MORGANTOWN, W.Va–The West Virginia University football team is looking to avoid its fifth straight loss as the Texas Tech Red Raiders come to town on Saturday afternoon.
Texas Tech is 5-4 on the season and has one of the country’s top offenses, averaging 47.3 points per game and 603.7 total yards of offense per game.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen knows this is going to be another tough battle for the defense.
“(Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson) Gibby is back there pulling his hair out, because he has to prepare for another top-three team in the country, when it comes to total yards, passing attack and points scored,” he said. “I can go on and on about what they are doing offensively. These three teams that we face are doing things in college football that haven’t been done before, and to have three teams in the same conference be able to do it, three teams that the Mountaineers face three weeks in a row, is something that hasn’t been seen before.”
Sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the Red Raiders.
“Mahomes is big, tall and athletic,” Holgorsen said. “He is dual threat guy. He does a great job of extending the play, running around, keeping his eyes down field and throwing it down field to create plays. I never seen it happen at this rate.”
Senior running back DeAndre Washington needs just 63 yards to become Texas Tech’s first Red Raider to rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since 1995 and 1996.
” I really think that DeAndre Washington is a very capable back,” Holgorsen said. “He is one of the better backs that we have seen all year. He’s averaging more than a 100 yards a game, and he is capable of some big plays.
“They have been giving it to him more than I have seen (Texas Tech head coach) Kliff (Kingsbury) give it to a back. They are going to try and run the ball. You can’t just drop nine and expect to be successful against them. You have to stop the run, and you have to contain the quarterback.”
Holgorsen knows that the Mountaineers’ defense won’t be able to stop Texas Tech’s offense but they need to slow them down.
“It is a big challenge for our defense, and it is a big challenge for our defensive coaches to get a plan together to be able to slow them down,” he said. “You are not going to stop them, you just have to be able to slow them down and create some stops when you can.”
Which means the offense is going to have to pick up the slack.
“A lot of this is going to fall on us offensively,” Holgorsen said. “I brought this up last week, you have to match some scores when you play teams like Baylor and TCU. I thought we did a decent job of that against Baylor in the first half, not the second half. We didn’t do a good job of that against TCU at all.
“We have to get the ball in the end zone when we have opportunities to make plays. We have to improve our execution to the point where we can get first downs, sustain drives and punch the ball in. In addition, we have to make plays. When we have the opportunity to make plays, we have to make plays. We have to match scores. I would love to be able to control the clock.”
Texas Tech’s defense ranks ninth in the Big 12 and 126th in the nation, but Holgorsen knows that WVU cannot take that for granted.
“The Texas Tech defense is going to get better,” he said. “(Defensive coordinator) David Gibbs is a good football coach. He is in his first year they’re coordinating the defense. They have given up some points. They have given up some yards. He is going to coach them up. His players are young and inexperienced, and they will continue to get better and better.”
Once again, the Mountaineers will face one of the best punt returners in college football. Senior wide receiver and punt returner Jakeem Grant ranks second in the nation in most kicks returned for touchdown with two. He averages 28 yards per kick return.
“Not only is he a talented wide receiver, I think he is close to a 1,000 yards already, but he is also a dynamic kick returner,” Holgorsen said. “He has taken two back to the house. He averages almost 30 yards a return. Hopefully, we give him a lot of opportunities. If you score, you kickoff. If that is the case, then we will see if we can contain him. We contained guys so far this year, and we expect to do the same thing with him.”
The last four games have been trying for junior quarterback Skyler Howard, but Holgorsen believes him and his wide receivers are starting to mesh.
“It’s good,” he said. “It’s getting better. It’s good, and it’s getting better. I anticipate it to continue to get better here over the next few weeks.”
Last week WVU’s wide receivers dropped some crucial passes and Holgorsen believes that yelling doesn’t fix the problem. The wideouts need to get on the field and fix it themselves.
“Those guys just have to get out there and work on it,” he said. They have to have confidence that they are going to make that play. I told each and every one of them that I have seen them make that play before. They have to have confidence in themselves that they can make it, and then get in that position to make the play next time. We are going to give them more opportunities, and when that opportunity arises, they have to make that play. It wasn’t just one person either. It was four different people. Those four will have other opportunities, and they will execute that better.”
Holgorsen is not pleased with the Mountaineers’ overall running game.
“It’s not good,” he said. “I didn’t like that last week. It was an emphasis to try and get the run game going, and for the last two weeks, we did a poor job of that in the first quarter. (Junior defensive tackle Andrew Billings) No. 75 for Baylor had something to do with that. That dude is a good player. With that said, we tried to get the run game going early. It wasn’t good in the first quarter. I thought we rebounded, and it was better in the second quarter and then it progressed in the second half. We have to keep doing some things whether its play calls, schemes or early motivation in order to play better up front in the run game.”
While the overall running game hasn’t been bright, junior running back Wendell Smallwood has shined.
“He’s playing well,” Holgorsen said. “There is no doubt. There is an element to that. He is playing well. He’s had more opportunities. (Redshirt junior running back) Rushel (Shell) has to get going. We challenged him before, and he has responded. He had a good game against Texas Tech a year ago. He’s used to being the dude. Wendell is playing really well right now, and he needs to be the compliment to that. He needs to get there and have the confidence in himself to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him.”
WVU’s offensive line is banged up, and Holgorsen says personnel changes will be seen this week. Redshirt freshman Yodny Cajuste is day-to-day.
“We are going to change some things again this week,” Holgorsen said. “We have to play a little bit better up front. I thought (redshirt junior Tyler Orlosky) T.O. came back and was better. T.O., in his defense, he was really hurt against Baylor. He did not look good. The week off was good for him. He played well against TCU.
“With that said, we will keep juggling some things around to get guys into position where they can be successful. I don’t know what that is going to be exactly. We will experiment with it today and tomorrow to get to that point. That will definitely mean personnel changes. We have (redshirt senior) Stone Underwood who hasn’t played a ton. We have (redshirt freshman) Marcell Lazard and (redshirt senior) Grant Lingafelter. Those two guys will get looks today to see where they fit in.”
Holgorsen is hopeful that WVU’s battered secondary will be good to go against Texas Tech.
“I’m not playing out there,” he said. “They are not going to suit me up to go out there and play. We have to get those guys ready to go, and we have talked about this a lot. When these backups have an opportunity to go out there and play, nobody cares if they are young and inexperienced. They have to get out there and play.
I know (redshirt senior cornerback Terrell) Chestnut and (senior safety KJ) Dillon will give us everything they have. If they go down or if they are not at 100 percent, then that is not going to prevent them from practicing and going out there to play. It’s the same thing with (junior cornerback) Daryl Worley. I expect all those guys to be out there and playing today.”
October was a grueling month for the Mountaineers and Holgorsen is glad to be back at Milan Puskar Stadium.
“It should be fun being back home,” he said. “I know our guys are excited about it.”
Kickoff on Saturday will be at noon.