Thoughts, Analysis & A Look At All Three Phases From Dana Holgorsen
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – When West Virginia and Texas Tech meet Saturday, it’ll be a match-up of two of the nation’s premiere offenses.
The No. 24 Red Raiders, ranked for the first time in three seasons after a 4-1 start, are scoring nearly 47 points per game with another precise passing attack that is amassing 386 yards per game. That’s good for fourth in the nation, and is the centerpiece of 550 yards of total offense a game. It’s become a trademark of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, whose collegiate career at Texas Tech was centered around the original version of the Air Raid.
It’s the latest of challenges for both a rejuvenated WVU defense and the Mountaineer offense, which sits right with Tech at the top of the majority of statistical categories. West Virginia is ninth in scoring at 43.8 points per game, sixth in passing (364.2 ypg) and third in total offense (577.4 ypg).
“Texas Tech is playing as good or better as we have seen since the first year we have played them,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They’re ranked. Playing well together. Playing hard. Kliff offensively has been the same, has the No. 1 offense in the country seems like every year. I’m still seeing that, it’s just they have a defense to match it and their special teams are playing well. They’re 4-1 and had a real shot at beating Oklahoma State. That went down to the wire. They could be sitting here 5-0.”
Among the keys is quarterback Nik Shimonek, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound pocket passer who has completed 140-of-195 passes for 1,811 yards, the seventh-highest total in the country. The senior shows a sterling 14 touchdowns against just three interceptions, and his patience and situational awareness are among the most impressive the Mountaineers will face this season.
Pair that with a defense that’s maturing under a third-year coordinator in David Gibbs with a plus-nine turnover margin that ranks first in the Big 12 and fourth in the nation, and Texas Tech has reason to be optimistic that it can pick up a second consecutive conference road win.
“Big kid who has a great arm,” Holgorsen said of Shimonek. “I see a great improvement fundamentally in how he is running the offense. What they have been more is running the ball. The amount of times they have handed it off is more. They can still sit back there and throw it. They have four wideouts who can go. Add that running game element to it and it’s a different feel. As a team, their turnover margin is as good as anybody in the country.”
For West Virginia (3-2, 1-1), this game is about the ability to rebound, and showcase itself as the team most fans and pundits thought it was in the preseason. Dating to 2012, its initial season in the Big 12, the Mountaineers are 4-16 against Top 25 teams, including a nine-game losing streak. As a home favorite against a team just three spots head of it in the polls – WVU was rated 27th according to the also receiving votes section – this game is huge psychologically with contests still to come against Oklahoma, OSU, Texas and Kansas State, among others.
“I think more than anything after the way we lost and the disappointment in the locker room, much like it was game one, is the good news is we get to go do it again this weekend,” Holgorsen said. “The guys were disappointed. We are 3-2; I think a lot of people are disappointed in that. I think we lost to a couple really good teams and I think we are a really good team which needs to get better.
“Lot of excitement on our end of being able to play at home for the first time in a month. It’s homecoming. Sold out. Stripe the Stadium. Lot of excitement for it. Our guys will be ready to roll.”