There should be no more reservations, gang. That TCU game is not one that bad teams go out and win on the road, and they especially don't dominate the way we did in the second half. We're good. The question now is, what do we do with that knowledge? How do we manage that success? Because while Houston is not a good team, they certainly have enough talent to challenge or even beat us if we go down there with any sort of ego.
14. That still has to be the message - that there were a whole bunch of folks who cover football for a living who looked at 2-3 Houston this summer and thought they were better than us. Let's show those people and the rest of the nation what Mountaineer Football is all about.
Date: October 12th, 2023
Kickoff: 7:00PM EST
Where: Texas Dow Employees Credit Union Stadium - Houston, TX
Streaming: Only available on Big 12 Now on ESPN+
Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android)
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: West Virginia -3.5
ML: WVU -164
First time we've been favored since Duquesne. ML should be a safe bet here.
Partly cloudy - high 84/73 low - Wind 8 mph
80ish at kickoff and dropping throughout the game. No issues there.
Where are they from: Houston, TX.
All-time Series: 0-0. Looking forward to starting this one on the right foot.
The Last Time We Played: N/A, see above.
Head coach: Dana Holgorsen (5th season, 29-23). Dana won 12 in 2021, but overall his winning percentage there has been worse than the mark he posted in Morgantown. There's a reason he's on the hot seat.
2023 record: 2-3 (0-2). The Cougs started the season with a couple of one-score contests against UTSA and Rice, but the three games since then have left little doubt one way or the other. Exactly the sort of high-variance team you'd expect from HCDH.
WOMEN LIE, MEN LIE, NUMBERS DON’T
19.9% - Havoc rate generated by the West Virginia defense. That's 31 passes defended (6th in FBS!!!), 36 TFLs (18th), and 1 forced fumbles (117th) in 341 plays.
8.6 - Sacks (2.6) and TFLs (6) allowed per game by the Cougs. Only Baylor has been worse in the B12.
4.6 - Yards per carry allowed by the Cougs this season, good for 12th in the Big 12 and 102nd nationally.
+5 - Houston's turnover margin in their two wins. They're only +1 in the three losses.
32% - Percentage of Houston QB Donovan Smith's passes that travelled further than 10 yards in the air, the second lowest percentage in the B12 behind Iowa State's Rocco Becht.
18 - First downs picked up by Smith with his legs this year, the most among B12 quarterbacks.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - PROTECT ROCK
Mountaineers to Watch: QB6 Garrett Greene, RB4 CJ Donaldson, RB22 Jaheim White, TE87 Kole Taylor
Cougs to Watch: DT18 Anthony Holmes Jr, DE9 Nelson Caesar, CB23 Isaiah Hamilton, S15 Malik Fleming
Houston defense is... how can I say this nicely? Flawed? Flawed. Cougar opponents have generally had their way both on the ground (110th in effective rush per Beta_rank) and through the air (99th), and I expect that to be the case for the OGnB on Thursday. However, one thing they’ve done well is create turnovers, with at least two takeaways in every game except their most recent contest against Texas Tech. Turning us over multiple times feels like one of their few paths to victory here, so we really need emphasize ball security and field position to avoid handing them any cheap scores. As is tradition, some cause for optimism here.
We're in the top third of FBS with just 5 giveaways through 5 games, and zero of those have come courtesy of Garrett Greene. Greene's 1.1% TWP rate is T-5th in FBS among QBs with at least 50 dropbacks, and overall he's the only FBS QB with at least 50 dropbacks and 15 designed runs who hasn't thrown an interception or fumbled. Greene's decision making has definitely improved, but he's also been protected to some extent by conservative play calling and an offense that has generally done a decent job of staying on schedule and avoiding situations where he's had to force the issue. If we're ever going to come out of our shell offensively, you figure a team like Houston on 10 days rest would be a prime opportunity - can Greene turn up the aggressiveness without being reckless? If he can then we should have no problem moving the ball and putting up points.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL - GET TO SMITH
Cougs to Watch: QB1 Donovan Smith, RB23 Parker Jenkins, WR4 Sam Brown (*), WR2 Matthew Golden, WR0 Joseph Manjack
Mountaineers to Watch: DE91 Sean Martin, DE3 Tomi Durojaiye, LB1 Lee Kpogba, LB15 Ben Cutter, CB11 Beanie Bishop
Houston's running backs generally seem fine, but I really don't expect their running game to find much success against our front 7. We've been excellent at generating negative run plays this year, while only BYU and Baylor have allowed more TFLs per game than Houston in the B12. However, the Cougs do pose some problems in the form of Donovan Smith getting into a rhythm with those three receivers in the underneath passing game and extending drives with his feet.
Two pieces of good news here. First, we've already seen a version of that against Texas Tech, and our defense showcased the ability to both win early downs and rush the passer in that game. And second, if we are able to generate similar pressure against Houston, Smith's completion percentage (71%->40%), yards per attempt (7.6->4.7), and overall offensive grade (85->41) all drop off a cliff. That's been the path to success for us all year, and it should be again on Thursday.
X-FACTOR - FIELD POSITION
We're one of the most improved teams in the country in net field of position, ranking 3rd in FBS with an NFP of +5.6. However, Houston's not far behind, ranking 23rd nationally at +4.0. Feels like an area that could be the difference if one team is able to gain and maintain an advantage.
5 out of 10. We each have two data points against TCU and Texas Tech. They lost by 23 and 21; we won by 3 and 7. There are no sure things, but considering everything in context makes this one feel like it should be.
Unless I'm completely missing something, this feels like it should be our most comfortable game since Pitt. On paper the Cougars have bad matchups on both sides of the ball, meaning a Mountaineer loss would have to feature out of character performances on one or both sides, namely turnovers from our offense and/or an inability to generate havoc from our defense. I just don't get the sense that this is the kind of team to go out and lay an egg. Real Deal Neal aside, this group has a level of swagger and on-field leadership on boths sides of the ball that just hasn't been there previously. I think we go down there and TCB.