The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – TCU Horned Frogs
Only one coach has been in continuous residence at his current school longer than TCU defensive meister Gary Patterson. Can you name him without Google, Siri, or your personal assistant? Answer at the end of this column.
Meanwhile, this amazing stat. Patterson has been at TCU longer than the combined tenures of all 11 other FBS schools in the Lone Star State.
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A week after noting that linebackers Brendan Ferns and Quondarius Qualls would return to the practice field, the next step in the process is expected. Both, according to WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, should be available for action against TCU. Linebacker Dylan Tonkery, who dressed and warmed up on an exercise bike, but did not play, at Texas, is also being included on the available for duty roster.
All of this is good news for a corps that has been crushed by injuries, yet still played well this year, but focus on that first sentence. “Next step” doesn’t mean a player is going to be at 100% efficiency. Neither has played this year, while Ferns’ last action was a four-game stint in 2017. He also missed the entire 2016 season, which means he has played in four of WVU’s last 34 games. No matter how much talent a player has, it takes some time to get back into the swing of game action.
Tonkery, of course, has played a lot this year, so rust removal in his case should be minimal. A reasonable expectation would be for Qualls to perhaps see some time on passing downs – that was his role last year – and perhaps give JoVanni Stewart a break. If Tonkery is back and available, Ferns won’t have any pressure to be pushed out in a hurry, and could ease his way back via special teams and perhaps a handful of snaps. The question of practice reps also comes into play – how many has WVU been able to devote to the duo and still do justice to those who will carry the bulk of the load?
“They’re available this week. We knew last week was about getting back into it, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said of Qualls and Ferns. “We didn’t travel those guys. We knew we needed to get them in here. This week, they’re in the plan. It’s full speed ahead. It’s good to get some guys back.
“It could give our guys a play or snap to get a breather. We’re not going to change our scheme or do anything different. They add some depth, which is needed.”
Meanwhile, TCU’s injury situation is worsening, so much so that it has used a kicker at defensive end on its scout team. Head coach Gary Patterson has modified his practice routine this week in order to lessen contact and “get everybody to Saturday.”
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TCU will leave the state of Texas for just the second time this season when it travels to face WVU. Having played five home games in addition to contests in Dallas, Arlington and Austin, the only previous time this season the Horned Frogs left the state was for an Oct. 27 date at Kansas. Those will be the only two trips out of the Lone Star state for the Frogs this season, unless they can get two wins in their final three games and score a trip to a bowl-bid outside the borders.
WVU has twice played overtime games against TCU, with those games occurring back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. The only other opponent the Mountaineers have faced more than once in extra time is Rutgers (2000, 2006).
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TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK: Construction zones still mark the interstates heading into Morgantown, but one particularly troublesome spot is the bridge at mile marker 144 on I-79. For some reason, traffic really slows down there – much more so than many of the other one-lane work sections. Granted, the space is tight, and caution is demanded. Don’t speed.
Part of the problem creating backups here and elswhwere is that there’s no recognized system for getting everyone into one lane. While it might seem counter-intuitive, the zipper merge system works best. Unfortunately, few drivers know about it, and it isn’t taught or emphasized in the U.S.
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The loss of quarterback Shawn Robinson and wide receiver/kick returner Kavontae Turpin has hamstrung the Horned Frog offense, which has scored 17 points or fewer four times this year, and is averaging just 18.6 per game over its last six. How, then, might the Frogs upset WVU?
Reliance on its running game is an obvious answer, and there are possibilities there. Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua are solid backs, and quarterback Mike Collins, while not the threat Robinson was, has the ability to make some hay in the TCU power run game.
This will also play into the Frogs’ ability to control the ball. Despite its offensive struggles, TCU is hanging nearly even in time of possession this year, and that has been a key component in its ability to win games in the latter half of the decade. Over the last four seasons, it is 20-1 when winning the time of possession battle, and would obviously love to slow the pace of the game and limit possessions by the West Virginia offense.
First down, rather than third, might end up being a key in this contest. If the Frogs win there, and get four or five yards, they can set themselves up for a couple more runs and short passes in order to extend possessions. If the Mountaineer defense holds the upper hand, though, it could force an uphill battle for Collins and company.
WVU goes from champagne to Kool-Aid in the span of a week’s time in terms of broadcast teams. Against Texas, it was Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt. This week, Justin Kutcher, DeMarco Murray and Petros Papadakis are on the call.
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What went into West Virginia’s improved blocking against Texas? Offensive lineman Colton McKivitz notes that communication was better, and a cursory film review does show far fewer instances of confusion in assignments or allowance of free rushers.
The challenge will be tougher this week against TCU’s taleneted defensive front — one that throws more games, twists and stunts into its defensive attack.
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Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the only head coach with more time at his current school than Patterson, who has been on the job in Fort Worth for 18 seasons. Ferentz has headed the Hawkeyes for two decades.