Two squads starving for a victory will collide at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday when West Virginia hosts Texas Tech in a Big 12 clash.
These programs have much in common with one another this season. Each with a first-year coach, both teams sit at 3-5 and are fighting for a spot in a bowl game. However, while West Virginia has made a bowl every season for the last five years, Texas Tech is hoping to make it back to the postseason after they missed eligibility in 2018 with a 5-7 record.
“A lot of respect for Matt Wells and his staff,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “They did a great job really developing that program at Utah State.”
Although the Mountaineers have faced the Red Raiders just eight times in their 128-year history, the all-time series goes way back to 1938. That year, Coach “Little Sleepy” Glenn led WVU to a 7-6 victory over Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl. The Red Raiders out-gained the Mountaineers 249 yards to 185 as the Mountaineers didn’t complete a single pass en route to victory.
Even beyond the primal offensive outputs from each respective team, a lot has changed in the decades since that game — heck, a lot has changed since their game a year prior. With both teams now in the Big 12, the Red Raiders are still out-gaining the Mountaineers, but the numbers look a lot different — TTU is the no. 5 offense in the conference, putting up 478 yards per game, while West Virginia is at the bottom putting up 302 yards per game.
Texas Tech’s Matt Wells will square off against both Neal Brown and West Virginia for the first time, bringing his high-tempo offense to Milan Puskar Stadium. This year, the Red Raiders also have one of the best defenses in recent program history, allowing just 29.4 points per game.
West Virginia currently has a 5-game win streak over Texas Tech, although the Mountaineers’ margin of victory has shrunk considerably in each of the last three contests — the Mountaineers survived last year with just an 8-point victory in Lubbock.
Oddsmakers tend to believe this trend will continue, but with a Red Raider victory — Texas Tech is currently favored by 2.5 points over West Virginia.
Here are some of the most intriguing match-ups and storylines for this Saturday:
Defense leads the way (for a change)
While the aforementioned Red Raider defense may be the program’s best in years, West Virginia’s hasn’t been much of a slouch either. The Mountaineers put together the best performance the season so far on the defensive side of the ball, holding undefeated Baylor to just 17 points in Waco.
Both teams are tough up front, but the Mountaineers lead the way in the sack column for the Big 12 with 26 (tied with Baylor). While Neal Brown does call the Red Raider offensive line one of the top in the conference, they have allowed the most sacks so far this season. This could be prime territory for Darius and Dante Stills to add to their sack total.
The Texas Tech defense, on the other hand, is one of the most balanced in the Big 12. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks is the leader in the box, notching the highest total of tackles for loss this season.
Keith Washington will headline the secondary again for West Virginia as the Big 12’s leader in passes defended, while also nabbing the second-most highest interceptions in the Big 12. The top guy in that category nationally, in fact, is Tech’s Douglas Coleman.
WVU’s struggling offense vs. TTU’s high-tempo attack
It’s no question that the Mountaineers have struggled on offense. They sit at or near the bottom of the Big 12 in nearly every statistical category, including total offense.
They have put together some good performances in that phase, but in general, it’s been a struggle to get a consistent attack going week in and week out.
“We’ve just got to stack routine plays,” Brown said. “That’s our message to our guys, we’ll just make the routine play, we don’t have to do anything extraordinary vs. Texas Tech or anybody on the remaining part of our schedule.”
On the other hand, the Red Raiders have gotten into a groove offensively with a fast-paced offense under Wells. It’s led by Jett Duffey, who is the no. 5 passer in the conference in terms of average yardage. They also have another quarterback, Alan Bowman, who has been injured since September. While he isn’t expected to play over Duffey, Brown still says the Mountaineers will be prepared just in case.
Duffey has thrown to several weapons this year, but his favorite target is T.J. Vasher, who has caught 6 touchdowns so far this year on 37 receptions.
Roster shakeups for the Mountaineers
West Virginia has a long injury list featuring several key players, some of which will be game-time decisions. Plus, the departure of Jack Allison created a void in the backup quarterback position that will be filled on Saturday.
Jarret Doege will officially be West Virginia’s backup quarterback after beating Trey Lowe out for the job. Doege was one of the top passers in the MAC a season ago for Bowling Green, and is redshirting this season. Having not played yet this season, he is allowed to participate in four games while retaining his redshirt.
In injury news, Kennedy McKoy and Noah Guzman are both expected to play against Texas Tech after originally being deemed questionable.
On the positive side for WVU, Winston Wright earned himself a regular job as the Mountaineers’ kick returner after taking his first career kickoff return to the end zone last week against Baylor.
Where to watch (and more stuff to know)
The Mountaineers will kickoff at noon ET and the game will be broadcast on ESPN2. This weekend’s game will also be Military Appreciation Day, and the Mountaineers will have two U.S. Army veterans as honorary captains: Fmr. Maj. Fred “Boom Boom” Smalls and Fmr. SPC. Ted Daniels.
If you can’t make the game in person or catch it on TV, be sure to follow our live game log right here on WVIllustrated.com so you don’t miss a moment.