The Chalkboard: WVU – Texas Tech
West Virginia is riding a nine-game losing streak against Top 25 teams. While losing games to ranked squads isn’t an embarrassment, there have to be a few wins sprinkled in with those defeats in order to avoid dropping into also-ran status. The Mountaineers have another chance to do so against Texas Tech this weekend – and it might be a critical enough juncture to call this a must-win game. If it wants to do more than squeak into a bowl, WVU has to beat Tech, Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas State and Texas. We can talk about the Oklahomas later, but the Mountaineers have to show they can defeat teams in the Top 25, and also those around it in the league standings, if it wants to continue with the momentum it gained a year ago. This isn’t to say that an 8-4 season would not be a success, but it would be a bit of a step down from last year’s achievements.
* * * *
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen is tired of talking about the lack of depth at wide receiver, and that’s understandable. Receivers coach Tyron Carrier has been supportive of his players, but it’s clear at this point that only four: David Sills, Ka’Raun White, Gary Jennings and Marcus Simms, have the trust of the coaching staff. Is that enough, especially on a hot day where the offense snaps the ball 80 times?
It has to affect performance, and it also points out the fact that some other tactics for easing that load also have not panned out. Kennedy McKoy, the putative best pass catcher of the running backs, didn’t get any snaps as a wide receiver against TCU, and it’s clear that both he and Martell Pettaway were several steps behind Justin Crawford in terms of productivity, and perhaps in effort. Freshman Tevin Bush has also been nearly shelved, so unless there has been a major turnaround in practice this week, help from the backfield appears unlikely.
There’s also the question of tight end Trevon Wesco, who has been limited to special teams duty after some early snaps from scrimmage. Whatever the reason there, the tight end \ H-Back spot hasn’t been a part of WVU’s offense this year, as it was built up to be by some observers in the preseason.
Maybe there’s just a wait for the right time to unleash these players, but that seems unlikely as the mid-point of the year approaches. So how does WVU make sure its top four wideouts are still at near-peak efficiency in the fourth quarter? It will have to go with three wideout sets a little more often, or admit that it has to put in a player that isn’t nearly as good as the one he replaced, just in order to get some rest. That’s exactly the same dilemma that defensive coordinator Tony Gibson faced against the Horned Frogs, and either way it’s not optimal.
* * * *
Credit has been given to Texas Tech for its improved rushing game, which is deserved. However, it should be noted that 313 of Tech’s 816 rushing yards came against Kansas. Tech had just 54 rushing yards against Oklahoma State and 72 against Arizona State. This doesn’t mean that the Red Raider rushing attack can’t be effective, but it’s not the second coming of the productivity from the old Southwest Conference or Big Eight either.
* * * *
Even with a large number of plays, both teams have committed few turnovers. WVU has lost three fumbles so far this year, while Tech has seen just two change hands. Interceptions are also low, with WVU’s four again just one more than Tech’s three. It’s fairly conventional wisdom, but an extra possession or two in a high-scoring game can be the difference in the outcome.
* * * *
There’s more on the line than just a league win or loss for the Spavital brothers. Older sibling Zac, Texas Tech’s linebacker coach, will be matching wits with Jake, West Virginia’s offensive coordinator. This is their first head-to-head meeting as coaches since 2008, when Zac’s Houston Cougars routed Jake’s Tulsa Golden Hurricane by the score of 70-30. Zac was only an offensive quality control assistant on that day, though, so there’s no doubt he is looking at this as the first real match-up.
* * * *
Texas Tech’s Dakota Allen and West Virginia’s Ezekiel Rose share a backstory that many college football fans are familiar with. Both were at East Mississippi Community College in 2016, the subject of the Netflix documentary Last Chance U. Another similarity? They were two of the easiest people to root for on the show. Rose wasn’t in the spotlight, but never had any negative actions tied to him during his time on camera, unlike many other members of the team. Allen, who left Texas Tech after the 2015 when he was charged with burglary, admitted to his actions in a couple of frank interviews during the 2016 season. He has now returned to Tech, where he has a lead role on the improved defense.
* * * *
Some interesting offensive line moves were a bit hidden in the TCU game, and bear watching as the offense takes the field for Texas Tech. Grant Lingafelter returned to the starting lineup, but at right guard, which pushed Josh Sills into a backup role. Later in the game, Sills came on in place of Lingafelter, but that was the only sub along the offensive front, which falls into place with the coaches’ assessment that the offensive line rotation consists of six players at this point.
As at wide receiver, some players have dropped off that list, including Isaiah Hardy, who admittedly was not ready to play, and was only pressed into duty due to injuries. Kelby Wickline, who had appeared poised to be the seventh player up front, has also seen a reduction in time. This is a position to watch at the start of each possession – that’s usually when substitutions are made. Does Wickline get back into the mix? Are Lingafelter and Sills in a split time situation, or could they rotate with Bosch as well?