WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

BLOG: Nothing left to lose for WVU against Sooners

This should be the most relaxed West Virginia’s football team has been in playing the No. 3 team in the country in a long, long time … perhaps ever.

On the surface, there’s plenty of reason for heartburn. The Mountaineers are trying to keep this year’s win total as close to last year’s 10 as they can, and adding to the seven they already have is a must. They’ll face third-ranked Oklahoma in Norman, an insanely difficult place to play, and they’ll do so with Chris Chugunov, not the injured Will Grier, starting at quarterback.

Beneath the surface, WVU coach Dana Holgorsen knows so few people think his team can win, that there’s no reason to be nervous.

“What do we have to lose, you know?” he said earlier this week. “Let’s go play ball, let’s have fun.”

Now, Oklahoma has plenty to worry about. The Sooners won’t start Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield — Kyler Murray will start after Mayfield’s outburst of profanities and obscene gestures against Kansas — but Mayfield will play. And he’ll play next week when the Sooners face TCU in the Big 12 title game. And Oklahoma needs to win both those games to cement a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Who’s reaching for the Tums now?

The best shot for WVU today is for the Sooners to be looking a week, and further, ahead. Then, maybe, the Mountaineers can catch OU off balance and score an upset like Pitt did Friday over No. 2 Miami … or Pitt did in 2007 against WVU. West Virginia can play spoiler in Norman today, which would be a nice consolation for the manure sandwich life has fed it for the last week.

West Virginia will aim to do something it has not done since joining the Big 12 – beat Oklahoma – and do so without its starting quarterback.

Chris Chugunov leads the Mountaineers (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) into Norman to take on a fourth-ranked Sooners (10-1, 7-1) team that already knows it’s playing in the Big 12 title game next week. But that doesn’t mean Lincoln Riley’s club can let their foot off the gas. A home loss to an unranked WVU team could knock the Sooners out of the race for one of the four coveted spots in the College Football Playoffs.

For the third week in a row the Mountaineers have to game plan for two different quarterbacks, but they’re mostly planning to defend Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield.

Murray, then Mayfield

It’s not known how long he’ll be on the sideline, but Mayfield is not starting the game at quarterback. Instead, that will be Kyler Murray.

Murray gets the start due to Mayfield’s actions last week against Kansas, though he possesses a number of the same skill sets that Mayfield has. Murray is an athletic quarterback that can be successful through the air and on the ground. But make no bones about it, once Mayfield enters the game after his disciplinary time out, the offense is his.

Mayfield’s numbers

With Mayfield controlling the offense, the Sooners lead the country in a multitude of stats including total offense, yards per play and plays of 20-plus yards. WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen himself highlighted that the Sooners average 8.3 yards per snap in his meeting with the media Tuesday.

“They’re really good, offensively – the most efficient team I’ve seen in a long time,” Holgorsen said Tuesday. “I’ve never seen anybody average 8.3 yards a play over the course of 11 games.”

Mayfield, OU’s numbers versus WVU

Mayfield has lit up the Big 12 during his three years as the starter for the Sooners. However, his numbers haven’t been fantastic against the Mountaineers.

In his two games against West Virginia, Mayfield has only completed 57.5 percent of his passes and is averaging just 244.5 passing yards per game. Both of those numbers are much lower than his totals against other conference foes.

A majority of his damage against the Mountaineers came in the 2015 meeting in Norman, when the Sooners won 44-24 early in the season. In last year’s 56-28 drubbing in Morgantown, the loaded Oklahoma backfield did a lot of the work, amassing over 300 yards on the ground.

A look at the Oklahoma defense

The Oklahoma defense hasn’t been great, but it’s been getting the job done.

The Sooners rank towards the middle of the Big 12 in a number of defensive categories, including scoring, total, rush and pass defense. They are, however, better than the Mountaineers, statistically, in all of those categories except for pass defense, though the difference is just 10 yards per game.

Schematically, the Sooners don’t appear to be too different from what West Virginia faced last week in Texas, according to Holgorsen. One area that Mike Stoops’ defense has not been excelling at all in is red zone defense. The Sooners are eight in the Big 12 and ranked 92nd nationally in stopping opponents once they get inside the 20-yard line.

Senior defensive end/linebacker Ogbonnia Okronkwo leads the Big 12 and is tied for 13th in the nation with eight sacks, and is second in the conference with three forced fumbles. He also has tallied 17 tackles for loss on the year and has registered at least one stop behind the line of scrimmage in every game.

BLOG: Holgorsen talks plenty about WVU quarterbacks

Chris Chugunov’s tenure as WVU’s starting quarterback has begun in Morgantown.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen was asked multiple questions about the quarterback situation at Tuesday’s media session, including if it’s more feasible to try to tailor the offense to Chugunov or to try to tailor him to the offense that’s already in place. Holgorsen said the offense will change some, more so choosing the first option over the latter, but said the junior quarterback does have a lot of capabilities.

“He knows what to do,” Holgorsen said. “There wasn’t anything that he did last week that he didn’t know. He’s been here for three years.”

Holgorsen happy with Chugs

The head coach said he was pleased with the way his now-starting quarterback played in the place of the injured Will Grier on Saturday against Texas.

“I was happy with the way he competed last week,” Holgorsen said. “He went in there and competed his tail off. He got knocked around a little bit and kept getting up. He knew where to go with the ball. It’s just timing and reps.”

However, he did echo his statement from after the game, saying he wished the players around him on the offensive unit would’ve rallied around Chugunov better. He said the offense needs to step up and play above themselves to a degree in order to help Chugunov this week.

‘Oh crap’

That was how Holgorsen described the reaction of the team in the immediate moments following Grier sustaining his finger injury. He talked about that being the “human element” that took over the team for the second quarter, which is to be expected and is definitely understandable.

“I can’t just pinpoint just … our whole sideline was like, ‘Oh crap,’” Holgorsen said.

What do we have to lose?

The head coach posed this question Tuesday, with the answer being nothing. West Virginia isn’t expected to win Saturday – Oklahoma is currently a 22.5-point favorite and is given a 90.4-percent chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

“I can’t remember the last time we’ve been in a situation (like this),” Holgorsen said. “What do we got to lose? Let’s go play ball. Let’s have fun. Let’s rally around Chugs. Let’s play our tails off.

“This season changes drastically if we go win this one. Nobody expects us to win.”

Thanksgiving Week

On a lighter note, Holgorsen said this is one of his favorite weeks of the year.

“It’s a football week,” Holgorsen said. “It has everything to do with just football and being with your football family.”

He said with school being out, and most students back in their hometowns, that there are fewer distractions and the team can focus just on football. Some players will go home Thursday, and those that aren’t close enough to be home with their family will be eating with teammates or coaches. This comes with the caveat that all players must be in their own beds Thursday night before the team heads to Norman on Friday.

Recruiting Opportunity

If there’s a positive outcome of not playing in the Big 12 title game next week, it’s that the WVU coaching staff can do more recruiting than they’ve been able to do the last few seasons at this time. Holgorsen said that based on the Mountaineers schedule over the past two years, that they’ve only had one week around this time of year to do recruiting.

This year, because of not playing in the conference championship game, and with the NCAA’s early signing period, Holgorsen said he and his staff has about three weeks to hit the road and talk to potential future Mountaineers and their families and high school coaches.

Saturday’s loss on the gridiron was multidimensional.

A loss any Saturday stings, but losing at home on Senior Day and losing your starting quarterback for at least next weekend’s season finale, if not the bowl game as well, adds on to the bad feeling.

Regardless, the show must go on.

In the meantime, here’s how the team graded out Saturday.

Offense – C-

Obviously the offense was put in a tough spot after Will Grier went out with the gruesome finger injury that now requires surgery.

Backup quarterback Chris Chugunov was thrust into a situation that no one could’ve expected.

However, the offense wasn’t looking great prior to the injury. The Mountaineers were forced to punt on each of their first two possessions. A 15-yard penalty against the Longhorns and a 34-yard play down the sideline to David Sills V flipped the field and set up WVU in scoring position.

It took too many plays, though, which coaches talked about after the game. That’s what forced Grier to run to the outside on the play he got hurt on.

The offense still struggled to score after Chugunov got his feet underneath him, only putting up seven points.

I give the unit a bit of a pass given the circumstance, but the fact of the matter is that the offense isn’t consistent or operating smoothly – both in play calling and in on-field production.

Defense – C-

For the fourth time this season, the Mountaineers gave up 200 yards rushing. It wasn’t just one Texas player that was having success, there were multiple.

Running backs Daniel Young and Kyle Porter, as well as quarterback Sam Ehlinger, all averaged over seven yards per carry.

Tackling continues to be sub-par.

Pass defense wasn’t bad, but it was clear Texas’ game plan was to beat WVU on the ground, and it did.

One touchdown the defense surrendered can be blamed on the offense for fumbling inside its own 10-yard line. But giving up 28 points to a Texas team that hasn’t been especially strong, and doing so while allowing a bad running team to look like a good running team is concerning.

Special Teams – B

You wondered what kind of game it was going to be for Billy Kinney when his second punt went off the side of his foot and just traveled 22 yards.

He was fine other than that, for the most part.

WVU also didn’t allow a single kick return, and minimized the punt return yardage, as well.

Over the past few weeks, special teams has been the most consistent unit on the team.

Linemen – D

The guys up front didn’t have their best game.

Chugunov seemed to be under constant pressure once he entered the game, and Grier was feeling some pressure from the Texas defense early on, as well.

On the other side, the Longhorn offensive line was opening up big holes for its backs to get through.

The D-Line didn’t get much pressure, and the O-Line was giving up pressure.

Overall – C-

Like mentioned earlier, the team as a whole was put in a tough spot when Grier went down. That can’t be overlooked.

With that said though, Saturday wasn’t one of the Mountaineers better on the year.

Not much shakeup this week.
1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Clemson
6. Auburn
7. Ohio State
8. Georgia
9. Notre Dame
10. TCU
11. USC
12. Penn State
13. UCF
14. Washington State
15. Mississippi State
16. Washington
17. Oklahoma State
18. Memphis
19. USF
20. Stanford
21. LSU
22. Michigan State
23. Northwestern
24. Virginia Tech
25. Michigan

Gameday Live: No. 24 WVU hosts Texas

The Mountaineers close their home schedule with a visit from the Longhorns. A win over Texas on Saturday keeps alive WVU’s hopes of sneaking into the Big 12 title game.

Mitch Vingle is in the Milan Puskar Stadium press box for today’s action. Follow along with him right here:

The final home game of the regular season pits West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) in a battle of strength-vs-strength between its explosive offense and Texas’ (5-5, 4-3) tough defense that’s been limiting Big 12 teams to season lows all year long.

WVU goes for its third win in a row, while the Longhorns try to escape Morgantown with a win and a spot in a postseason bowl game.

Texas’ defense has been one of the main sticking points when talking about the matchup, and that’s where we’ll start.

“Flavor of the Week” Defense

Despite all the prep work imaginable, there are a few things the Mountaineers won’t know about the Longhorns prior to kickoff Saturday, and one of those things is how much blitzing UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando is going to do.

Earlier in the week, WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital equated the blitzing tendencies – or lack thereof – to a “flavor of the week.” Some weeks the defense leans heavily on the blitz, other weeks it’s 50-50, and others Texas drops back into coverage more times than not.

Stop the run, Contain the pass

Something that hasn’t waned from week to week has been the Longhorns ability to stop the run. Texas ranks second in the Big 12 in rush defense, scoring defense and total defense, one of the reasons it’s played a number of close games this year.

One downside to the defense has been its inconsistency in stopping opposing passing attacks, of which WVU has one of the best.

Bombs away punting

Longhorn punter Michael Dickson was said to be the “best punter I’ve ever seen,” by Dana Holgorsen Tuesday.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time nearing five seconds according to Holgorsen.

Two-QB System

Whether it’s inconsistent play, indecisiveness on part of the coaching staff, or the plan all along, Texas has been rolling with two quarterbacks splitting playing time for most of the year.

For the second week in a row, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson enters Saturday not knowing for sure which quarterback his defense will be lining up in front of.

Shane Buechele is the listed starter on the depth chart, with Sam Ehlinger listed as the backup.

According to coaches, Buechele is the better passer of the two – evidence being his higher completion percentage – and Ehlinger is more of an athletic quarterback used to hurting opposing teams with his feet.

Not much of a run game

Texas’ offense hasn’t seen consistent production on the ground, being held under 100 rushing yards as a team four times this season, including ending the game two weeks ago against TCU with just nine rushing yards.

Ehlinger has arguably been the Longhorns best runner this season.

Of the three times this season that a single Texas rusher has eclipsed 100 rushing yards, Ehlinger has accomplished it twice.

Relief could be on the way, though, for the Longhorns, who get back starting left tackle Connor Williams.

Okay, so West Virginia’s chances at the Big 12 title game are a lot better than one in a million. But the Mountaineers will need plenty of help along the way.

WVU could use an Oklahoma State loss to either Kansas State or Kansas. TCU needs to lose to either Texas Tech or Baylor. Oklahoma needs to lose to Kansas.

Let’s be honest from the start: If any of those three teams lose to Kansas or Baylor, one might want to start checking the sky for four ugly guys riding horses. The apocalypse might be upon us. Yet crazy things have been known to happen. Take, for instance, the fact that TCU won’t have quarterback Kenny Hill for Saturday’s Texas Tech game, and the Red Raiders aren’t slouches. Neither is Kansas State, and the Cowboys might be caught napping.

Of course, none of that matters if the Mountaineers don’t handle their own business — beating both Texas this week and Oklahoma next week. The Longhorns, great at stopping the run, not so much at stopping the pass, will probably make WVU look one-dimensional this afternoon. But, man, will Texas hate that dimension. Will Grier is putting together one of the greatest season passing performances in Mountaineer history. If this turns into a track meet, can Texas keep up?

A lot of balls have to bounce WVU’s way the next two weeks, perhaps too many for everything to work out. But there’s a big enough crack in the doorway to keep fans interested down the home stretch. And at this point, that’s all anyone can ask for.

Blog: Holgorsen has plenty of praise for Texas defense

High praise for the Texas Longhorns (5-5, 4-3) highlighted No. 24 West Virginia (7-3, 5-2) head coach Dana Holgorsen’s meeting with the media Tuesday.

Among those kudos was calling the Texas defense the best the Mountaineers have faced this season; the latest in a long line of stout defenses that WVU has faced this year. According to the head coach, as well as assistant coaches and players, WVU has its work cut out for them this weekend, and it starts when going up against the Longhorn defense.

Versatile defense

Holgorsen highlighted the front six or seven of the Texas D. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital spoke highly of the secondary.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us, offensively,” Holgorsen said. “It’s the best defense we’ve faced.”

The head coach talked about the experience of the Longhorns on that side of the ball – noting that UT defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has, “Fifteen juniors and five seniors.”

Listed on the depth chart is a total of 17 upperclassmen, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more waiting on the sideline. Spavital talked about the number of blitz packages that WVU could have to defend, coming from all areas of the field. Based on the talk Tuesday, Orlando should remind West Virginia fans of their own defensive coordinator, Tony Gibson, in that both will blitz on any given down if it feels right.

QB Carousel, Part 2

For the second week in a row, Gibson and company enter the week scratching their heads about which opposing quarterback they see. This week, though, it may be more of a matter of when than if.

According to coaches, listed starter Shane Buechele is more of a passer with a big arm that can run when needed. Listed backup Sam Ehlinger, who has started half of the Longhorns’ games this season, is more of an athletic quarterback that can hurt teams with his arm.

Asked how that affects game planning, Holgorsen said it can create a challenge, but mainly if the difference in quarterbacks dictates a different play calling need or strategy to stop him versus the other option.

Highly Praised Punter

Without being asked about him, Holgorsen talked about Longhorn punter Michael Dickson.

Dickson, out of Sydney, Australia, is a majority of the reason that Texas leads the nation in net punting (44.7 ypg) and is averaging over 48 yards per punt with a hang time, according to Holgorsen, that’s nearing five seconds.

That prompted Holgorsen to say this:

“Dude needs to go pro right now,” Holgorsen said. “He’s just a junior, but he needs to hurry up and get his degree and go pro. He’s that good.”

Still Looking for Consistency

When asked about his own offense, Holgorsen echoed some of the sentiments he made known after Saturday’s game, saying he wants the offense to be more consistent.

Tuesday he continued by saying that he’d like to see more consistent results on offense no matter who the Mountaineers are facing, and no matter what facet of the game you’re talking about – be it passing game, run game, blocking, etc.

Senior Week

Saturday’s game against Texas will be the final home game for the 20 seniors on the Mountaineer roster.

One oddity of this year’s senior class is that it’s split right down the middle. There are 10 fourth- and fifth-year seniors, and 10 junior college transfers. The best example of that split is with the White brothers, Ka’Raun and Kyzir. The former came to Morgantown after two years at Lackawanna College, and the latter has only played college football in the Old Gold and Blue.

“This is the end of the White era. That is sad,” Holgorsen said.

Holgorsen said his two “main guys” with this team have been Al-Rasheed Benton and Elijah Wellman, adding that the White brothers have also been special, but saying that all the seniors have been, not wanting to single or leave anyone out.

Early flight out from Kansas City, but here’s my Top 25 vote for this week.

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Oklahoma
4. Wisconsin
5. Clemson
6. Auburn
7. Ohio State
8. Georgia
9. Notre Dame
10. Oklahoma State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Penn State
14. UCF
15. Washington State
16. Mississippi State
17. Memphis
18. Michigan
19. South Florida
20. Washington
21. WVU
22. LSU
23. N.C. State
24. Stanford
25. Michigan State