WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

BLOG: WVU defense trends in the wrong direction

Through the first five games of the season, West Virginia’s defense was much stronger in the first half than in the second.

Some of that has to do with the opponent; some of it has to do with the offense building such a big lead in the first half that the defense was able to take its foot off the pedal in the second.

Whatever the case, in Games 1 through 5 of this year’s campaign, WVU’s “DAWGS” were giving up just 8.6 points per contest in the first half, while loosening up in the third and fourth quarters and surrendering 17.8 points per.

The trend has shifted from there, and it’s coming at a bad time.

Granted, playing better offenses like Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the Mountaineer defense has gotten two times worse in the first half in terms of points (19) over the most recent three games. It has gotten worse in the second half, too, giving up just over three touchdowns on average after halftime (21.3 points).

Why does this matter?

Iowa State.

The Cyclones have also shifted – on offense – being forced to change quarterbacks, which has led to a points shift.

With Jacob Park under center, the Cyclones were seven points per game better in the second half. Now, with Kyle Kempt at QB, the Cyclones are a first-half offense but have still been potent post-halftime.

It breaks down to, with Kempt running the show, ISU scoring 18.8 points per game in the first half and 13.25 points in the second.

With West Virginia’s defense getting statistically worse in the first half, and the Cyclones getting better in the opening two quarters, the possibility looms of another opposing team jumping out to an early lead on WVU’s home turf.

Iowa State’s offense has also been scoring at a higher rate outside of Ames.

WVU will need more than just David Long, as was largely the case this past weekend, this Saturday to stop Iowa State from continuing its impressive season.


WVU Report Card: Oklahoma State

A rainy day had little to no silver lining on the football field Saturday as the West Virginia Mountaineers (5-3, 3-2) dropped out of the rankings once again due to its 50-39 loss to Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1).

The loss not only looked bad, but came at a bad time with an extremely tough schedule coming up for WVU.

But before the Mountaineers can look ahead, let’s look back at Saturday one last time.

Offense – D-

Play calling was bad. The running game was non-existent. Receivers weren’t turning around and locating the football. Will Grier threw four interceptions as part of a five-turnover day for WVU.

Yeah, not much went right.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen was noticeably and understandably upset with his offense post-game. He said he was somewhat exaggerating when he said the unit had, “12 three and outs.” In reality, WVU did that five times. However, it did have ten possessions that lasted three plays or fewer.

Outside of 68-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Simms, West Virginia couldn’t hit on any big plays.

The offensive line continues to underperform.

If looking for a positive here’s one: WVU became the first team this year to throw for multiple touchdowns against the Oklahoma State defense.

Defense – D+

Thank goodness David Long was on the field or OK-State may have hit 70.

Long, playing in just his fourth game this year, made 18 tackles, seven of which were for a loss – a school record.

West Virginia gave up over 200 rushing yards for the third time this season, 142 of which was given up to JD King, who entered the game averaging just 43.3 yards per contest. Mason Rudolph was held under 300 passing yards for the second straight game. Some of that can be credited to WVU’s defense, but a lot of that can be credited to the rain and the Cowboys’ success on the ground.

Not getting a single stop on fourth down is concerning, as is only getting one sack.

Long himself keeps the defense grade from being any lower, and he deserves a big round of applause.

Special teams – A-

The debacle by the special teams unit at TCU must’ve been the wake-up call that group needed. Since then, this group has been playing well.

Saturday extends the streak to three straight games that WVU’s special teams outplayed its opponent’s. Evan Staley and Billy Kinney played well while Mike Molina nursed a hip injury suffered in Friday’s practice. Marcus Simms still seems to be finding his footing in the return game, though is making strides.

Meanwhile, the Mountaineer gunners and tacklers did a fairly good job of keeping Oklahoma State’s returners contained, and not giving up any big plays to a return unit that has not fared well this season.

And you can’t forget the blocked punt in the end zone, which helped change momentum for the time being in the third quarter. That was a big-time play.

Linemen – D+

The offensive line wasn’t nearly physical enough. Holgorsen said it himself after the game.

Grier was under constant pressure, which has been a theme over the last few games, and they didn’t hold blocks well for the running game.

Offensive line play was bad.

On the defensive side, the output was disappointing considering that OSU’s O-Line was banged up entering the game. Even with a few starters returning for the Cowboys, the line wasn’t 100-percent and should’ve been susceptible to more pressure.

With that said, it’s naïve to think Long and the linebacker crew doesn’t get into the backfield without a little help from the D-Line. But, a little help was all they got.

Overall – C-

Holgorsen’s comments were, “It’s about to get real uncomfortable around here.”

It’s unclear exactly what that means, but what is clear is that there’s a lot to work on this week in practice.

With only five full days separating now and another Top 15 team coming to Morgantown in Iowa State next weekend, there’s no time to waste.

Scouting the Opponent: No. 11 Oklahoma State

Arguably the most prolific offense in the nation comes to Morgantown Saturday.

Along with it comes a defense that has been limiting opponents in the area that West Virginia does best.

No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) comes to the Mountain State for a showdown with direct implications on the Big 12 title chase.

You watch the Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1) play every week, but here’s a scouting report on the Cowboys.

Rudolph the big-armed QB

Mason Rudolph is a Heisman candidate and one of the best to put on the Cowboys uniform for a number of reasons – he’s efficient, sees the field well, can extend plays when needed and has a good team around him.

He currently leads the nation in passing yards (2,650) and passing yards per game (378.6), and also has the third-highest quarterback rating (181.1) in the country.

Rudolph has completed 43 passes over 20 yards, fifteen of which have been thrown to his top wide receiver, James Washington.

Score quick and score often

Mountaineer fans have seen their team score at a torrid pace this year. Oklahoma State fans have seen the same in their offense.

The Cowboys have put together 21 touchdown-scoring drives that have taken less than two minutes to complete. Ten of those drives were capped off with six points in less than one minute.

Offensive line depth

Heading into Saturday, an unknown surrounding the Cowboys is the status of their offensive line. Entering this season head coach Mike Gundy had one of the top O-Lines in college football, but over the last few weeks, it has taken some hits.

First-team center Brad Lundblade has been dealing with an injury that’s caused him to miss each of the last two games and may keep him out of this one. There has also been a carousel at right guard, where three different players have gotten starts.

It’s unclear exactly how depleted the Cowboys are, but with multiple starters getting banged up last week against Texas, the “boys up front” are learning on the fly, which could be a good thing against a WVU front-three that gained some confidence last week.

Limit the passing attack

The Cowboys have had a bend-but-don’t-break pass defense this season.

WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital mentioned that Oklahoma State does a good job of not letting players get too deep on them. And head coach Dana Holgorsen said the OSU secondary could be the best that WVU has faced up to this point.

Both those factors have contributed to Oklahoma State only allowing four touchdown passes all year, and never more than one score through the air in a game.

Despite that, the Cowboys enter Saturday eighth in the Big 12 when it comes to pass defense.

Defensive players to watch

Free safety Tre Flowers not only leads Oklahoma State in tackles but also in interceptions. Flowers also has registered the most pass breakups on the team with six.

DeQuinton Osbourne paces the Cowboys defense in tackles for loss with six, as he is one of four players with at least four stops behind the line of scrimmage,

Osbourne is second on the team in sacks at three, trailing only Jordan Brailford, who has 3.5 sacks. No other Cowboys defender has two.

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

No. 22 West Virginia (5-2) is riding a two-game winning streak, with both wins involving fourth-quarter comebacks – one by the Mountaineers, and one against the Mountaineers that the Baylor Bears almost pulled off.

When asked about the recent comebacks, head coach Dana Holgorsen said they’re learning experiences that “give us confidence,” based on the fact that WVU has come out on the right side of the comeback both times.

“You go into that point up 25, to be in the situation we were in it’ll teach you a lot,” said Holgorsen.

Here are some other notes.

Oklahoma State worth the hype

Holgorsen and the rest of the Mountaineers that were available to the media Tuesday referred to No. 11 Oklahoma State as a top-10 team. Obviously, their ranking puts them just outside the top 10, but WVU believes the Cowboys are one of the ten best teams in the nation.

“They’re a good team. They’re an outstanding program,” Holgorsen said. “Offensively (they’re) as good as you’re going to see.”

He highlighted quarterback Mason Rudolph’s ability to throw the deep ball, and the Cowboys’ deep wide receiving corps that’s highlighted by James Washington.

Holgorsen admitted that the Mountaineers “got our work cut out for us on offense” based on what he said may be the best safety tandem they’ve seen this year in the Cowboys’ Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards.

Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said, when asked about Oklahoma State’s defense, said the Cowboys like to keep everything in front of them, acknowledging that’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve only surrendered four passing TDs this season

Defense getting better

Despite giving up the points in the fourth quarter, Holgorsen felt good about the way the WVU defense played Saturday in Waco for the first three quarters.

He said his team simply “got gassed” in the final period.

“I thought we took a step in the right direction at stopping the run, they had minus six yards through three quarters,” Holgorsen said. “But then we got tired.”

Running Pains

The head coach said he wished they would’ve given the ball to Kennedy McKoy more with Justin Crawford not carrying the load against Baylor.

Crawford appears to be banged up and/or slightly worn down, but Holgorsen said he’s getting treatment and that those bruises come with the position.

According to the head coach, McKoy looked better than he had all year on Saturday.

Benton’s Improved and Productive

Asked about Al-Rasheed Benton’s improvement, Holgorsen praised the production that the team’s getting out of Benton.

“Probably the smartest player I’ve coached on that said of the ball,” he said. “Defensively, he’s off the charts intelligent.”

Holgorsen referenced it, and Tony Gibson confirmed, that Benton’s “production points” (a measurement of a player’s productivity on the field) are as high as any defensive player in Holgorsen’s tenure.

WVU Report Card: Baylor game

Another game that fans report took years off their lives ends in an unconvincing win for the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday evening in Waco.

WVU appeared to be in complete control through the first half but then disappeared in the second half; basically a role reversal from last weekend’s win over Texas Tech.

A win is a win at the end of the day, but a 38-36 scare against a winless Baylor team doesn’t grade the best.

Offense – C

West Virginia’s passing attack was extremely effective in the first half against the Bears. Will Grier connected with David Sills V (pronounced Sills, not Seals) for two touchdowns in the in the opening two quarters, and then once again early in the third.

Grier was finding his main targets Sills and Gary Jennings early and often, and White found his rhythm as the game went on. The WVU QB only issued four incomplete passes in the first half.

However, for the second game in a row, West Virginia didn’t have much of a running game, which is a bit of a red flag considering Baylor entered the game as the only team in the Big 12 worse at defending the run than the Mountaineers.

Kennedy McKoy led the Mountaineers with 55 rushing yards on just seven carries, while Justin Crawford only managed 30 yards on ten carries as he saw very limited action, especially in the second half.

Problems arose, offensively, after Grier’s touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White that gave WVU a 38-13 lead with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter. From that point on, the Mountaineers were forced to punt three times and only amassed 33 yards of offense.

West Virginia’s offense continues to be unable to put together a full game.

Defense – B-

Speaking of not being able to put together a full game, the WVU defense is much the same.

WVU kept a big-play-capable Baylor offense contained in the first half, only giving up six points on field goals. It also limited the Bears to a 1-for-8 conversion-rate on third down in the first half.

Things turned around in the third quarter, during which a change was made at quarterback for BU. Then Trestan Ebner put his imprint on the game, getting loose for three scores, the last of which brought Baylor to within two points.

West Virginia did seem to get more pressure than it has all year, collecting six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, led by Al-Rasheed Benton who had 1.5 sacks and 4.5 stops in the backfield.

But the second half lapses loom and show that potentially no lead is completely safe for the Mountaineers.

Special Teams – B+

The special teams units had one of their best days at the office Saturday.

Marcus Simms seems to be getting more comfortable as a kick return man, rattling off the longest return of the day at 45 yards in the third quarter.

Mike Molina was perfect on his six total kicks, drilling a short field goal and then being perfect on all extra-point attempts.

Punter Billy Kinney only had two of his six punts be returnable.

WVU’s kick return coverage wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful by any means.

This was a good sign after the wakeup call two weeks ago against TCU.

Linemen – A

Give it up for the big boys up front Saturday.

Offensively, the Mountaineers kept the pocket clean for most of the game for Grier, which has been a problem in previous years against the Bears.

On the defensive side, West Virginia’s front three really came to play.

Lamonte McDougle continues to play well in his freshman year, and Adam Shuler arguably had his best game of the season with four tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.

Not only did they produce themselves, but they allowed other players like Benton, Kyzir White and David Long Jr., the ability to get into the backfield as well.

Overall – B

The Mountaineers played relatively well when you break it down, but the group-effort near collapse in the second half is still concerning.

WVU did what it was supposed to do against a winless team for about three-fourths of the contest, but that final period got a little too hairy.

West Virginia will take the win, though, especially knowing that its next opponent, Oklahoma State, also played an extremely close game against a lesser opponent on Saturday.

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.

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.


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