The West Virginia Mountaineers have stormed onto the national scene after starting the season 5-0 and landing 12th in the most current AP Top 25. After holding Texas Tech to season lows on offense last week the Mountaineers can claim one of the stingiest defenses in the Big 12. Pair that with the emergence of senior QB Skyler Howard and the Mountaineers are now starting to be considered a dark horse to win the Big 12 title after being picked to finish seventh (out of 10 teams) in the preseason.
TCU comes into this contest at 4-2 with both losses against ranked opponents. The Horned Frogs are coming off a bye week, so they have had two full weeks to prepare for the Mountaineers. Do not let the close call against Kansas on Oct. 8 fool you, TCU is also a legitimate contender for the Big 12 title.
Can the Mountaineers continue their dominance or will TCU remind West Virginia there is still plenty of competition left in the conference?
TCU at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: West Virginia -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Kenny Hill be successful against West Virginia’s defense?
The Mountaineers come into the contest ranked second in pass efficiency defense, allowing quarterbacks to complete just 51.7 of their attempts. Coming off one of the best defensive performances of the season against Texas Tech the West Virginia defense has found its stride.
TCU quarterback Kenny Hill is a different kind of threat though. Second only to Patrick Mahomes in every major passing category in the Big 12, Hill also has the ability to make plays with his legs. Hill will have to make quick decisions in the passing game as, just like last week, the Mountaineers will bring pressure from every direction.
2. TCU will not be able to stop the Mountaineers’ running game
Much like Oklahoma with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, West Virginia has a one-two backfield combo in Rushel Shell and Justin Crawford.
The Sooners rushed for 260 yards in their victory over the Horned Frogs earlier this season. And while TCU is only allowing 150 yards per game on the ground it is tough to stop two running backs.
The Mountaineers are coming off of their best rushing performance, 332 yards and five touchdowns in the rout of Texas Tech in Lubbock. West Virginia is averaging 216.2 rushing yards per game, making the Mountaineers the most productive running game the Horned Frogs have faced thus far.
TCU will have to worry about slowing West Virginia down on the ground before turning its attention to the Mountaineers’ aerial attack. If West Virginia is able to sustain a balanced offensive attack, it could be a long day in Morgantown for the Horned Frogs.
3. Which defense will step up?
West Virginia enters this game third in the Big 12 in total defense with TCU trailing not too far behind. The Mountaineers (410.6) are giving up just 13 fewer yards per game than the Horned Frogs (423.8) to this point.
From a defensive standpoint, West Virginia will need to focus on slowing down TCU’s potent passing attack (362.5 ypg, 2nd in Big 12), while the Horned Frogs must deal with a powerful running game and a quarterback that is averaging 318 yards per game through the air.
This game will not be a shootout like it has been in the past. Both defenses will be able to make stops. It will come down to which unit can come up with the bigger plays. Both TCU’s Nick Orr and WVU’s Rasul Douglas are dangerous in the secondary. The Horned Frogs also feature the Big 12’s top two tacklers in Travin Howard and Ty Summers.
This has always been a high-scoring game. However, this season West Virginia has fielded a defense that ranks near the top in several categories.
Both teams should be able to move the ball and score some points because of their offenses. This game could come down to which defense makes more stops, which appears to tilt the scales towards the Mountaineers’ favor.
Do not be surprised if West Virginia is unable to cover the spread but the Mountaineers will improve to 6-0 on the season while handing TCU its second conference loss.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, TCU 30
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.