WVU Gameday Blog

Scouting the Opponent: Baylor

No. 23 West Virginia (4-2) enters a weekend as a ranked team for the third different time this season as it faces winless Baylor (0-6) on Saturday in Waco.

Whereas WVU is riding high after it’s comeback victory a week ago against Texas Tech, the Bears are just hoping to reverse the fate they’ve had for some time. Baylor has failed to win a regular season contest in nearly a full calendar year.

Matt Rhule’s team has played opponents tough, with three of the six losses coming by seven or fewer points.

Here’s a scouting report on the team the Mountaineers will look to keep out of the win column:

Bears without much of a bite, offensively

Under former head coach Art Briles, the Baylor Bears grew a reputation of having a very high-powered offense. That’s no longer the case.

Baylor is averaging nearly 20 points fewer per game than the Mountaineers, and are being outgained by WVU by over 150 yards per contest. The Bears have only eclipsed 400 yards of total offense twice this season, while WVU has done that in all but one. Normally a good passing team, Baylor ranks just seventh in the Big 12 in terms of passing yards.

Mims the word

One thing that Baylor has been able to do well this year is get explosive plays. The Bears rank first in the Football Bowl Subdivision with seven plays that have traveled 70-plus yards.

In the middle of that is wide receiver Denzel Mims. Mims ranks second in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns with seven and is sixth in receiving yards. The sophomore also has five receptions of 40 or more yards, which is second best in the conference. One of those plays was a 71-yard touchdown against Oklahoma, and another was a 70-yard catch and run the following week versus Kansas State. Mims’ biggest game of the year came in Baylor’s one-possession loss to Oklahoma, during which he caught seven passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns.

Youth movement

Rhule has played 17 true freshmen through the first six weeks, which ranks fourth nationally, and started as many as nine true freshmen in one game earlier this year.

Twenty-two different Baylor players have made their first ever start this year, and in total nearly 50 percent of the starters have been underclassmen.

Battered and Bruised

Six Baylor players are expected to be out for the year with injuries. This includes wideout Chris Platt, who was proving to be an explosive threat opposite of Mims on the outside. A total of 13 players have missed at least six games this year, and four players have yet to make their season debut due to injury.

Bears without much of a bite, defensively, too

Defensively, the Bears rank near the bottom of the conference in almost all categories. Baylor is the only team in the Big 12 worse than WVU at stopping the run.

Baylor has surrendered 15 rushing touchdowns this year, including five against Oklahoma State last week. WVU has tallied 13 rushing scores through the first six games. The Bears also rank 125 out of 129 teams in total defense.

Johnston leads the way

Sophomore Clay Johnston leads the Baylor defense.

He paces the Bears in total tackles (45) and tackles for loss with nine – 3.5 more than any other player on his team. His 1.5 tackles for loss per game is third-best in the Big 12. Johnston racked up a career-high 13 tackles earlier this year in a game against Duke.

Stops in the backfield

With Johnson taking charge when it comes to stopping plays in the backfield, that’s been one element to the Baylor defense that has succeeded. As a team, Baylor’s 41 tackles for loss ranks third in the Big 12.

However, BU’s offensive line has surrendered 44 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Both those numbers will be put to the test against West Virginia, who enters the weekend having allowed the fewest plays to be blown up in the backfield, yet defensively haven’t been overly successful at in that category.

Holgorsen Press Conference News & Notes

Moving on from its comeback win against Texas Tech Saturday, No. 23 West Virginia (4-2) looks ahead to its road matchup against Baylor (0-6) this weekend.

Despite its winless record, the Bears appeared to be moving in the right direction, playing some tighter games as of late, including going down to the wire against Oklahoma at the end of September.

That game against a ranked team was in Waco, as is this weekend’s matchup for Matt Rhule and company. It was the other head coach, Dana Holgorsen, that talked at WVU’s media availability Tuesday.

Mystery of the Unknown

Holgorsen commented that there are a number of relative unknowns heading into this week’s contest, mostly revolving around new coaches and their schemes.

Due to the circumstances at Baylor, it’s a different coaching regime in Waco than in years’ past.

“There’s nothing from the past that I can pull from,” Holgorsen said. “This is different. We have to do a good job as a coaching staff.”

Familiar Faces

It’s not all a mystery, though.

Zach Smith returns at quarterback to make another start against the Mountaineers. Smith took over late in the season a year ago and has started each of the last four games this year for the Bears.

Offensive Skill Positions

The head coach of the Mountaineers said that Baylor is deep at running back and wide receiver.

John Lovett is the lead back for the Bears, while Denzel Mimms is the top receiver.

Holgorsen admitted that he expects Baylor to try to establish the run against his defense.

“Like I said after the game (Saturday), we’ve got to do a better job at stopping the run,” said Holgorsen.

Carrying Momentum

Asked about whether or not momentum can be carried over from game to game, the head coach said he believes it’s a confidence factor more than anything that can be transferred by a team after a comeback like his pulled off.

“I would hope that would carry over,” he said.

Carrying the Ball

A lot of attention has been paid over the last few days to the Mountaineer running game, which had its worst output of the season on Saturday.

Although he admitted he’s getting tired of talking about it, Holgorsen said that he chalks some of the poor performance up to mentality, both of his team and of Texas Tech, who’s game plan was clearly to stop the run.

He also stated that he still has a good running team, which is accurate.

Midseason All-Americans

On Monday the NCAA’s Midseason All-Americans were announced, of which there were a number of representatives from the Big 12, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Included in that list was WVU wide receiver, David Sills.

“David’s doing a great job,” Holgorsen said. “I’m proud of him.”

Both All-American quarterbacks were Big 12 representatives, to which Holgorsen noted that it, “Says a lot of good things about the Big 12,” continuing to say that it says a lot when WVU quarterback Will Grier is having the season he is and was left off the list.

 

Report Card: Texas Tech

In what was truly a tale of two halves, West Virginia (4-2) pulled off its second largest fourth-quarter comeback ever Saturday to defeat No. 24 Texas Tech 46-35, ending a nine-game losing streak to ranked teams that dated back to 2014.

As you can expect, being that it was two very different teams on the field for the Mountaineers between the first and second halves (really the first three quarters and the fourth) the report card won’t be great.

 

Offense — C

This is the lowest grade the offense has gotten this year.

Will Grier was great, as always, completing 78 percent of his passes for five touchdowns, four of which came in the second half.

But the running game was practically non-existent.

Neither team finished the first quarter with positive rushing yardage, and the Mountaineers didn’t stay in the positives until late in the third quarter.

Two reasons stick out as to why, one that will be addressed here, and the other in another section.

The first is play calling.

Albeit, it is common for teams to abandon the run when trailing like WVU was, but for Justin Crawford to only carry the ball 14 times is odd.

And it highlights a trend that’s been growing over the last few weeks — West Virginia going to him early in the game and then going away from him for much of the first half.

 

Defense — D+

If not for a complete turn around in the fourth quarter, this group would’ve failed the test.

Missed tackles, bad coverage, not being able to recognize the opposing quarterback staring down his receivers, absolutely no push up front.

The troubling part was that early in the game Texas Tech wasn’t taking many chances down the field. It was a lot of screens and slants near, or behind, the line of scrimmage that turned into decent gains.

As we’ve seen before this year, though, the defense knows what time it is in the fourth. And you have to commend them for stopping one of the top offenses in the Big 12 when it mattered most.

However, giving up 190 yards on the ground to Texas Tech is disheartening. Texas Tech may be an improved team at running the ball, but to allow a team built around throwing the football to run it that well is sad.

You want to think a game next week against lowly Baylor could lead to some needed fixes, but that was the consensus heading into Lawrence, Kansas and it was not the case.

 

Special Teams — B-

It’s a good feeling to go a full 60 minutes of football and not see a kick-out-of-bounds penalty.

No missed field goals. Only allowing two yards on punt returns, and being better on kick return coverage all showed signs of improvement.

Compared to the lack of execution by Texas Tech and the Mountaineers special teams unit looked good.

You would like to see Marcus Simms be able to have better return lanes, especially when back to receive punts, but Texas Tech’s punt unit seemed faster than most.

West Virginia loses a full letter grade by allowing the long run on the fake punt. You could see it coming a mile away; Tech didn’t hide their intentions well yet it was defended even worse.

 

Linemen – D-

I won’t spend too much time here because it’s obvious to everyone. Line play is just not good.

Grier was sacked four times and was forced to move out of the pocket many others. Texas Tech also racked up five tackles for loss. On the other side, WVU was only able to register two sacks and four stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Offensive line play is the other reason I alluded to earlier as to why running the ball was so poor. The O-Line couldn’t get any push. Crawford is without a doubt the best running back in the Big 12, but he needs to have somewhere to go in order to help move the ball, and that wasn’t given to him Saturday.

 

Overall – D+

It was an amazing comeback despite a poor game played for three quarters, and Dana Holgorsen said that after the game. The Mountaineers have to be more consistent for the full four quarters if they want to continue to win ball games, especially with the meat of the schedule looming.

Good mid-October to you. My latest Top 25 football vote:
1. Alabama
2. Penn State
3. Georgia
4. TCU
5. Wisconsin
6. Ohio State
7. Miami
8. Oklahoma State
9. Oklahoma
10. USC
11. Clemson
12. Washington
13. South Florida
14. Notre Dame
15. Virginia Tech
16. Washington State
17. Michigan
18. North Carolina State
19. Michigan State
20. UCF
21. Stanford
22. WVU
23. LSU
24. Auburn
25. Memphis

Gameday Live: Texas Tech at WVU

The Mountaineers try to earn their first win over a ranked opponent this season in hosting the Red Raiders. Mitch Vingle is in the Puskar Stadium press box. You can follow the action with him right here.

At a midseason crossroads

So just how big is today’s game for WVU? Let’s look at what a win and a loss against Texas Tech would do to the perception of the Mountaineers.

Beat Texas Tech: WVU is 4-2, those two losses both by a touchdown to top-15 teams. The Mountaineers would have snapped a losing streak to top-25 opponents and still sport a winning record in the Big 12. It might, with some help, be enough to sneak back into the top 25, depending on how convincing that win over the Red Raiders would be.

Lose to Texas Tech: WVU would be 3-3, at .500 at the midpoint of the season. It would be 1-2 in the conference with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas still on the docket. So life wouldn’t get much easier. The three wins have come against opponents of questionable quality, the three losses to teams in the top 25. And WVU would have matched last season’s loss total in just six games.

So, yes, this game is a pretty big deal for West Virginia, at least in terms of its image. And let’s face it, when it comes to things like bowl selections, image is almost everything.

There’s no evidence that this will be a defensive struggle, not when both team’s defenses have struggled like these two throughout the season. WVU can point to a much-improved defensive performance against TCU as a sign that things are getting better.

West Virginia has to hope that TCU effort wasn’t just an outlier. There is plenty riding on it.

Scouting the Opponent: Texas Tech

West Virginia (3-2) looks to defend home turf Saturday when it hosts No. 24 Texas Tech (4-1). It’ll be the second-straight ranked opponent, and third overall this year, for the Mountaineers.

As WVU attempts to halt its losing streak against ranked teams, to whom it’s dropped each of the last nine games, we take a look at the squad it’ll try to stop it against.

Air-Raiders

Moving the ball through the air still remains as Options 1, 2, and 3 for Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech.

First-year-starting quarterback Nic Shimonek has led one of top offenses in the nation to an impressive start to the year.

Behind Shimonek, the Red Raiders have the highest scoring offense and the second-best passing attack in the Big 12.

They also like to spread the ball around. Five TTU receivers have caught at least 10 passes this year. For comparison, WVU has just five wideouts with at least five catches.

Keke Coutee is Texas Tech’s leading receiver. He’s hauled in 39 catches for nearly 600 yards. Cameron Batson, Dylan Cantrell have each caught at least 22 passes. Derrick Willies has been a big-play threat, averaging a team-best 17.8 yards per catch.

Improving the Ground Game

Fourth-year offensive coordinator Eric Morris has possibly followed Dana Holgorsen’s lead in recognizing how important a good running game can be.

Justin Stockton paces the TTU rushing attack with nearly 400 yards total this year, good enough for 77 yards per game.

Desmond Nisby leads Texas Tech with six rushing touchdowns.

Defense still not a strong suit

The mark against Texas Tech for years has been a lack of defense in Lubbock.

Despite improvements on the defensive side of the ball, it’s still not a group Red Raider fans should be hanging their hat on.

TTU is surrendering the eighth-most points per game in the conference, and ranks among the bottom three teams in both rush and pass defense.

A large number of one-on-one matchups on the outside, with undersized DBs no less, could be responsible for some of the underperformance by TTU.

Defensive players to watch out for

Jordyn Brooks (42) and Jah’Shawn Johnson (40) are the leading tacklers.

Kollin Hill and Eli Howard pace the Red Raiders in tackles for loss, and are two of the six players with at least two stops behind the line of scrimmage. Howard also leads the way in sacks with 2.5.

Oi, mate!

Holgorsen mentioned at his Tuesday press conference that Texas Tech punter Dominic Panazzolo punts with an Australian rugby style, which can be difficult for return men.

Panazzolo is averaging 40 yards per punt and has pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line five times.

Holgorsen press conference news and notes

The Mountaineers must bounce back from their second loss of the season when they host Texas Tech on Saturday.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen said that his team was obviously disappointed with the seven-point loss to TCU, but they appeared to respond with good energy when they met Sunday.

Here are some other takeaways from the team’s weekly media availability:

WR depth still a question

Depth at the wide receiver position has been an issue all season but was once again shown to be an issue on Saturday when only four wideouts caught passes.

Asked about the depth, Holgorsen, talking somewhat intensely, said they’d hoped this issues would’ve been taken care of a long time ago.

“Two months ago,” he said. Then followed that by saying it needs to improve, “Now!”

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said inexperience of the second group of receivers does play a part into the depth issues.

Reggie Roberson appears to be the next man up.

Finishing possessions

When asked about being unable to finish drives with points in the first half Saturday, the head coach agreed that was an area they needed to improve on in that game.

He did defend his offense, and rightly so, in that they’ve been more consistent at finishing lengthy drives this year than in recent seasons.

Fifteen times this season WVU has covered at least 75 yards in on possession and scored, with only one of those drives ending with a field goal.

Holgorsen pointed out that part of the problem Saturday was four times being pinned inside the 10-yard line in the first half against a well-coached TCU defense.

TTU playing better

Any questions about what the Texas Tech offense would look like in the post-Patrick-Mahomes era have been answered. It’s just as explosive.

“Texas Tech is playing good,” Holgorsen said. “They’re playing probably as good, or better, than we’ve seen since that first year we played them.”

Texas Tech has the highest-scoring offense in the Big 12, and quarterback Nic Shimonek is averaging over 386 passing yards per game.

Even though the stats may suggest that the Red Raider defense is still doing its best to maintain the Big 12’s “lack of defense” stature, Holgorsen said they can’t be taken lightly.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us when it comes to them,” Holgorsen said. “They’re sound in what they’re doing. They’re executing very well.”

Asked about the improvement of the TTU defense, Spavital said that he’s completely stopped looking at film of last year’s defense because this year’s Red Raider defensive unit is playing so much better.

Possibility for big days

Despite the improvements on defense in Lubbock, WVU wideouts may have the chance to have their best games yet.

Spavital said that Texas Tech’s defense creates a lot of one-on-one matchups with wide receivers.

“They’ve got some confidence in their guys,” Spavital said. “It’s a scheme that, they’re going to put us (in) one-on-one battles, and we’ve got to win them all.”

According to the depth chart, the Red Raiders are only planning on playing just two defensive backs taller than exactly 6 feet tall. That could bode well for West Virginia, that has David Sills V (6-4), Ka’Raun White (6-1), Gary Jennings (6-1), and Marcus Simms (6-0) that likely have the ability to get up higher than their defenders.

WVU Report Card: TCU game

Tough way to have Saturday’s game decided, isn’t it?

A game between two ranked conference foes coming down to the wire that the outcome is, in part, dictated by a questionable call on a completed pass that would’ve flipped the field and potentially led to a score.

Games between West Virginia and TCU have had a glaring tendency of coming down to the very end.

The way the game ended gets a big frowny face, and the principal has been called in to speak with the parents of the official in question, but as for the Mountaineers themselves, here’s how they graded out:

Offense – B

It wasn’t a great start to the game for the offense for sure. The second half brings this grade up some.

However, as unproductive WVU was, offensively, on the scoreboard, what the Mountaineers did was something I said before the game was important for them to do – possess the football.

The longer TCU had the ball, the more damage it was going to do and the more tired the defense was going to get. With West Virginia holding onto the football and winning the time of possession battle in the first half, it saved the defense for the end of the game.

In the passing game, Will Grier proved once again that he shows command and good presence in the pocket, despite being constantly pressured.

Running-wise, Justin Crawford eclipsed 100 yards for the fifth straight game and doing so against the conference’s top run defense, once again proving he’s the top back in the Big 12. Outside of Crawford, though, running the football wasn’t a viable option in this game.

Part of that was because of constantly running the ball up the middle instead of to the outside, but that’s been the “MO” of the Mountaineers for most of the season so the other backs should be used to it at this point.

Defense – B-

On the plus side, WVU held the best rushing team in the Big 12 to 50 yards under its season average. On the other hand, it still gave up 170 yards on the ground.

Individually, Mike Daniels had a good game in coverage, and David Long quickly made his presence known in his return to action from injury.

The trick plays hurt. Allowing the score on the WR pass back to Kenny Hill, and giving up the first down on the WR reverse on third down both came back to bite the Mountaineers.

To the defense’s credit, it held TCU to its second-lowest scoring output of the year. Lack of pressure and some key missed tackles knock the grade down a tad.

Linemen – C-

Both sides of the ball, just plain bad. It’s been a theme all season.

The defensive line gets no push, and the offensive line has a good first few drives before being overwhelmed.

Simply, both line groups need to improve.

Grier was under constant pressure, though, he did a good job of escaping it most of the game, and only one of the four tackles for loss by the WVU defense came from one of the linemen.

Special teams – C

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but West Virginia was issued a penalty for a kickoff going out of bounds.

The special teams unit also was at fault for a missed 29-yard field goal, and a turnover when trying to receive a punt in the first half that led to a TCU touchdown.

They also got outclassed by the Horned Frogs groups, which downed four punts inside the 10-yard line.

It’s often said that special teams can win or lose you ballgames on their own, and you can’t overlook that in this game.

Overall grade – C

Good morning folks. Here’s my latest AP Top 25 vote:
1. Alabama
2. Clemson
3. Penn State
4. Georgia
5. Washington
6. TCU
7. Wisconsin
8. Ohio State
9. Washington State
10. Auburn
11. Miami
12. USC
13. Oklahoma State
14. South Florida
15. Virginia Tech
16. Oklahoma
17. Michigan
18. San Diego State
19. Notre Dame
20. North Carolina State
21. Michigan State
22. UCF
23. Texas Tech
24. Navy
25. Stanford