West Virginia’s high potent offense has become one of the main focal points to the team’s success through four games this season.
The nation's second-ranked scoring offense will put to the test as the Mountaineers face an experienced and gritty TCU defense on the road.
Following a mediocre 6-7 campaign a year ago, longtime TCU head coach Gary Patterson returns an experienced group made up of mostly juniors and seniors on his 4-2-5 defensive unit that ranks second overall in the Big 12 and first against the run.
“Gary Patterson is one of the greatest defensive minds in college football,” West Virginia offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “He has done such an exceptional job at building a sound system and getting players this system that fit what he is trying to do.”
TCU’s strength on defense is its ability to stop the run which will be a key factor against a versatile and talented West Virginia backfield led by running backs Justin Crawford and Kennedy McKoy. The Horned Frogs allow an average of just 94.5 rushing yards per game.
“They rarely have to outnumber you in the box, which is a different type situation than what we’re usually used to,” West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They just do a really good job of just coaching their guys up with technique and them playing with high motors and doing a great job of getting off blocks.”
Although the Mountaineers have taken more of a pass heavy approach on offense this season, the matchup between West Virginia’s offensive line and TCU’s defensive line will play more of a critical role than people think.
The Mountaineers have had some success this season mixing in their deep and talented backfield along with their passing game, but TCU’s dominant play against the run has the potential to eliminate that ability and instead, force the offense to rely more heavily on its passing attack and perhaps become too one-dimensional.
That could be trouble for West Virginia against a TCU defense that has been solid defending the pass. TCU has intercepted six passes this season, returning two of those for touchdowns.
“They read routes better than anybody,” Holgorsen said. “They’re going to know exactly what positions they’re going to have to be in and they’re rarely out of position. So, they’re as good as they’ve always been defensively and their stats show that.”
For West Virginia to have success through the air, it’ll come down to redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier’s accuracy and the receivers’ ability to make contested plays.
“I have already told the guys 100 times that you are not going to be screaming down the field wide-open,” Spavital said. “You have to make contested plays.”
Whether the West Virginia offense goes pass heavy, run heavy or a balance between the two, anything that the offense shows will be of no surprise to Patterson and his defense according to Spavital.
“They are going to match it up,” Spavital said. “We can try to confuse them as much as possible, coach Patterson has probably seen every look imaginable thrown at him because he is consistently putting out top ranked defenses in the conference and in the country.”
Another key for West Virginia’s offense is to limit the turnovers and penalties. TCU has forced nine turnovers this season and have allowed an average of just 18.5 points per game.
“We have to win the one-on-one battles; we have to limit our mistakes,” Spavital said. “There are going to be tough yards.”
West Virginia has not beaten a ranked team since it upset No. 4 Baylor in 2014. For the Mountaineers to climb up in the rankings and earn more national respect, the team has to show that they are capable of rising to the occasion and it starts with the challenge of defeating Patterson’s defense.
“They know that we are going up against a stingy defense,” Spavital said. “I think we are ready for the challenge, we are excited to get out there and play them.”