This is the annual cycle. It feels like forever before the season begins. Then, before you know it, teams head into their fourth game, nearing the completion of one-third of the regular season. That is where West Virginia finds itself as it travels to face long-time rival Virginia Tech this Thursday night. ESPN will televise the game, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m. WVU finds itself at a crossroads entering the game 1-2. Can they even things up this week? We will find out soon. For now, we are previewing the Mountaineers’ trip to Blacksburg.
Previewing The Mountaineers’ Trip To Blacksburg
Mountaineer Offense Looks Efficient
Over Head Coach Neal Brown‘s first three seasons, the West Virginia offense looked downright pedestrian, averaging right around 25 points per game. This season, however, Offensive Coordinator Graham Harrell and starting quarterback J.T. Daniels have the unit humming. In fact, in their 32 non-overtime drives this season, they scored 18 touchdowns, made four field goals, surrendered two turnovers and one turnover on downs, and punted seven times. They score on nearly 70% of their drives.
With that efficiency, it should be no surprise that the Mountaineers rank 12th in the country with 42 points per game, a far cry from their 25 points per game last season. In total, they average over six-and-a-half yards per play and nearly five-and-a-half yards per carry. Daniels carries a 140.8 rating into the game while completing 65% of his passes. CJ Donaldson leads the way on the ground with an impressive nine-and-a-half-yards per carry. He leads all Mountaineers with six touchdowns. Meanwhile, Bryce Ford-Wheaton leads the Mountaineers with 296 receiving yards, 24 receptions, and four receiving touchdowns.
Mountaineer Defense Has Been Shaky
On the other side of the ball, West Virginia looks shaky early, particularly in its secondary. Their 33.3 points per game ranks 102nd in the nation. While they have eight sacks and 16 tackles for loss through their first three games, the secondary surrenders nearly 210 yards per game. That will have to improve quickly, and the Hokies offer a useful test to see if any of the younger players or transfer players can bridge the gap caused by Charles Woods‘ season-ending injury.
Top performers for the Mountaineers include Lee Kpogba (18 tackles), Dante Stills (two-and-a-half sacks and three tackles for loss), and Sean Martin (three tackles for loss).Kpogba also has a fumble recovery. So far, however, the Mountaineers have only forced two turnovers and will need to create a bit more havoc to improve their numbers here.
Previewing the Mountaineers’ Trip
Offensively, the Hokies have not been able to muster many points. Indeed, they average just 24 points per game against an FCS opponent (Wofford), a G5 opponent (James Madison), and Boston College. On the ground, they average just over three yards per carry. Through the air, the Hokies fare a bit better with Marshall transfer Grant Wells completing 66% of his passes for nearly seven yards per attempt. Wells, however, has four interceptions through three games. He threw just four touchdowns in that span.
Defensively, they surrender just 19 points per game. That said, the number likely appears better based on the quality of opponents. James Madison averages just 18 points a game; Boston College averages 23; and Wofford averages … two (yes, you read that correctly). While the defense forced three total turnovers, they also coughed the ball up five times.
Dax Hollifield leads Virginia Tech with 23 tackles. C.J McCray and Cole Nelson lead the team with two sacks each, and the unit as a whole compiled nine. Hollifield and TyJuan Garbutt lead the Hokies with three tackles for loss apiece. The entire defense has 21 total.
Head Coach Brent Pry finds himself in his first season as the head man after spending eight seasons as an assistant with Penn State. While he has the Hokies out to a 2-1 start, they lost their season opener to James Madison and struggled to put up points against Wofford.
As a result, even though Virginia Tech offers a notoriously difficult nighttime atmosphere when previewing the Mountaineers’ trip to Blacksburg, we ultimately think West Virginia should prevail by a few scores. While the Hokies look strong defensively (and Pry’s background as a defensive coordinator certainly helps), that appearance may be a mirage as the Hokies actually surrendered more points that their opponents’ season averages so far. Virginia Tech remains a work in progress offensively.