WVU Sports with Tom Bragg

Scouting the Opponent: TCU

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.


Times have changed on the diamond

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.


Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

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.




Scouting the opponent: Bye week blues

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.

A positive look at the Esa Ahmad suspension

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.

Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

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.

Getting Healthy

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.

The Hogmollies

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.

Scouting the Opponent: Kansas

West Virginia (2-1) hits the road this weekend to take on Kansas (1-2) at noon ET on Saturday.  It’s the first true road game for the Mountaineers in 2017.

Head coach Dana Holgorsen said on Tuesday he expects to be tested by the Jayhawks, also saying he didn’t want to leave anyone out when asked about Kansas players to watch out for, in hopes of not becoming bulletin board material in Lawrence.

Here’s a quick look at David Beaty’s club.

Jayhawks move it through the air 

Offensively, the Jayhawks have been much more efficient through the air than they have been in recent years.

Quarterback Peyton Bender became the fastest Kansas passer to eclipse 1,000 passing yards and is attempting to become the first 2,000-yard passer in Lawrence since 2009.

Not a ton of options 

Even though Bender appears to be one of the best passers Kansas has had in some time, his options of players to throw to are somewhat limited.

His favorite targets are wideout Steven Sims Jr. and tight end Ben Johnson. Sims hauled in six catches for 60 yards last week in his return to action. The week prior, he started but could not finish the game due to an ankle injury, which ended his streak of 24-straight games with at least one catch.

Johnson, a senior, is averaging over 14 yards per reception.

Running the football 

Defensively, Beaty’s team hasn’t fared great against the run, which isn’t a good sign when welcoming in the Big 12’s leading rusher in Justin Crawford.

Crawford not only leads the conference in rushing yards, but in touchdowns as well, and has eclipsed 100 yards in each game this season.

Offensively, the Jayhawks don’t run the ball well, either, placing dead last in the conference.

Defensive Anchors 

Despite not being a good run-stopping team, Kansas has faired well at stopping plays in the backfield this year.

Led by Joe Dineen Jr.’s seven, Kansas has 25 tackles for loss as a team.

Daniel Wise has six stops in the backfield, as well.

Dineen is the conference’s leading tackler and has recorded at least 11 tackles in each game. His 38 stops are third best in the nation.

Despite being a team that’s good at stopping plays in the backfield, the Jayhawks have recorded just two sacks this year.

Big Play Ability 

Kansas has given up eight plays that gained 30-plus yards this season, and West Virginia’s offense has run 12 such plays.

Opponents have scored at least 40 points in each of the last two games against the Jayhawks. Meanwhile, the WVU first-team defense has surrendered just one touchdown over its last two contests.


Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes, Kansas Week

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen displayed a lot of respect for his team’s upcoming opponent – Kansas – during his weekly media session Tuesday.

He mentioned the familiarity between the two programs, having been conference foes for the last five years, as well as a number of coaches on both sides that have crossed paths more than once during their tenures.

“Can’t face an opponent that we know more about,” Holgorsen said.

Here are some additional notes:

WVU Getting Healthy

When asked to update the status on a few injured players, Holgorsen perked up all ears in attendance when he said players like Brandon Lingafelter, Toyous Avery and, most notably, linebacker David Long, are all progressing well in their returns from injury.

All three will make the trip to Kansas this weekend, though it remains to see if any will be active.

Grier Garners “QB Gene”

Asked about WVU’s starting quarterback, and the relationship his has with the players, Holgorsen said that Will Grier has that “starting quarterback gene” that allows him to not only be a good quarterback but also has guys gravitate towards him.

Wellman Doing Well. CFB Shift?

One player in particular that Holgorsen seems to be pleased with thus far is halfback Elijah Wellman.

The head coach stated he’s done a good job blocking and acting as a “sixth O-lineman out there.”

Along those lines, he mentioned that he has seen a shift in college football of coaches using players like Wellman more often. This is because of their athleticism and versatility of being able to get out and block, as well as pass catch, out in space.

Wellman certainly fits that mold.

Jayhawks to Watch

With a slight smile on his face, Holgorsen said he didn’t want to leave anyone out when asked to highlight a few of the key players on Kansas, saying he didn’t want to motivate any Jayhawk player he didn’t name outright.

However, he did highlight a few.

Both No. 11’s – safety Mike Lee and wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. – were highlighted.

Sims racked up a conference-best 207 all-purpose yards against SE Missouri St. Lee averages seven tackles a game.

Junior linebacker Joe Dineen Jr. paces the Big 12 in tackles with 38, nine more than any other player.

Big 12 Stock Evaluation

Non-conference play is a good litmus test for teams and conferences to see where they stand against their competitors.

Only four Big 12 teams – Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech – remain undefeated through the first three weeks of the season, meaning their stock is in good shape.

On the other end of the spectrum, Baylor (0-3) is the only Power-5 team to have played two or more games that remains without a win, and with its upcoming schedule including at least two ranked opponents, you couldn’t sell its stock to anyone if you were an owner.

As for the rest of the conference, their stock remains somewhat in question. But here are a few answers.

Texas – Sell Now

Texas is back? It’s a question asked for a few years now that seems to have an answer, but comes into question on a semi-weekly basis.

The Longhorns looked good against USC Saturday, but are still not “back,” which is why you should sell.

After a bye week, Tom Herman’s club hits the road to take on an Iowa State team that knows it should be undefeated at this point. Following their trip to Ames, the Longhorns must face Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.

Stiff competition could bring out the best in Texas, but the program’s fourth 1-2 start in the last five years and the schedule that looms suggests otherwise.

Texas Tech – Buy Cautiously

In just two games, Texas Tech’s offense has put up 110 points and new quarterback Nic Shimonek is just 73 yards short of 1,000 passing yards. The post-Patrick-Mahomes-era is off to a good start.

The Red Raiders will look to move to 3-0 this weekend at Houston, but starting there things get tricky. The Cougar defense is giving up less than 10 points per game so far.

Next up is Oklahoma State, another quality defense. A trap-game trip to Kansas follows. Kliff Kingsbury’s offense will be tested over the next two weeks.

If you’re in a buying mood, take a look at the Red Raiders, but re-evaluate after Saturday.

West Virginia – Buy

Dana Holgorsen’s offense has been gaining yards at a frantic pace over the first three weeks of the season, and is coming off back-to-back 50-plus point performances.

The offense has been clicking and should continue to this weekend against the Jayhawks. The defense has not been as fluid, but potentially three consecutive weeks of a point differential of 30 or more looks good on paper, at least.

West Virginia will then have a week off to prepare for a trip to Dallas to face a ranked Horned Frog team.

Buy the Mountaineers for this reason: The schedule is still very manageable at this point. WVU should be no worse than 5-2, potentially 6-1, heading into its home game on October 28 against Oklahoma State. With that being the case, there is going to be a good return on investment for when the schedule strengthens up.

Oklahoma – Buy it all

The Sooners rank as the 12th-best defense in the Power-5 in terms of points allowed.

Oklahoma has already played what looks to be its toughest test until November, and Baker Mayfield has been one of the best quarterbacks in the country thus far.

With it looking more likely than not that the Sooners will enter the Bedlam rivalry undefeated, you should be all in on Oklahoma.


Holgorsen Press Conference News and Notes

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen during the first half/second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)

Technology is all the rage these days, and teams are taking advantage of it. West Virginia is no different, using GPS technology to track its players.

WVU meets GPS

Wide receiver Gary Jennings ran over 10 miles two weekends ago against Virginia Tech. How does the Mountaineer coaching staff know that? GPS tracking.

The Mountaineers have begun using technologies such as that in order to gauge performance from their players.

“We measure how far, how long and how hard they’re going,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Not only are the players being gauged, but they are engaging the numbers.

Holgorsen said that players are comparing their numbers, which are posted for the team, against one another and that it’s even fueling some friendly competition within the program.

Prepping for Delaware St.

Tuesday was the first mandatory day for the Mountaineers following their 56-20 thumping of ECU on Saturday. Holgorsen said the players were given Sunday and Monday off to rest due to NCAA regulations based on the scheduling of the first two games.

Starting today, though, all focus is on the Hornets of Delaware State.

“I thought we did a good job of preparing like we always do,” Holgorsen said. “I don’t think this week will be any different (than any other).”

The head coach made it a point to address that WVU is focusing on this weekend’s game like they would any other, despite the opponent.

Areas of Improvement

Overall, Holgorsen seemed pleased with his team’s performance on Saturday, especially the first team unit on offense. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any needed improvements.

Players staying on their feet is one area. Holgorsen noted that players have to stay up right, especially those players that are supposed to be blocking.

He also felt that the second team unit missed out on some opportunities, excluding second-string QB Chris Chugunov.

“I thought he’s looked as good as he’s looked since I’ve been here,” Holgorsen said.

The need for speed

Most media members in attendance Saturday noticed the impact of wide receiver Marcus Simms, who caught one pass for a 52-yard touchdown.

Holgorsen also noticed the jolt he brings to the offense.

“What he brings to the table is… he brings speed, which we need,” Holgorsen said. “We need guys out there that can stretch things.”

However, the head coach emphasized that the wideout still needs to work on consistency.