I’m not even sure where to start regarding last Saturday so we’ll just leave it with this - Texas Tech is nowhere near talented enough to make us look as bad as we looked last weekend. End of story.
As for TCU, they might actually be that good. The 7-0 record is for real, the offense is for real, and the defense is at least decent. I think they’re due for some regression at some point, but a ton of stuff is going to have to go right for us to avoid the dreaded double faceplant.
Date: October 29th, 2022
Kickoff: 12:00PM EST
Where: Mountaineer Field - Milan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid cable subscription
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
Reminder: It is against site policy to post links to illegal streams in the comments.
Spread: WVU +7.5 on FanDuel (-114)
ML: WVU +225, TCU -280
Over/Under: 68.5 over -114/under -106
Not gonna lie - I expected the spread to be about double the 7.5 points that it opened at. I’m not sure that there’s a good way to bet on the Mountaineers in this one, but the over looks appetizing if you’re jonesin’.
Clear - 59 degrees at kickoff - Wind 4 mph
Forecast has it in the 30’s when the first beers are cracked, but you literally could not ask for better than 59 and sunny at kickoff. Layer up early, de-layer before you head to the stadium, and don’t forget your sunglasses.
Where are they from? Fort Worth, TX. Never been, have heard mixed reviews.
All-time Series: 7-4. Neal Brown is laughably 3-0 against these guys, and overall, we’ve won four on the trot.
The Last Time We Played: West Virginia 29-17 TCU. Last year’s contest didn’t start auspiciously, with Derius Davis making a house call on the game’s opening kick, but the subsequent counter punch kick-started our second half resurgence.
Head coach: Sonny Dykes (1st season, 7-0). It’s not his roster, but holy hell could we use come of whatever magic dust Dykes has sprinkled onto these dudes. He has largely the same team that went 5-7 last year absolutely humming right now.
2022 record: 7-0. As my WBP counterpart put it - every time I’ve watched these guys I come away a little bit more impressed. They’ve had a pretty remarkable string of injury luck with regards to opposing quarterbacks, but this is a team that has shown it can score with anybody and win games in multiple ways. They fully deserve their spot atop the Big 12 table.
KEYS TO THE GAME
WHEN TCU HAS THE BALL - PRE-SNAP ATTENTION TO DETAIL
27% - Duggan has thrown screens on 27% of his drop backs this year, by far the highest percentage of any P5 quarterback. 32% of his attempts overall this year have been behind the LOS, the 2nd highest percentage behind only Hudson Card.
9.5 - Yards after the catch averaged by the trio of Quentin Johnston, Derius Davis, and Taye Barber this year. That combined average would rank 8th among Power 5 receivers with 15+ targets, and individually Johnston (8.0 YAC. 5th), Davis (12.7, 1st), and Barber (8.4, 3rd) all rank in the top 5 in the B12.
8.2 - Yards per play for TCU on first down this year, which ranks behind only Tennessee nationally. We don’t have a prayer if they’re anywhere near that tomorrow.
The Frogs go from strength to strength offensively. That’s the easiest way to put it. They have an athletic, veteran quarterback who’s finally cut some of the turnovers out of his game, two very good running backs, one absolutely A1 receiver, two more who are as explosive as any pair of supporting cast members in the league, an ascendent tight end, and an experienced, above average offensive line. Basically, every person who regularly touches the ball in this offense is a dude who can hurt you. Trying to poke holes at this point is futile, as the numbers and the eye test both confirm that this is the best and most balanced unit in the Big 12.
I guess the place to start is the quarterback, as it’s Max Duggan’s improvement this season that has really propelled them to their undefeated start. Duggan is posting career highs in completion percentage (69%), yards per attempt (9.7), and touchdowns (19, yes already) while cutting down on turnovers and questionable decisions. It seems to me that the biggest change in their passing game is that they’ve simplified things. The ball is coming out quicker than ever and Duggan’s 8.5 ADOT is considerably lower than the 11.9 that he averaged a year ago. They’re simply asking him to get the ball to their numerous playmakers and let them do their thing, and to this point he’s done a great job of that.
Despite Duggan’s growth, however, TCU is still very much a run-first team, especially on early downs. They’ve called 235 runs to just 154 passes on first and second down (60% run), and that disparity is even more significant if you count Duggan’s 46 wide receiver screen attempts as an extension of the running game, which I think you most definitely should. The main culprits here are running backs Kendre Miller and Emari Demercado, and obviously Duggan himself. All three are explosive and difficult to tackle, but I really think it’s the addition of that screen game that has made them so difficult to defend this year.
Quentin Johnston (17) and Derius Davis (16) rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Big 12 in targets on screen passes, and Davis’ 15.9 YAC on those plays leads the conference and ranks 7th in P5 among receivers with at least 5 screen targets. Combining that kind of explosiveness on the edge with Duggan’s athleticism places an insane amount of horizontal stress on the defense, which in turn creates the creases that they exploit with that inside zone read stuff to Miller and Demercado. The balance makes it impossible to gain any sort of numerical advantage, because if you overplay any part of that they’ll simply roast you somewhere else.
And that brings us to this week’s key - pre-snap attention to detail. Understanding down and distance and lining up accordingly. It’s been a looming disaster for us all year that finally came to a head last weekend against Texas Tech. We just didn’t even make it difficult for them, and now we’re playing a team that does a lot of the same stuff with better players. Not great, Bob! Let’s show a little bit of situational awareness this weekend and at least make them think about stuff. If they stack three wide left, let’s make sure that we have three of our own in the vicinity to account for it. If they’re in 11 personnel, let’s make sure we have more than five guys in the box. And please, for the love of God, if it’s 3rd or 4th down and 3, please please please cornerbacks don’t line up 8 yards off the line of scrimmage.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - IT HAS TO START WITH THE RUN
40% - Percentage of snaps in which TCU cornerbacks Trevius Hodges-Tomlinson, Josh Newton, and Abraham Camara are manned up on the outside. The Frogs run more man coverage than any other team in the conference.
38% - Combined completion percentage allowed by said corners when in man coverage. Overall, the trio has allowed completions on just 46% of the 95 throws that have targeted them. Stingy.
7.6 - Yards allowed per pass attempt by the Frogs, good for 93rd nationally. One of the side effects of running so much man coverage is that you’re going to get beat from time to time.
12.9% - Explosive run rate allowed by the TCU defense against FBS opponents this year. That’s not awful, but it’s not great either.
We spent a lot of time on this week’s episode of West By Pod talking about how improved TCU’s defense has been this year, but it’s important to remember that “improved” is relative and that this was one of the very worst units in the country a year ago. Objectively I would say that their defense has been just about average this year. They’re probably better than that against the run and worse than that against the pass, but they’ve gotten enough stops to get them to 7-0.
The front 6 has been serviceable. Dylan Horton is the standout performer up front, but true freshman Damonic Williams has exceeded expectations at the nose tackle and is the piece of the puzzle that’s facilitated a relatively smooth transition to a three-man front. The linebackers will be familiar and are not all that great, but they have generated plenty of pressures and TFLs just based on the way they’re deployed. Consider me envious.
The secondary is where I think they’ve really improved. It doesn’t show up in the traditional pass defense statistics, which are still suspect, but their ability to man up and cover people has allowed them to turn those linebackers loose against the run. The corners have been particularly impressive - the worst of the three starters is allowing completions on just 52% of targets.
As for the key this weekend - I think it has to start with the running game. Not only have we struggled a bit to get separation against man coverage this year, but we’ve also been at our best (Pitt, Tech, Baylor) when we’ve been able to establish the run early. It won’t be easy with Tony Mathis out and Justin Johnson questionable, but that just places a greater importance on the offensive line coming out with a sense of urgency. We’re good enough up front to beat them up if we do, which will keep that TCU offense off the field and allow us to move the ball and score some points of our own. I don’t know if it’ll be enough to win, but hopefully it’s enough to keep it interesting.
STANDING X-FACTOR - MARGINS
may be is going to be the standing X-factor for these previews going forward. Basically, we have less margin for error than any team in the Big 12 besides Iowa State (and maybe Texas Tech?). Winning the field position and turnover battles, avoiding ill-timed drops and penalties, getting off the field on third down, turning quality possessions into touchdowns - all of those things were important before and are absolutely critical now. Our backs are against the wall here, gang. There is no more room for error.
HOW CONCERNED SHOULD WE BE?
10 out of 10. This is DEFCON 2. The Frogs do all the things that we’ve had trouble with this year and they do them better than the teams that came before them. Additionally, if this one gets ugly early, the boo birds will be out.
I wish I could tell you that
Andy West Virginia fought the good fight, and the Sisters TCU let him us be. I wish I could tell you that - but prison college football is no fairy-tale world.
Last weekend finally sapped me of my optimism, but if I were selling reasons for hope, it’s that TCU has been down by multiple scores in back-to-back weeks before the opposing team’s starting quarterback got hurt and allowed them to take control of the game. The week before that Kansas was driving to go up 10-3 when Jalon Daniels fumbled inside the 1 and allowed TCU to seize the momentum (Daniels also got hurt on the ensuing drive after TCU went 98 yards), and the week before that they knocked out Dillon Gabriel while routing Oklahoma. That’s a pretty incredible run of “good” fortune - would the Frogs have completed consecutive multi-score comebacks against Oklahoma State and Kansas State if Spencer Sanders and Adrian Martinez didn’t get dinged up? Would they even have beaten Kansas if Daniels didn’t get hurt? And then on top of that, you have the fact that Duggan has played a nearly flawless season to this point - could this be the weekend that the turnovers and bad decisions that have previously plagued him rear their ugly head, or has he put that stuff behind him for good? It’s impossible to say, but it feels like they’re due for some regression at some point, and if it happens this weekend then we’re definitely capable of playing well enough to steal one at home.
However, it just feels like there’s a ton of stuff that has to go right for us to do that. We need our banged-up defense to play by far its best game against our best opponent to date. We need a guy who hasn’t made mistakes this year to make mistakes. And we need our banged-up offense to run the ball for about 2 bills and keep those other dudes off the field. Never say never, but that seems a tall task. Here’s to being wrong. LFG.