The West Virginia Mountaineers face their toughest test so far this season with a date in Fort Worth with TCU. Mitch Vingle is in the press box. Follow the action with him right here.
The fun and games are over for the West Virginia football team.
It was a nice run of warmup games following that grueling season opener versus Virginia Tech. Beating up on East Carolina, Delaware State and Kansas got the kinks out. Yet now the real season begins for the Mountaineers.
Like I mentioned last week, the rest of WVU’s 2017 schedule is daunting. Five of their remaining opponents currently sport winning percentages of .750 or better. Oklahoma is still on the table. So is Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs are a beast at home and have the added juice of ESPN College GameDay setting up shop outside their stadium today.
The good news? WVU took a very, very good Virginia Tech team to the limit. It showed it can hang with the big boys. The not-so-good news? West Virginia’s defense has left something to be desired. The really, really, really good news? Let Mitch Vingle tell you that:
Big news that could impact tomorrow’s WVU-TCU game. Gazette-Mail has learned both David Long and Toyous Avery will play and start for WVU.
— Mitch Vingle (@MitchVingle) October 7, 2017
That’s just the boost the Mountaineers need heading into the teeth of their schedule. We’ll soon see how much it will mean.
Game day is here. It’s the No. 8 TCU Horned Frogs (4-0) hosting the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers (3-1).
It’s an early-season game that could go a long way in determining if either of these teams play in the Big 12 Championship game on December 2.
Both teams are well-rested and getting healthier coming off bye weeks, and that’s a good place to start when scouting TCU.
Running game gets better
The Horned Frogs are the top running team in the Big 12, averaging over 230 yards on the ground per game.
Darius Anderson paces TCU with 105.5 rushing yards per contest and has a knack for finding the end zone with a team-high six touchdowns.
As good as they’ve been this season, the Frogs do get a key piece back this week.
Kyle Hicks, who last year was one of four running backs in the nation to lead his team in rushing yards and receptions, is expected to return for this game, which adds another element to the TCU offense.
He’s only played in two games due to injuries and is looking to get on track against a shaky WVU rush defense.
Rush defense is impressive
As good as TCU is at running the football, Gary Patterson’s defense is equally as good as stopping the run.
Patterson’s unit is holding opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game, and limited Jackson State just 24 yards on 42 rushing attempts in the season opener last month.
Helping to stop the run, among others, have been Travin Howard and Ben Banogu. Banogu is among the five best in the Big 12 in terms of tackles for loss (6), and Howard leads TCU in total tackles (26) and is among the team leaders in plays stopped in the backfield (3).
As a team, the Horned Frogs have stopped 30 plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Defense as a whole is good
It’s not just the rush defense that’s been good for TCU.
Patterson’s defense ranks second in the conference in total defense. Opposing passers are completing less than half their throws, and the Horned Frogs are second in the conference in interceptions.
They’re also tops in the Big 12 in sacks and have allowed the fewest first downs to opponents.
Will Grier and the Mountaineer offense will have their work cut out for them.
Kenny Hill and T.O.P
Along with the running game, two other elements of the TCU offense have been working well – quarterback Kenny Hill, and time of possession.
Hill is sixth in the nation in completion percentage, and he’s holding his own in a conference with a number of talented quarterbacks with a high quarterback rating.
He’s also been spreading the ball around. Hill has completed at least one pass to 17 different receivers.
With Hill being efficient through the air, and the ground game operating as good as any team in the nation, TCU has excelled in hanging on to the football.
The Horned Frogs are only being outdone by Texas in the Big 12 in time of possession, and are possessing the football for more than 33 minutes per game.
When West Virginia decided to leap from the Big East to the Big 12, many wondered how the various athletic programs would fare in their new home.
Mountaineer baseball was no different, some even wondering if it’d make the transition at all.
As you know the program is still very much intact. It’s in a shiny new home that catches players’ attentions, is possibly playing as well as it ever has, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Not in the too distant past baseball at WVU was not something that had folks’ attention in the spring. Current players and coaches have noted at various times over the past 12 months or so that they’ve ran into people from the Mountain State or surrounding areas that weren’t aware of Hawley Field and the players that played on it.
“Everybody’s looking at us now. Some people didn’t even know we had a baseball team in this state,” Braden Zarbnisky said Thursday when asked about what last year did for the program. “Now everybody’s watching us and we have a target on our back.”
They’re all very aware now.
Since Randy Mazey’s arrival in 2013, the program has steadily improved, doing so in one of the best conferences in College Baseball, battling the likes of traditional powerhouses Texas, Oklahoma State and TCU – Mazey’s former employer.
Maybe a signal of the Mountaineers arrival was in the Big 12 preseason coach’s poll before the 2017 season. TCU received nine of the ten first-place votes.
West Virginia got the lone other.
With the new conference came a new field to play in.
WVU is 46-28 in Monongalia County Ballpark, which opened in 2015. But it was working it’s magic before the first shovel was put into the ground.
Duane Davis, the father of now-former Mountaineer infielder and outfielder Kyle Davis, told me a few years ago that when his son was being recruited by the Mountaineers the pictures of what would become the new stadium did the job.
That story holds true for other players on the roster as well.
Now, it’s the finished product that has become the selling point. Walking on the field this past season after multiple pre-game interviews for U-92 with Mazey, potential recruits watching the Mountaineers take batting practice would comment to one another about it.
One player, in particular, summed it up, “Damn this place is nice.”
Yes, it is.
A recent trip to the NCAA tournament can now get thrown into the recruiting pitch, as well. As can having on staff two of the most respected pitching coaches in college baseball in Mazey and Dave Serrano, who joined the Mountaineers this summer.
Serrano’s arrival maybe could not have come at a better time, entering a pitching staff that is talented but currently rehabbing injuries to some of it’s biggest pieces.
Serrano, meeting with the West Virginia media for the first time Thursday, said not much recruiting needed to be done on the part of Mazey to get him to come be a Mountaineer.
“I have a lot of respect for Randy Mazey, always have,” Serrano said. “Have coached against him. He was a friend, a peer, from afar.”
As the story goes, Mazey initially contacted Serrano about one of his assistants at Tennessee. Then he became the focus.
“I went home actually, like recruits should do, and went online,” Serrano continued. “I looked at the campus, I looked at the facility, and I was kind of blown away. I called him back and said, ‘That question you asked me, the answer would be yes. I would be interested.’ Credit to this program.
“I chose West Virginia one, for Randy Mazey and his coaching staff, and two, because of the direction that the program is going.”
There’s a sense around this team that hasn’t fully apparent before.
Entering the last two seasons the prospect of good things were certainly there. Now, though, that prospect or desire has turned into reality and expectations.
West Virginia now expects to be near the top of the Big 12 and have a true say in which team from the conference gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. It expects to be in said NCAA tournament, by way of winning the conference championship or making it on the merit of a good regular season. It now even expects to be one of the host teams for the regional tournament.
Even though first pitch of the 2018 season is over four months away we should believe them. Doubting them is only part of why they are where they are now.
A few weeks ago Dana Holgorsen talked about the extreme familiarity between his program and his opponent’s, but Tuesday it was the common ground between TCU and WVU that he noted prior to the Top-25 showdown that will take place Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.
“TCU is always a fun one,” he said. “I just think if you look (at) the similarities between the two programs it builds a lot of interest in this game.”
For clarity, the Mountaineer head coach was talking about how the two programs have gotten to where they are today – dominating conferences not as prominent as the current Power-5 and then more than holding their own in the Big 12.
Here are other notes from his time at the podium.
It’s a Gary Patterson Defense
TCU head coach Gary Patterson is known for defense; it’s what he’s built TCU on.
Holgorsen is obviously very aware of not only Patterson’s reputation but also the defense that he’s got this year.
“They’ve been doing the same thing defensively for 20 years,” Holgorsen said. “That’s (Patterson’s) stamp on college football.”
He continued to say that this year’s Horned Frogs defensive unit is, “as good as they’ve always been defensively, and their stats show that.”
TCU is second best in the conference in terms of total defense.
Run it good, defend it better
The Horned Frogs are best in the Big 12 at defending against the run, one of just two teams in the conference that are allowing fewer than 100 yards per game on the ground.
Two players to watch out for on Gary Patterson’s defense are Travin Howard and Ben Banogu. Howard is top 20 in the Big 12 in tackles, and Banogu is among the five best in the conference in both sacks (3) and tackles for loss (6).
Offensively, TCU is also best in the conference in the ground game, averaging well one yard more (232.2) than the Mountaineers per game.
Both teams have scored 12 times on the ground, but the Horned Frogs do run the ball slightly more than WVU does on a week-to-week basis.
Asked about combating the run game, Holgorsen said it starts up front.
“We got to do a better job up front holding gaps,” he said. “We need guys to step up and be real dudes.”
Lamont McDougle may be the one to do it, as he’s been garnering a lot of attention from the coaching staff over the past few weeks.
And a good October to you, my friends. Here’s my early Sunday morning vote:
4. Penn State
10. Ohio State
12. Washington State
15. Oklahoma State
17. South Florida
19. Notre Dame
20. Virginia Tech
22. San Diego State
23. West Virginia
24. North Carolina State
As you probably know by now, West Virginia is off this Saturday.
The Mountaineers get an extra week to prepare for next weekend’s ranked-vs-ranked matchup against No. 9 TCU.
In the meantime, Mountaineer nation has Saturday off, too, without Will Grier, Justin Crawford and the rest of the Old Gold and Blue to watch.
Of course, thanks to 21st century technology, fans can watch past WVU games if they want. Here’s a list of some options of previous Mountaineer games to watch:
WVU v Baylor, 2012 – 70-63 W
WVU v Clemson, 2011 Orange Bowl – 70-33 W (Note: 100-yard fumble return at 59:10)
WVU v Oklahoma, 2008 Fiesta Bowl – 48-28 W (Note: Runaway beer truck at 1:00:35)
WVU v Miami 1993 – 17-14 W
If you’re interested in watching games from Week 5 of this season, below are some of the games that should peak your interest. And luckily for some fans, the good games really don’t start until 3:30.
So stay out late Friday night and sleep in Saturday morning.
No. 7 Georgia at Tennessee (3:30, CBS)
Baylor at Kansas State (3:30, ESPN 2)
No. 24 Mississippi St. at No. 13 Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN)
No. 2 Clemson at No. 12 Virginia Tech (8 p.m., ABC)
No. 15 Oklahoma St. at Texas Tech (8 p.m., FOX Sports)
There’s not a lot in terms of Big 12 implications this weekend. Just over half of the conference’s teams are in action, and none of the top three teams.
The last of the aforementioned games is the biggest in the Big 12.
Oklahoma St. surely needs to bounce back from last week’s loss to TCU if the Cowboys want to stay in the hunt for the Big 12 Championship. But what a huge win it would be for Kliff Kingsbury and company if they, too, were able to knock off Mike Gundy’s squad.
Earlier this week it was announced by West Virginia that forward Esa Ahmad will miss the first half of the upcoming season after failing to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
Ahmad, a former four-star recruit out of Cleveland, was the second-leading scorer for the Mountaineers last year, averaging 11.3 points per game and finished third in rebound at 4.3 per contest.
Despite being one of the most important players on a young team that includes just four upperclassmen, maybe Ahmad missing time isn’t the worst thing for the program.
Huggins said himself, when asked about the depth of the team, that the young players were going to have to step up regardless.
“They were going to play anyways,” Huggins said. “D’Angelo (Hunter) has had a good summer, (Wesley Harris) has had a good summer.”
The head coach continued to say, “What it does is it gives Logan Routt an opportunity to play meaningful minutes. But he’s worked hard at it. He’s much improved.”
Without Ahmad, a projected starting lineup could look something like: Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., Lamont West, Maceij Bender and Sagaba Konate. After that, James “Beetle” Bolden and Routt would be first off the bench.
That’s a very long and tall starting lineup, a perfect match for Huggins’ patented “Press Virginia” style of play.
In Ahmad’s absence, though, Huggins will find out right away what players he will be able to use once the forward returns in January just after the start of Big 12 play.
Ahmad will miss key games against Texas A&M, Virginia and Pittsburgh, but West Virginia should be able to get through non-conference play relatively unscathed, even with Ahmad not on the court. He will be back with the club by the time WVU hosts Kentucky in late January.
Much like there’s not an exact date as to when Ahmad will be reinstated, there’s not an exact date when we’ll know if there was a positive payoff to the situation. Dec. 5 against UVA is a good place to look, though.
But with Ahmad out we’ll get to learn the depth of this team quickly. And if Huggins finds he has a deep team without Ahmad, think of what getting him back in the lineup will do.
The regular season begins November 10 against Texas A&M at 6 p.m. ET, with the game being played at the Ramstein Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany as part of the Armed Forces Classic.
Big 12 play begins on the road in Stillwater against Oklahoma St. on Dec. 29.
You can find the full schedule here.
The WVU men’s basketball team took a big hit to its roster for the first half of the season when it announced forward Esa Ahmad would be ineligible for that time period. So what does that mean for the Mountaineers?
Nothing good until January.
To begin, the Mountaineers lose a veteran starter. The junior has started 66 of the 68 games in which he has played. It also could change the way Bob Huggins formulates his lineup. For most of last season, his starting five included two guards and three forwards. When Ahmad went down with a back injury in the end of February, WVU switched to a three-guard lineup — Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Daxter Miles. Phillip has graduated, so if Huggins goes that route again in Ahmad’s absence, he has to find another guard worthy of joining the lineup with Carter and Miles.
But would WVU want to work a three-guard lineup for half a season and then switch to two guards for the other half? A three-game solution is one thing, but 15 or 16 games? That might mean another forward gets the call. The Mountaineers already are looking for two more starting forwards now that Nate Adrian graduated and Elijah Macon left early to go pro. Now all three of last year’s starting forwards are gone until early January. And Ahmad was last season’s second-leading scorer and third-leading rebounder.
Who steps into Ahmad’s place? Looking at the minutes played last year, that could be Lamont West, who is a more prolific 3-point shooter and less prolific rebounder. Sagaba Konate is WVU’s top shot blocker, but will need to play more than 11 minutes a game. Expect D’Angelo Hunter and Wesley Harris to be counted on early. That’s why teams bring in junior college transfers in the first place.
None of this puts WVU in a great position. Ahmad won’t be available against Texas A&M, Virginia, Pitt or the first three games of the Big 12 schedule. Huggins meets with the media Thursday, and it will be interesting to see if any more light gets shed on his lineup plans for the first part of the 2017-18 campaign.
With West Virginia having this weekend off from game action, only head coach Dana Holgorsen spoke at Tuesday media availability. He started off on a somber note, confirming that Brendan Ferns will miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
The head coach said that Ferns was, “Probably our most solid special teams guy.” He is likely to miss six months and be back from spring practice.
Here are some other takeaways:
Options, Feelings with Ferns
Asked about the possibility of whether or not the program could redshirt Ferns for the remainder of the year, Holgorsen said it’s an option but something they’re going to wait on.
It’s the second-straight season he’d suffered a season-ending setback.
It was also easy to tell that Holgorsen felt bad for, and appreciates, Ferns and what he’s meant to the team.
Despite Ferns’ injury, the head coach feels good about where the team is, health-wise, saying, “We’re as healthy right now as we have been all year.”
The bye week only helps the team continue to get back to as close to full strength as possible.
Holgorsen said that this week and next they’re going to start shuffling guys around on defense as they get players back, with David Long’s name being mentioned.
Holgorsen seemed very pleased by the performance of his offensive line Saturday.
“Pressure was limited,” said the head coach. “I thought we pass protected pretty good. I thought we ran blocked pretty good as well against a decent front.”
On the flip side, he was not happy with the production from his defensive linemen, outside of Lamonte McDougle.
“He’ll probably be playing more.”
Slip and Slide
Asked about quarterback Will Grier’s ability, or lack thereof, to slide when escaping the pocket, Holgorsen said it’s something he needs to work on.
He added, laughingly, that Grier is simply bad at falling or sliding down, saying he might need to bring baseball head coach Randy Mazey over to teach sliding technique.
On the plus side, Holgorsen has consistently commended his QB’s abilities inside the pocket and knowing when to escape.
WVU returns to action next Saturday, on the road at TCU.
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