By Dave Ackermann (former BGS staff writer)
In a season with hopes raised through the first five games, will the Horned Frogs come into Mountaineer Field at MPS and dim the lights?
It has happened before! Exactly two seasons ago. The Mountaineers had opened the season against a staunch nationally ranked Alabama team in the Chick Filet Kickoff Classic in Atlanta, GA and after losing a hard fought battle, had gained national respect for being very competitive.
After exciting wins over rival Maryland on the road, Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State in rebounding from a heart breaking loss to Oklahoma, arrived at Mountaineer field (6-2) and with hope for a strong finish. On this balmy Saturday night, November 1st, 2014 the Gold and Blue hosted none other than the TCU Horned Frogs.
The Mountaineers took a 30 – 28 lead late in the 4th quarter and had only to make a couple of first downs and run out the clock to claim their 7th victory. Instead, WVU was forced to punt and a guy named Boykin, in two short plays, single handedly ran TCU into Field Goal position with only mere seconds left on the clock. The kick was good and TCU escaped with a 31-30 victory.
WVU would lose three of their next 4 games, including Texas, Kansas State and the Liberty Bowl to Texas A&M to finish the 2014 season a disappointing 7-6.
Last season at TCU, the Mountaineers were embarrassed and not very competitive in a 40-10 TCU rout. Otherwise, the games have been very competitive overall with WVU losing 38-39 in 2 Overtimes in 2012 (a season the Mountaineers had also started 5-0) and claiming a 30-27 overtime victory for the only Mountaineer win in 2013. This will be the 5th meeting of two teams that entered the Big 12 together in the 2012 season and the Frogs have the upper hand in the series (3-1).
Through 6 games this season the Horned Frogs (4-2) have the 68th toughest Strength of Schedule where WVU through 5 games has the 30th toughest Strength of Schedule. That is quite a disparity it would seem, but don’t discount TCU’s tough home losses to Arkansas (38-41) and to Oklahoma (46-52). All of their first 5 games were at home more or less as they faced SMU in Dallas (33-3), South Dakota State at home (59-41) and ISU at home (41-20). Kansas was their first road game (a closer than desired 24-23 4th quarter comeback victory).
WVU (5-0), on the other hand has had to travel to Landover, MD (FedEx Field) for a neutral site encounter with BYU (a 35-32 hard fought victory) and last week to Texas Tech where the Mountaineers surprisingly handled the Red Raiders (48-17). The other victories came against Missouri (26-11), Youngstown State (38-21) and Kansas State (17-16), all at home.
Statistically, these two teams, as of late, look pretty well matched:
It would appear that much like last week, the Mountaineers will have to shut down a vaulted passing attack (led by Kenny Hill; 12 TD’s and 8 Int’s) while their offense again controls a balanced attack that limits the Horned Frog’s possessions. A couple of turnovers might also be necessary to get to a safe margin of victory and there can be no Special Teams failures.
For the Horned Frogs, the key to victory would be to shut down the WVU rushing attack and force Skylar Howard to win the game throwing 50 passes. Again a few turnovers would go a long way and solid special teams will also be important on the road.
Unlike last week against KU, the Horned Frogs won’t need to be more motivated as TCU/WVU is approaching a rivalry with all of the close games.
The old saying “Defense Wins Championships” will be the key to this contest. The defense that shuts down the other’s offense a bit (bends but does not break) and forces field goals in the red zone will have the upper hand.
This won’t be a battle between Holgorsen and Patterson as much as it will be a battle of Kenny Hill and Skylar Don Howard. The winner will be the one that best utilizes his resources and limits turnovers. The wildcard will once again be the defenses.
If you are looking for a prediction, you have come to the wrong place. This is a “toss-up” if ever there was one. You can get that with a sellout crowd and a 3:30 PM EST start with the game going into the nighttime, things will be crazy in Morgantown.
Photo credit USA Today Sports