of the defense. They're decent along the defensive line, as well, where Broderick Washington anchors their three man front. The strength of the group though is undoubtedly at linebacker, where the extremely active Dakota Allen and Jordyn Brooks ply their trade and make plays sideline-to-sideline. These two guys are 1-2 on their team in tackles by a considerable margin, so we need a big game out of our interior lineman if we want to have any success running the ball.

The key to the game though, in my opinion, is going to be ball security. I've waxed poetic about Tech's propensity for forcing turnovers about three times now, and despite our offense's prolific efficiency and production, there's no denying that we've been a bit careless with the ball at times this year. Tech's upset blueprint definitely includes a couple of turnovers, so we have to be extremely sharp with our decision making and execution. We can't afford any of those lazy, begging-to-be-pick-6'd throws to the flats that Will made last week, and we definitely can't afford to squander drives with fumbled handoffs. If we can play relatively clean, I don't think they don't have the talent or depth to contain us for an entire game, but they're more than capable of capitalizing on our mistakes.

When they have the ball...

Players to watch: QB Alan Bowman, RB Ta'Zhawn Henry, WR TJ Vasher, WR Antoine Wesley, WR Ja'Deion High

Defining success: Same as always - disrupt the tempo of their passing game

Another year, another explosive Red Raider offense. We won't recognize many of the names we're chasing all over the field, but don't let that fool you - these guys very much fit the bill with regards to Tech's reputation.

Starting at QB, Alan Bowman has been an absolute revelation since taking over for the injured McClane Carter in week 1. The freshman leads the country with 1557 yards and 10 touchdowns on 72% completions, and while he's not as adept as Will is at pushing the ball downfield, he's excellent in terms of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and putting his receivers in position to make plays. And those receivers are excellent. TJ Vasher will be a name we've heard before, but Ja'Deion High, Antoine Wesley, and KeSean Carter have all been productive enough in their first years in the limelight that the group hasn't missed a beat.

They've actually been pretty productive on the ground this year, as well, averaging an impressive 187 yards per game to balance that prolific passing attack. The offensive line is solid, and the trio of backs that they hand it to run the ball more than well enough to keep teams occupied. However, the primary concern, as always, is that passing game.

To that end, we know the recipe for success - you have to disrupt their tempo, because if the ball's coming out on time and in rhythm you don't have much chance of stopping them. We've been very successful in this regard for the past few years in large part because our 3-3-5 affords us the athleticism and versatility to press them at the line and still bring pressure from unique angles, which in turn has allowed us to force their QBs to either get rid of the ball quicker or hold onto it longer than they want to. If we're able to do so again tomorrow, I feel good about our chances.

Special Teams

Defining success: Spring Marcus

Tech's special teams appear to be reasonably solid on paper. They're middle of the road nationally across the board, and they're breaking even in the field position battle on the year, as well. One area where they're weak though is their kickoff coverage unit. The 28 yards that they allow per return ranks 121st nationally and should have our return unit, spearheaded by Marcus Simms, chomping at the bit. I'm not suggesting that we're going to house one (though I'm down), but if Simms can consistently give us good field position it'll go a long way towards a W.

Closing Argument/Prediction

This ain'tchur 2016's Texas Tech - these guys actually field 11 players on the defensive side of the ball, and believe it or not, those 11 guys actually do things!!! Most of the time.


Those 11 players can also be overly dependent on turnovers to be effective, and while we've been more than happy to abide opponents in that department at times this year, if we can play a clean game I don't think they have the bodies to stop us this weekend.

On the other side, Alan Bowman has been miles better than anybody could've reasonably expected, but while he has Tech humming, we've neutered better Red Raider quarterbacks than he in the Tony Gibson era. This weekend will be his first time facing Gibby's 3-3-5, and even Pat Mahomes struggled the first time that he saw it. We have the recipe to slow them down and the bodies to execute it, now we just have to go down there and take care of business. LET'S GO!

West Virginia 45 Texas Tech 31