|Tale of the Tape|
|Points Per Game||37.2||32.5|
|Rushing Yards Per Game||160.0||116.7|
|Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game||124.8||90.5|
|Passing Yards Per Game||301.0||248.2|
|Passing Yards Allowed Per Game||252.8||217.8|
|Total Yards Per Game||461.0||364.8|
|Total Yards Allowed Per Game||377.5||308.2|
|First Downs For||77||68|
|First Downs Against||74||39|
|Time of Possession||26:53||30:33|
|3rd Down Conversions||20/45||24/56|
|3rd Down Conversion Defense||26/67||21/62|
|Sacks By/Yards Lost||9/66||14/78|
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Neal Brown told his team earlier this week there were three common themes in West Virginia’s back-to-back losses to Texas Tech in Morgantown in 2019 and last year in Lubbock, Texas:
* Rushing yardage
* Red zone touchdowns
Two years ago in Morgantown, the Red Raiders outrushed West Virginia 127 to 51, had a 4-0 edge in turnovers and limited the Mountaineers to just 2-for-5 in red zone scoring chances.
Last year in Lubbock, it was a 179 to 91 Red Raider advantage in rushing; WVU missed out on a critical red zone scoring opportunity and the Mountaineers’ one turnover ended up costing them the game when Zech McPhearson returned Sam James’ fumble 56 yards for the deciding touchdown.
Henry Colombi, the guy who climbed out of a Trojan Horse to surprise West Virginia’s defense last year by passing for one touchdown, running for another and constantly keeping plays alive with his feet, is back behind center this Saturday after starting quarterback Tyler Shough broke his collarbone in Texas Tech’s 70-35 loss at Texas.
Colombi came in relief of Shough to complete 17-of-23 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns against the Longhorns.
“Last year, he really hurt us extending plays, especially on third down,” Brown said. “He was able to extend some broken plays, found some open receivers and they were able to convert and keep drives alive. He played well in relief last week against Texas. He had three big, explosive pass plays in the second half, and he’s a challenge for us.”
Texas Tech (3-1) leads the country in those explosive plays with nine of at least 50 yards. The Red Raiders also share the FBS lead for explosive plays of more than 40 yards with 12.
Tech used those to come back and defeat Houston 38-21 in the season opener, it used explosive plays to outlast Stephen F. Austin 28-22, and it used explosive plays to down Florida International 54-21.
Brown believes junior wide receiver Erik Ezukanma, a 6-foot-3, 220 pounder, is in the same league with Maryland’s top two receivers, Dontay Demus and Rakim Jarrett, and Oklahoma’s Jadon Haselwood and Michael Woods.
Ezukanma shows 23 catches for 406 yards and a 75-yard touchdown reception.
SaRodorick Thompson has been the back who has given WVU fits in the past, scoring three career touchdowns against the Mountaineers, but he’s taken a backseat to Tahj Brooks this year. Brooks, a 5-foot-10, 220-pound sophomore, leads the team with 284 yards and four touchdowns on just 35 attempts for an average of 8.1 yards per carry.
Six different Red Raider players have scored touchdowns on the ground this season while eight different players have caught at least one touchdown pass.
Texas Tech’s offensive line resembles a college basketball team ranging in height from 6-foot-8 to 6-foot-4 across its front.
In the past, the Red Raiders have had success against West Virginia by using tempo and making quick throws to keep the Mountaineers’ pass rush at bay. In this regard, pass deflections could be more valuable than sacks this week for WVU.
Defensively, Texas Tech defensive coordinator Keith Patterson is a familiar name to Mountaineer fans. The one-time West Virginia defensive coordinator is known for fielding defenses that give up large chunks of yards for the sake of hunting for turnovers.
They have six interceptions so far this season by six different players but have yet to recover a fumble. Senior mike linebacker Riko Jeffers has performed well against the Mountaineers through the years, generating 18 tackles, 5½ tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in three career games against WVU.
Two starting defensive backs, safety Marquis Waters and cornerback DaMarcus Fields, left last week’s Texas game with injuries, Waters spending the fourth quarter standing on the sideline with his right arm in a sling – but both are listed on Texas Tech’s two-deep roster for Saturday’s game.
Neal Brown also commented on the punting of junior Austin McNamara, who is averaging 45.1 yards per boot with a long punt of 54 yards. McNamara has also had two punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
“Texas Tech has had our number for two years in a row,” Brown mentioned. “They beat us here in 2019 and there in Lubbock in 2020, and it’s been because they’ve been able to run the football, they haven’t turned the ball over and we have.”
Texas Tech has been outscored 42-14 in the first quarter of games this year, but has rebounded to outscore its opponents 92-44 in the second half. That could be a concerning statistic for West Virginia, which is outscoring opponents 49-24 in the first quarter, 34-3 in the second quarter, but has yet to produce a second-half touchdown in its three games against Power 5 opponents.
In last week’s 16-13 loss at No. 4 Oklahoma, WVU managed a field goal on its three second-half offensive possessions. Another drive deep in Oklahoma territory late in the game was thwarted by a bad shotgun snap.
West Virginia’s losses this year on the road at Maryland and at Oklahoma were by a combined nine points.
“This is big-time college football and you better be able to tee it up every week and you better be able to play your best because if you are not at your best you are going to get taken advantage of,” Brown explained. “I will use a basketball analogy: We shot our shot on Saturday, and we missed it. Well, a great player follows his shot, and we’ve got to follow our shot.
“The expectation last Saturday was we had to play at a high level, and it’s going to take our best to be able to beat Texas Tech here at (Milan Puskar Stadium),” Brown added.
Saturday’s game has been deemed a Stripe the Stadium game with fans sitting in even numbered sections encouraged to wear their gold and fans sitting in odd numbered sections urged to wear blue.
Also at Saturday’s game, College Football Hall of Famer Darryl Talley is returning to campus to have his No. 90 officially retired. The ceremony will take place on the field at the end of the first quarter.
Former WVU director of athletics Oliver Luck will be in town to help recognize his former Mountaineer teammate.
“We need a tremendous atmosphere on Saturday,” Brown said. “I thought our guys went out to Norman and we played Oklahoma toe-to-toe and just came up a little bit short. We played tough and we played physical; they strained every snap, and I think it’s a group that really deserves the backing of Mountaineer Nation.
“I feel really confident our people will be here and they will be loud on Saturday.”
A 3:30 kickoff has been established for Saturday’s game with television coverage on ESPN2 (Anish Shroff, Mike Golic Jr. and Lauren Sisler).
Mountaineer Sports Network radio coverage on affiliates throughout West Virginia and online via WVUsports.com and the popular mobile app WVU Gameday begins at noon. Regular network coverage with Tony Caridi, Dwight Wallace and Jed Drenning starts at 2:30.
Tickets are still available and can be purchased through the Mountaineer Ticket Office by calling 1-800-WVU GAME or by logging on to WVUGAME.com.