Mountaineers Return Home Against the Red Raiders
This Saturday, the West Virginia Mountaineers return home against the Red Raiders. The kickoff is set for 3:30 on October 2. ESPN2 will televise the matchup. The game represents homecoming weekend in Morgantown. Fans are asked to stripe the stadium. The Mountaineers will also retire Darryl Talley‘s number during the game. In short, fans can expect plenty of pageantries.
Shaking the Hangover
First thing’s first here. Before the game, last weekend in Norman, nearly half of West Virginia fans believed Oklahoma would cruise against the Mountaineers. Those same fans, however, ended the weekend upset when their team proved otherwise. Sure, we would have all liked to see a win. 3-1 with two wins over ranked teams looks far better on paper than 2-2 with a team that cannot find the end zone in the second half.
Yet, here we are. The Mountaineers again sport a top-25 defense that held the 6th-best offense in the country to just 16 points and 313 yards. They took a fourth-ranked Oklahoma team to the literal wire. Honestly, WVU looked like the better team for the vast majority of the game. Thus, instead of witnessing the blowout many fans expected, the post-game narrative looked much different. But for a handful of late-game miscues, West Virginia had every chance to carry a win home.
As upset as fans are over how that unfolded, rest assured that the players felt even worse. They know they let a season-defining win go. They poured out everything they had only to lose on a walk-off field goal. The first thing the team needs to do is, simply, shake the hangover. It was a tough loss, but they cannot let Oklahoma beat them twice.
Mountaineers Return Home
Now, West Virginia gets to focus its effort on Texas Tech. The Red Raiders present a much different matchup than the Sooners. Oklahoma’s strength this season, believe it or not, lies on the defensive side of the ball, particularly its defensive line. Texas Tech fields a much softer unit.
In fact, outside of LIU, the Red Raiders present the Mountaineers with the softest defense it has faced, by a wide margin. Here are the numbers. Through four games, Maryland gives up just 14.2 points per game (ranked eighth in the country). The Hokies give up 15.2 points per game (ranked 14th). Finally, Oklahoma gives up 16 points per game (good for 22nd).
On the other hand, Texas Tech surrenders 33.5 points per game (114th in the country) against a poor schedule (ranked 86th in the nation). If there were ever a time for West Virginia to figure out its issues on the offensive side of the ball, now would certainly be that time.
Offense Does Have Weapons
As hard as it seems to believe, the Mountaineers do indeed have weapons on offense. Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Sam James, and Winston Wright each average over ten yards per reception. None of these three have been charged with a dropped pass in the last two games.
Leddie Brown still averages five yards a carry, though he was clearly playing through pain against the Sooners. As a result, he was unable to break tackles with his usual vigor. Garrett Greene also averages over five yards a carry (just over six to be precise). The two combine for eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
We still need to see bigger doses of Tony Mathis and Justin Johnson. Simply, we are not confident that Brown can continue garnering over 85% of the running back snaps and maintain fresh legs through the course of a long season.
Special Teams Being Overlooked
We are equally as guilty of this, but West Virginia’s special team’s units are being overlooked early. Casey Legg remains perfect on the season. He converted all six of his field-goal attempts and all 14 of his extra-point attempts. This, of course, has been an area of concern over the last few seasons.
Wright, of course, has not been overlooked. With a kick return for a touchdown and several huge returns beyond that on the season, Wright has been outright dangerous. Indeed, he averages over 41 yards per return through four games.
The one area we had some concern about earlier in the season was our punt team. In particular, it seemed that Tyler Sumpter couldn’t get a punt to travel 40 yards. In the last two contests, however, Sumpter drastically increased his average. Against Oklahoma, he averaged 46.6 yards per punt.
With a team that relies so heavily on its defense at the moment, winning the field position battle is critical. Getting extra points on special teams is also important. So far, West Virginia has proven effective in this phase.
Do the Mountaineers Return Home With a Win?
The question remains, of course, can the Mountaineers return home against the Red Raiders with a win. We certainly think so. Texas Tech has some offensive firepower, to be sure. Tyler Shough will miss this game after suffering a shoulder injury last week. That said, fans should be familiar with backup Henry Colombi, who made things tough on the Mountaineers last year. Tahj Brooks has been running the ball with a fire, racking up over eight yards per carry. Erik Ezukanma and Kaylon Geiger both average over 16 yards per reception.
Furthermore, the Mountaineers have been particularly stout against the run. They just held the Sooners to 57 rushing yards and two yards per carry. In total, they give up just 89 yards per game. Expect West Virginia to dial up the pressure early and often. They should be able to limit the Red Raiders’ run game and force them to be one-dimensional.
And given the major weakness for Texas Tech–its defense–we think the Mountaineers can find much more success offensively than they have in their previous three games against Power 5 teams. They’ll even find the end zone more than once in the second half. Indeed, we’ll go out on a limb here and predict a 33-17 win, giving Head Coach Neal Brown his first victory over Texas Tech.