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Game Time Weather: Sunny/84º
The Mountaineers head to Texas for their second consecutive road conference game, meeting up with a hot Texas Christian team.
The series is tied 3-3 with the first ever meeting in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl in which the Mountaineers rolled the Horned Frogs 31-14.
The first three out of five games between the two programs – since they both joined the Big XII in 2012 – were decided by 5 points. The last two years were not nearly as contested with TCU winning at home in 2015 40-10 and the Mountaineers returning the favor last season with a 34-10 win in Morgantown.
TCU is rebounding after a 6-7 season last year and has started the year 4-0 after big win over then No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater two weeks ago. The early success the Horned Frogs are having shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Under head coach Gary Patterson, TCU has always resurged after a down year. In 2004, the Horned Frogs finished 5-6 and the following year ended the season 11-1. 2013 was the worst year under Patterson, going 4-8 then went on to tie for the Big XII title in 2014.
Gary Patterson has never lost a home game while his team is ranked in the top-10 (17-0) or lost while ESPN College Game Day is in attendance (5-0).
The TCU defense is fast and physical and is arguably the best defense in the Big XII. They have two dynamic linebackers in Travon Howard and Montrell Wilson that have both combined for 50 tackles and 5.5 tackles for a loss.
The defense has 3 safeties with the 4-2-5 scheme that they run. The safety trio could arguably be one of the best in the country as well. Seniors Nick Orr (22 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, interception) and Ridwan Issahaku (21 tackles, 3 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, interception) are making plays all over the field. Securing the back end of the secondary is free safety Niko Small.
Then add two outstanding corners Ranthony Texada and Jeff Gladney and you get a secondary holding their opponents to just a 47.9% completion percentage and 6 interceptions.
The Horned Frogs have an up and coming star with defensive end Ben Banogu that has been setting up camp in offensive backfields with 3 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss. They also have a freshman at defensive tackle Corey Bethley (7 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, sack) that’s behind starter Chris Bradley (2 tackles).
As a unit, the TCU defense has forced 9 turnovers, held offenses to 323.5 yards per game, 18.5 points per game, 32% on 3rd down and have only allowed 4 touchdowns in 11 red zone trips and 3 times the offense left the field empty handed during this trips.
The offense for TCU has improved tremendously since 2016 and it all starts with a great running attack. Leading rusher Darius Anderson (422 yards, 6.2 ypc) has filled in nicely for an injured Kyle Hicks that had 1,042 yards rushing last season. As a team, they have rushed for 929 yards behind a great offensive line.
The running game has opened the passing game up for Kenny Hill and he has taken full advantage of it. Hill has looked comfortable in the pocket this season, completing 72.7% of his passes on the season and thrown for 965 yards, 9 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Hill has spread the ball around the field, using an arsenal of wide receivers. Desmond White ( 14 receptions, 151 yards, 2 touchdowns) and KaVontae Turpin (14 receptions, 139 yards, 1 touchdown) have been his favorite targets, but Jalen Reagor, Shaun Nixon, and John Diarse have made significant contributions.
West Virginia has not beat a ranked opponent on the road since 2011 against Cincinnati and it’s going to be tough to buck that trend in Fort Worth.
Going into the game, the defense is a question mark to say the least. The Mountaineers rank 114th in rushing yards allowed (226 ypg). Tony Gibson is coming off a bye week and will try to correct the defense and get the right personnel in for certain situations. It will be essential to stop TCU’s ground game and force Kenny Hill to beat you with his arm.
If the Mountaineers can stop the running game, they will have to get pressure on Hill and force him to make throws under pressure like they did a year ago.
Will Grier and the offense will face the toughest defense to date on Saturday and for them to be successful, they will need to play north and south. They do not need to get cute with the offense, there is no need for gadget plays.
The Mountaineers need to take what the Horned Frogs defense is giving them and even at times try to run the ball behind Justin Crawford and the stable of running backs.
The defense may improve, but I don’t know if it will be enough to get the win in Ft. Worth. I had this game as a loss at the beginning of the year and TCU has performed better than I could have imagined to this point.
This game is winnable for West Virginia but I don’t know if the defense will make the necessary stops in the game to get the job done. I have West Virginia losing a close one 38-34.
I hope they prove me wrong.