A Glimpse Inside The Numbers & Match-Ups Versus Texas Tech
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Much has been made about the improvement of Texas Tech’s defense.
Yes, the Red Raiders are lining up correctly. And they’re not surrendering 500 yards per game as they have in the past. But every offense with a pulse that’s faced the Red Raiders has rang up 40-plus points in Arizona State and Oklahoma State. And the Sun Devils don’t run the ball all that effectively and are just 2-3 on the season, scoring their most points against the Red Raiders.
That tells two things. First, that West Virginia should be able, with its mix of talent and balance of pass and run, to move the football. The Mountaineers likely roll to 450-plus yards of offense – OSU rang up 597 and ASU hit for 494 – and score 30-plus points. The question will be if the Mountaineers can finish drives as they did earlier in the season rather than again experience the struggles seen at TCU.
Prior to the loss at Texas Christian, West Virginia had scored on 20 of 22 trips inside the redzone (90 percent, which ranked 32nd nationally) with 18 touchdowns. WVU had four scoring drives of 10 plays or more with four touchdowns and 16 scoring drives of 70 yards or more with all 16 being touchdowns – including nine TD drives of 80 or more yards.
It wasn’t as though the Mountaineers didn’t move the ball. The average field position in the first half, because of excellent punting by TCU, was the eight-yard-line, leaving 92 yards, or nearly the entire length of the field, to travel. It’s difficult enough to march 80 yards, let alone drive the ball 30-plus yards before one can even open up the full playbook. But that was the situation for Jake Spavital and the offense, and it’s among the reasons the Mountaineers failed to get to 30 points for the second time this season – both losses.
It figures that the field position will improve. WVU should again be able to move the ball and threaten the Raiders inside the 25-yard line, or what head coach Dana Holgorsen used to call the score zone when the Mountaineers have a kicker who could consistently hit from 45 yards and in. The question is – and this is where Tech excelled against OSU – can it finish when those passing windows narrow and the field becomes tighter.
The Red Raiders play three down linemen, and walk up two linebackers or a ‘backer and a rush end at times to press the line with five. It resembles a 5-2 look with the four defensive backs in zero coverage. They’ll also stand up all 11 players to confuse as to whom is rushing and dropping, which changes protection schemes and forces the QB to wait until post-snap to get a read.
It’s not truly a unique trait; many defenses do it. But what has aided Tech is being assignment sound and getting better quality play from its secondary and defensive front. The Raiders dipped into the junior college ranks, improving their physical maturity and giving them six upperclass starters, including two along the line and a talent infusion at linebacker in Dakota Allen, the weakside linebacker who has 39 tackles thus far.
“Watching them this season, it looks like they are sound,” WVU running backs coach Tony Dews said. “The kids know how to line-up, they get lined up. They look like they know what they are doing from an assignment standpoint, which (means) you can play faster. They look like they are playing faster and are where they are supposed to be and they’re making tackles in the open field.
“They look well-coached. They are playing hard, playing aggressive, so I certainly expect to see a pretty good defense when we line up on Saturday.”
But that’s about it. The alignments are sound, the talent a touch better and the players have better focus. However, it’s not as though Tech has made a jump from mediocre to good. It’s progressed from being among the worst defenses at the FBS level to ranking 80th in scoring defense, 123rd in pass defense at 299 yards peer game and 104th in total defense. Those numbers might well get worse in Big 12 play.
Tech has survived games by forcing turnovers, 14 in total thus far. It’s been an even split with seven fumbles recovered and seven interceptions, with the total the seventh-most nationally. Tech payers their DBs and tightens windows inside the red zone, and is attempting to force more fumbles while also benefiting from miscues by opposing teams.
West Virginia simply needs to secure the ball and not force throws, which has been a strength of Will Grier. The junior has 16 TDs against just four interceptions, and two of those were not on him (ironically the two that came in defeats). If the Mountaineers can simply play within themselves, they’ll create an execution situation where the line needs to hold blocks a touch better than against TCU while the wideouts have to continue to win the one-on-one battles Spavital talked about here. Do that, and WVU will score more than enough points to win this game.