MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The West Virginia University football team is on a mission to take the Big 12 by storm and its defensive unit stepped up in a big way last weekend against Texas Tech.
The Mountaineers’ defense held one of the nation’s best offenses to just 17 points. Entering the game, the Red Raiders were the no. 1 passing team in the nation and No. 2 in total offense and scoring.
But defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s squad held Texas Tech to 379 yards and flustered quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
WVU sacked the junior quarterback four times, forced one interception and held him to a season-low 63.6% pass completion. The performance earned a new round of respect for the Mountaineers’ defense.
“I think it showed everyone what I knew all along,” redshirt junior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “Like I’ve been saying since the beginning of the season, a lot of people didn’t give us much respect, a lot of people didn’t show us much respect. They didn’t expect us to be able to do what we came out and did. I’ve been saying all year that we’ve got a group of guys who love football and can get out there and play ball.”
With Texas Tech in the rear view mirror, things aren’t about to get any easier for WVU as TCU (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) comes to Morgantown on Saturday afternoon.
“They’re extremely dynamic,” redshirt senior linebacker Justin Arndt said. “They’re fast. They have a really good quarterback that can sling you around. They have good running backs.”
The Horned Frogs’ offense ranks ninth in country, averaging 530.7 yards per game.
Junior quarterback Kenny Hill leads TCU. He is one of three players nationally to rank in the top five in total offense (391.3 yards per game) and passing yards (357.0 per game).
Hill’s seven rushing touchdowns are tied for second in the Big 12 and fifth in the nation among quarterbacks.
“Like Mahomes, he’s very mobile as well,” Benton said. “He can get out of the pocket and create something out of nothing. We’re going to make sure we limit those as much as possible.”
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound quarterback is on pace for a record setting season. He’s projected to pass former Horned Frogs standout Trevone Boykin in Total Offense, Passing Yards and completions.
Much like Mahomes, Hill has an accurate cannon. Currently, he has completed 63.3 percent of his passes.
“He has a big arm just like Mahomes did, and he’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run like Mahomes does,” redshirt senior safety Jarrod Harper said. “He can extend plays, run around in the pocket and still find an open receiver down field, so there’s definitely some similarities.”
Another threat TCU posses is speedy running back Kyle Hicks, who is the lone running back in the nation with at least 400 yards rushing (479) and 300 receiving (308).
The 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior back is tied for second in the nation among backs with his 27 receptions, just two behind Ohio State’s Curtis Samuel.
“They use him down the field routes, a lot of swing routes, but he is their leading receiver,” Gibson said. “He has the most catches I think 29, so he’s a really good back. He’s solid, he reminds me a lot of our backs. He’s big, a thick kid, hard to bring down, but can still run a little bit. You know, he’s fast, he’s busted a couple big runs and he catches the ball well so they aren’t afraid to use him. They’ll use him in empty formations and throw it to him.”
Hicks had a 61-yard touchdown reception against Oklahoma, which was the longest pass play of his career.
The versatile back also had a team-best six receptions for 81 yards against the Sooners while adding a team-high 61 yards rushing on 15 carries.
The Horned Frogs have a receiving corps that’s capable of turning teams upside down.
KaVontae Turpin was leading the nation in all-purpose yards at 236.0 per game before he got injured against Iowa State. But the sophomore wide out could return to action against the Mountaineers.
Desmon White is another wide receiver capable of wreaking havoc on defenses. He had career-high six receptions for 49 yards and had a career long 31-yard punt return against SMU this season.
LSU transfer John Diarse is averaging 4.5 receptions per game and has 21 receptions, totaling 345 yards on the season.
Junior Taj Williams leads TCU with four touchdowns and 506 yards.
The Horned Frogs have a brutal offense, which will be a huge test for the Mountaineers.
WVU’s 3-3-5 defense gets better every week. Last week against Texas Tech the defense was the first team in 23 games to hold the Red Raiders to 52 percent completion of their third-down attempts.
“What we do defensively is hard for me to attack,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said on the Big 12 coaches’ conference call earlier this week. “That’s why we do what we do. It’s good against the spread. ‘Gibby’ does a great job getting those guys motivated and playing hard. That’s the key: Being able to adjust and disguise and get lined up quick against all these up-tempo offenses.”
The Mountaineers have not allowed an opponent to complete more than 50 percent of its third-down attempts in 28 of the past 30 games.
WVU held Texas Tech’s ground game to just 34 yards.
The Mountaineers’ defense ranks 15th in the nation and second in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
WVU ranks third in the Big 12 in total defense.
And some of the Mountaineers credit its success to going against its own offense day in and day out.
“The biggest thing that helps that we play against a guy like Skyler (Howard) in practice who can run around and make some plays as well,” Benton said. “So that’s something we’ve been seeing all year. That’s something we’ve been getting accustomed to because we knew that would be something coming up with Big 12 play. So we’re ready or it.”
WVU’s defense knows how to handle a team with a dangerous quarterback, a deadly running game and a fearsome receiving corps.
One key to stopping TCU’s offense is to pressure Hill.
“I definitely feel like that is a key thing,” Harper said. “Getting pressure is always going to get that extra worry on the quarterback. He’s not going to have that time sitting in the pocket, he’s not going to feel comfortable sitting in the pocket when he’s getting heated up from different directions on the field. That definitely plays into what we do, and I feel that’s something we have to do this week.”
The Mountaineers have six interceptions on the years. If WVU applies pressure to Hill, those numbers could jump.
The Horned Frogs will try and beat the Mountaineers on the ground attack and if that doesn’t work, they will go to the air.
“TCU will go a lot more two back, they’ll try to establish the run first to set their pass up,” Gibson said. “Where (Texas) Tech was more throw first to set the run up. It’s going to be a challenge, we’re going to have to stop the ball they have big backs.”
TCU head coach Gary Patterson knows they will have to beat WVU on the ground in order to come out on top.
“You have to be able to run the ball against them,” he said. “Two years ago, we had to run the football to win. If you can’t, you’re going to get yourself in a lot of trouble.”
With a chance at remaining undefeated in the conference and avenging a devastating loss last season, look for the Gibson’s squad to leave it all on the field on Saturday.
Cover Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS