This Saturday, the 20th ranked West Virginia Mountaineers (4-0) travel deep into the heart of Big 12 country when they head to Lubbock to take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders (3-2) in their first true road game of the season.
Texas Tech is known, and for good reason, as an offensive juggernaut. They rank first in passing offense at 544 yards per game and are second in scoring at 55.2 ppg. If those numbers aren’t eye popping enough, check these out. In their last nine home games, the Red Raiders are averaging 60.1 points and 668.1 yards per game.
Without a doubt, the Mountaineers will have their work cut out for them, but here are three key factors, that if WVU wins these battles, then they will most likely win the game.
WVU Defense vs Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes
This is a battle that the Mountaineers may struggle with, but can still be successful. Mahomes leads the nation in passing with 2,274 yards, 20 TD’s and is completing just under 73 percent of his passes. He is pretty much an automatic 400 yard and multiple touchdown pass machine game in and game out. That being said, last season WVU held Mahomes to 196 yards passing although he did throw three TD passes.
This year, all three levels of the defense have to be on top of their game. The defensive line needs to get a little pressure on Mahomes, the linebackers need to stay in their correct gaps while also being able to get in the backfield when they do decide to blitz and the secondary must not let any big plays happen behind them. Keeping the deep and talented Red Raider receivers in front of them will be important. Still, if Mahomes is able to make some big plays, a couple interceptions would play a big part in canceling those plays out.
WVU’s Running Backs vs Texas Tech Defense
As good as TTU’s offense has been, their defense has been, well, not very good. They allowed 68 points to Arizona State, 45 to Louisiana Tech and 44 to Kansas State (who scored 16 against WVU). At some points I have seen some of their defenders run to a spot on the field and literally just stand there and not even attempt to make a play. This is where the Mountaineer running backs come in.
Justin Crawford, Rushel Shell and Kennedy McKoy should have a field day. In my opinion, West Virginia needs to run the ball, then run some more and then they can run it again. In last season’s 31-26 win, WVU ran 57 times for 300 yards. Hopefully running the ball does not get stressed enough this week. Each back should have more than enough running room unless Texas Tech has some sort of epiphany this week in practice, but five games into a season, usually you are what you are. Skyler Howard should also be able to find some open receivers consistently, but playing off the run game will keep the ball and the clock moving.
WVU Special Teams vs Texas Tech Special Teams
The Mountaineers are due for a flawless special teams performance. Whether it’s making every field goal, returning a punt to the house or stuffing the Red Raider return men, something good needs to happen this weekend. The unit has been below average so far, but they have not been terrible. They just have not been great, or consistent. They can do themselves a favor against Texas Tech if Shelton Gibson returns a kickoff for a score or if Gary Jennings does the same with a punt.
But kick coverage will also be just as important. What cannot happen is WVU allow a Red Raider return for a score. You don’t want to give an already high scoring team bonus points from somewhere else on the field.
One special team note that came out this week was the news of kicker Josh Lambert leaving the team. Dana Holgorsen didn’t really comment much about the situation, but did thank Lambert for his time as a Mountaineer. Michael Molina will resume his kicking responsibilities full time.
The game starts at noon this Saturday and will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.