Mountaineers 2020: Previewing TCU
Fresh off of a close (and upsetting) road loss against Texas, the West Virginia Mountaineers head back home to face the TCU Horned Frogs. We are previewing TCU here. The game kicks off at noon. Fox will televise the showdown.
To date, TCU’s season has been marked by inconsistency. They opened with a close loss to Iowa State but recovered on the road to beat Texas. Then, they lost two straight home games against Kansas State and Oklahoma. Now, the Horned Frogs ride a two game winning streak. Last week, TCU cruised to a 34-18 win over Texas Tech. Before that, they pulled off a road win against Baylor, 33-23.
Offensive Strengths: Another Week, Another Mobile Quarterback
We notice a theme when writing about opposing offenses these days. It seems like every team the Mountaineers face features a dual-threat quarterback. TCU presents the same challenge. At the end of the day, Max Duggan might be the one who runs most often. So far, Duggan has thrown for 1,113 yards with only five touchdowns (to two interceptions). Duggan completes 64% of his passes for just under seven yards per attempt on 161 attempts.
He has also registered 80 rushes for 329 yards and six touchdowns. By comparison, TCU’s next-leading rusher, Darwin Barlow, has 50 carries for 291 yards and three touchdowns. So while Duggan is not TCU’s lone weapon, he certainly shapes the offense heavily on the ground. Last weekend, Duggan rushed 19 times (passing only 23) and racked up three touchdowns on 154 yards.
When Duggan does throw the ball, his top weapons are Taye Barber and Quentin Johnston. Barber has 27 receptions, 281 yards, and two touchdowns. Johnston represents the big-play threat, as he averages over 17 yards per reception. Despite these weapons, however, the TCU offense has not been as explosive as it has been in past years. They average under 400 yards and 27 points a game.
Defense, Defense, Defense
TCU Head Coach Gary Patterson typically runs a defense-first program. This season, TCU’s defense does not dominate as consistently as it has in the past. But it remains a decent unit. Despite playing the two best offenses in the conference, TCU holds opponents to just 365 yards and 27.2 points a game.
Ochaun Mathis leads the TCU front with three-and-a-half sacks and six-and-a-half tackles for loss. Khari Coleman has also proven disruptive, particularly for a freshman, earning two sacks and seven-and-a-half tackles for loss. On the back end, La’Kendrick Van Zandt leads the way with two interceptions and a fumble recovery for a touchdown.
In total, the defense averages a takeaway per game, and they are holding opposing offenses to just 29% on third-down conversions. They average three sacks per game as a unit.
Yards to Gain: Mountaineer Must Haves
Given some lingering injury issues with Leddie Brown (questionable), West Virginia has to adapt in order to pull out a victory against the Horned Frogs. Here is what we look for Head Coach Neal Brown to focus on this week.
Red Zone Conversion
Simply put, West Virginia performed as poorly as a team can in the red zone last week. They were one-for-five and failed to convert on a couple of fourth-and-one plays at the end of the game. Brown told fans and media that the team needs to perform better. The red zone certainly was a point of emphasis in the off-season, and, prior to last weekend, West Virginia saw dramatic improvement from last season. In order to beat TCU, West Virginia needs to get back to what they had been doing well before their trip to Austin.
Run the Football
At least some of that has to do with Brown. Brown suffered an injury on the first play of the game, and West Virginia used him sparsely throughout. When they did use him, Brown was not as effective, gaining just 47 yards on 15 rushes. Unfortunately, Alec Sinkfield was unable to get much done either, rushing six times for just five yards. Sinkfield’s strength is running in space, not between the tackles, and Texas did a great job closing out the ends. As a result, Sinkfield simply could not find room.
If Brown is out, West Virginia will need to adjust. Getting Sinkfield into space with misdirection could prove effective, but they might need to employ more of Tony Mathis or A’Varius Sparrow. Otherwise, they might be forced to employ some of the jet sweeps and similar plays they employed frequently last season to jumpstart the running game. As we saw last season, this led to an imbalanced offense.
Make the Easy Plays
A team loss rarely, if ever, falls squarely on one player or one play. Last weekend was no exception. A few players on the offense missed on some routine plays that could have made the difference between a win and loss. Winston Wright makes a lot of plays, but he also bobbled a touchdown reception that the referees reverses. If he catches the pass (a well-thrown ball by Jarret Doege) cleanly, the referees do not have the chance to reverse.
Speaking of Doege, his play remains inconsistent in one critical way. While he relies on a lot of designed screens, he also had a tendency to miss (sometimes badly) on short passes that result from his second or third read. He overthrew Sinkfield in the backfield a couple of times last week, for example. In order to take the next step, Doege needs to start hitting his easy throws more consistently.
Finally, to beat TCU, the Mountaineer defense needs to continue its high-level intensity. Through seven games, West Virginia continues to rank in the top 25 in scoring defense (ranked 20) holding opponents to 19.4 points per game. The Mountaineers are also ranked sixth in the nation in total defense, surrendering only 271 yards per game.
The defense has also adapted to the mobile quarterbacks as the year progressed. They held Sam Ehlinger to just 39 rushing yards last weekend, about 10 yards below his season average before last weekend. The week before, they held Will Howard to negative yards, also well below his average.
If they continue these trends, the Mountaineers should give the offense just enough room to pull out the victory over TCU.