Time: 5:30pm EST
Date: October 24th, 2020
Venue: Jones AT&T Stadium, Lubbock, TX
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
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. We will also include the stream in our game thread, which will go live at 11:00 AM ET.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio will also be broadcasting the game on channel 81 on both Sirius and XM branded radios.
Streaming: ESPN app or WatchESPN.com
Spread: WVU -3
KNOW THE ENEMY
2020 Record: (1-3). It's been a borderline nightmare start for the Red Raiders with their lone win coming in a 35-33 nail biter against Houston Baptist.
Series History: (6-3). We've gotten the better of them in the overall series, but they beat the brakes off of us last year on our own field, razing the place to the ground en route to a 38-17 win. Hopefully that left as bad a taste in the team's mouth as it did in mine.
Head Coach: Matt Wells. Wells is in his second year at Texas Tech after a successful stint at Utah State. 2019 probably didn't feature the results he would've been hoping for, but there's a case to the made that the Red Raiders outperformed their record last year.
Offensive Coordinator: David Yost. Yost is in his second year at the helm of the Red Raider offense after following Wells over from Utah State. He's been involved with successful passing attacks for most of the last decade, with stops at Utah State, Oregon, Washington State, and Missouri preceding his current stint in Lubbock.
Defensive Coordinator: Keith Patterson. Patterson is also in his second year in Lubbock after working with him in the same capacity at Utah State. Patterson's name should be familiar to Mountaineer Nation - he was at the helm of two of our worst defensive units this century in 2012 and 2013.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL
Key players: CB Zech McPhearson, LB Rico Jeffers, DE Eli Howard, DE Tony Bradford Jr.
It's generally notable when a defense returns eight starters, but in Tech's case it's more notable that the three guys they lost, linebackers Jordyn Brooks and Dakota Allen and defensive tackle Broderick Washington, are all playing on Sundays now. As such, the 2020 edition of Tech's defense has picked up right where they left off in 2019, which is to say that they haven't been very good. Through four games the Red Raiders are at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in most statistical categories, surrendering 39.5 points and 499 yards per game.
Schematically they're a base 3-3 stack look. Ends Eli Howard and Tony Bradford Jr are the noteworthy players up there, but they've gotten good work from Nick McCann on limited snaps, as well. As you'd expect with a three-man front, these guys are more tasked with eating space than generating a ton of sacks or TFL, which is good, because they haven't.
The linebackers are super experienced across the entire two-deep and are performing as well as could be expected considering the shoes they're trying to fill. Riko Jeffers is the standout, but Colin Schooler, Krishon Merriweather, and Jacob Morgenstern have all performed well alongside him.
The secondary is undoubtedly the unit's weakness, essentially consisting of Zech McPhearson and four other guys, and even he's struggled some compared to the standard he set a year ago. If you guys know of any receiving corps that are looking for some confidence, do me a favor and let them know there should be ample room for activities in the Red Raider defensive backfield on Saturday.
What to watch: Can we take advantage of them down the field?
Looking at this as a chess match, you have to figure Tech's top priority against us will be stopping Leddie Brown. That means committing additional bodies to the box, which means that opportunities will most certainly present themselves in the vertical passing game. Our attempts to attack teams in that manner have yielded mixed results, but man, if ever there was an opportunity to get some confidence going there this is it. Tech ranks 9th in the conference with 15 explosive passing plays allowed and is last in 10+ yard passing plays allowed - we absolutely have to connect and make them pay for it when they leave themselves vulnerable on the back end.
WHEN THEY HAVE IT
Key players: QB Alan Bowman, RB SaRodorick Thompson, WR TJ Vasher, WR Dalton Rigdon, WR Erik Ezukanma, WR KeSean Carter
Tech has a long tradition of fantastic offenses, evidenced by the fact that they haven't finished outside the top 20 nationally in total offense since at least 2009. They're mostly associated with their Air Raid, but the running game has always struck me as an underappreciated compliment, as well. The first two years of the Wells era have seen a slight regression in points scored, but the Red Raiders are still gaining yards in bunches so you figure it's only a matter of time until the scoring catches up.
The man running the show for them this Saturday will apparently be Henry Colombi, who's making his first career start for the Red Raiders after transferring from Utah State last summer. He doesn't have a ton of prior experience but has certainly given them a boost off the bench in the last two games, completing 40 of his 54 passes (74%) for 359 yards and 3 touchdowns against 1 interception. He also appears to offer a bit more with his legs than does Alan Bowman, so while he's not as explosive in that regard as a guy like Jett Duffey, he'll still present a wrinkle that we likely wouldn't have had to prepare much for otherwise.
SaRodorick Thompson will get the lion's share of the work at running back and is actually leading the league in average yards after contact (3.80). Both he and backup Xavier White are good players that have big play potential both as runners and receivers.
Out wide, in true Texas Tech fashion they have about seven guys who regularly catch passes for them. None of them have been much more than above average, but that almost makes them harder to defend because there's no one guy to focus on week-to-week in the way you would with a guy like Tylan Wallace. Ezukanma led them in catches last year and Carter and Vasher have both seen a ton of action over their seven combined years on campus, so there shouldn't be anything going on out there that we haven't seen before.
What to watch: Can we get consistent pressure with our front four?
The key for us against these guys has always been whether or not we're able to disrupt the timing of their passing game. Tech is not explosive in the way that Clemson or Alabama are, in that they'll rarely hit that 50+ yard home run, but when their passing game is in rhythm and they're completing those 10-15 yard timing patterns they can really eat up yards and get down the field in a hurry. The two ways you disrupt that timing are to get up on their receivers at the line and knock them off their routes, forcing the QB hold the ball longer than he wants to, or to apply pressure and force him to get rid of it before he wants to.
The onus here is on our defensive front. The Tech offensive line has been among the best in the country this year in terms of sacks allowed (just 3, 9th nationally), but if our front four is able to consistently apply pressure then we can hopefully get Colombi out of his comfort zone while still freeing up six or seven guys to handle the receivers, pick up backs out of the backfield, and clean up scrambles. That's the recipe for success.
I've had the shields up permanently about playing in Lubbock ever since they whipped us on the back of that Texas win in 2012, and make no mistake, 1-3 Tech beating us this year in some dumb game would be extremely on brand for both programs. However, something about the way they kicked our ass last year makes me think our guys are going to be extra locked in for this one. It's hard to get passed a team walking into your house and putting it on you like that. Or at least it should be.
Beyond that, the way our team is constructed makes us a tough matchup for them - we can control the clock with our running game and keep the ball out of their hands, and we're one of the few teams in the Big 12 capable of controlling the line of scrimmage with a light box. Beating them on Homecoming would be the perfect way to exorcise last year's demons - let's go down there and take care of business.