Google defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is”, and adds that this is important because having a clearly defined identity builds self-confidence and creates motivation and direction for groups working towards a common goal. After four long years, our West Virginia Mountaineers finally feel like they have an identity, and though "Iowa East" may not be what we all hoped for, there's no doubt it has helped us jump out to a 3-1 start.
P.S. To all the folks rooting for us lose so we can fire the coach - what're we even doing here? Nobody is making you invest any energy in this team; feel free to not. We’ve all been begging for this team to start winning some of these close games for 4 years, and I, for one, am gonna go ahead and enjoy the ride while it lasts. The situation will resolve how it resolves, and there will be plenty of time to hate everything if and when the wheels fall off.
Date: September 30th, 2023
Kickoff: 8:00PM EST
Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium - Fort Worth, 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 +11.5
ML: WVU +350
TCU got beat by 3 at home by Colorado. Colorado got smashed by Oregon. Oregon beat Texas Tech by a TD. We beat Texas Tech by a TD. Sooooo, uh, what gives...?
I sprinkled at +10. I sprinkled at +11.5. I will be sprinkling the moneyline just in case. I've seen nothing to support the idea that TCU is two scores better than us.
Clear - high 96/70 low - Wind 11 mph
96? 88 at kickoff?? Do better, Texas.
Where are they from: Fort Worth, TX.
All-time Series: 7-5. One of the few true up-and-down series in the Big 12, with plenty of close games and beatdowns both ways.
The Last Time We Played: 10/29/2022, West Virginia 31-41 TCU. We weren't the only team to have TCU on the ropes last year before ultimately letting them off the hook. Shouldn't be a hard game to get the troops up for.
Head coach: Sonny Dykes (2nd season, 16-3). Dykes was just the shot in the arm that TCU needed after two decades of Gary Patterson. This week notwithstanding, his team is right up there with Kansas and UCF in terms of appointment Big 12 viewing.
2023 record: 3-1. The Colorado loss is justifiable in the same way that our loss to Kansas was last year i.e. they had no tape and got jumped on. As for the wins, Nichols State is Nichols State, Houston is the worst team in the conference, and we have zero evidence that SMU is anywhere near as frisky as they've been the last two years. TL/DR: I don't know how much stock to put in our 3-1, but I know for a fact it's a stronger resume than theirs.
WOMEN LIE, MEN LIE, NUMBERS DON’T
It’s important to note here that the Beta_rank model will still include data from last season until week 6. Just wanted to clarify here, as our defensive representation above was not jiving with the product we've on seen on the field so far this year.
2.45 - Yards per carry allowed by the TCU defense so far this year, the 8th best mark in FBS. However..
96 - Average effective rush rank of Colorado (129th of 133), Houston (91st), and SMU (68) according to Beta_rank. By comparison, we're ranked 8th.
18 - 20+ yard passes allowed by TCU this year, the most in the Big 12. We have to at least try to take advantage of that this weekend.
31 - Missed tackles forced by Emani Bailey this year, the most by any P5 running back. Dude has been super productive for them so far this year, ranking 2nd among P5 backs in carries (81) and yards (485) and 13th in yards after contact (4.33).
58 - TCU runs the ball 58% of the time on first and second down.
38 - Chandler Morris is credited with using play action on 38% of his dropbacks.
109 - The average D_score of Colorado (116), Houston (103), and SMU (109) per Beta_rank. THEY AIN'T PLAYED NOBODY PAAAWWLLL!
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT
Mountaineers to Watch: QB8 Nicco Marchiol, RB4 CJ Donaldson, RB0 Jaylen Anderson, TE87 Kole Taylor
Frogs to Watch: DT Damonic Williams, LB4 Namdi Obiazor, LB0 Shadrach Banks Jr, CB2 Josh Newton
At this point, it is what it is for us on this side of the ball. We're going to run it as often as the game allows, and we're going to run RPOs and PA off of that, hopefully with enough new wrinkles each week to keep our opponents on their toes. I fully expect this game (and probably every game going forward) to center around the question, "are we able to consistently fall forward for 4 yards even though [opponent] is totally expecting it?", and if the answer is yes, then we're going to be able to control the clock, limit possessions, and give ourselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter. If the answer's no, then it’s probably going to be a booze-drowned second half. Definitely not the most exciting brand of offense, but again, it is what it is. However, there are two things that I think can potentially raise our ceiling, and both are related to adding some explosiveness.
The first involves feeding the ball to guys who are, ya know, actually explosive. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think that Neal Brown has done a pretty good job with his play calling in creating opportunities for guys to make plays, they just haven't gone out and made them. It's time to start funneling some more snaps and touches to guys like Rodney Gallagher and Jaheim White who seem to make good things happen every time they touch the ball.
The second is that we have to hit some vertical shots in the passing game. We unfortunately didn’t hit any last week, but I thought we did manufacture 3 or 4 good opportunities. TCU plays a ton of man coverage, and if their explosive passing numbers above are any indication, those 3 or 4 opportunities are going to be there for us again this week. We have to connect. I don't even necessarily expect it to soften them up all that much, but we have to punish them if they're going to load up the box and leave their corners on islands.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL - STOP THE RUN
Frogs to Watch: QB12 Chandler Morris, RB9 Emani Bailey, WR7 John Paul Richardson, TE19 Jared Wiley
Mountaineers to Watch: DE91 Sean Martin, LB1 Lee Kpogba, LB19 Tray Lathan, CB11 Beanie Bishop, S2 Aubrey Burks
Take another peek at the stats above - TCU wants to run the ball, especially on early downs, and then mix in short/intermediate play action passes to keep the defense off-balance. Chandler Morris has been extremely productive in those situations, but TCU's receivers don't scare me in the vertical passing game the way that Penn State's or even Texas Tech's did. This makes our task relatively clear - if we can stop Bailey and that rushing attack, we have a great chance at slowing down their offense and making it a game. If we can't, we don't. Simple as.
X-FACTOR - WHO WINS EARLY DOWNS?
The biggest improvement in West Virginia's defense this year has been our ability to get off the field on 3rd down, with our 25% allowed conversion rate leading the conference and ranking 7th nationally. We're setting ourselves up for success there by winning on 1st and 2nd, with 63% of our opponents' 3rd downs requiring 7 or more yards to convert. TCU is at the other end of the spectrum on both counts - 55% of their opponents' 3rd downs have required 6 or fewer yards, and as a result the 40% conversion rate they’ve allowing ranks last in the Big 12. Continuing those trends on both sides of the ball will go a long way towards positioning ourselves for a favorable outcome in the game.
8 out of 10. TCU is probably the second best team we’ve played so far, and they’re probably the best or second best team we’ll play the rest of the way, and it's on the road, at night. A win in Fort Worth should remove any lingering hesitation that Mountaineer Nation has in getting behind the idea that this is team is good.
Another litmus test, innit? I gather that TCU is feeling itself, but you know what? I'm feeling us, too. You can't in good faith argue that our running game and defense are elite, but both are reliably good. For the first time in about five years we have things we can hang our hat on.
And I can't help but be skeptical of the teams TCU has played. Colorado has some flashy toys but is Charmin soft in the trenches and fields one of the worst defenses in FBS by almost any model you can find. Ditto for Houston. SMU might be marginally better (read: might be, marginally), but not one of them wants to come get dirty on our side of the tracks. I'm not sure TCU does either. Let's go down there, make this thing fuckin ugly, and put the league on notice.