WVU is streaking toward the finish line. The Mountaineers (7-1, 5-1 Big 12) came back from their open date three weeks ago to blow out the Baylor Bears and gain a hard-fought win last week on the road versus the Texas Longhorns.
At the same time, TCU’s season is slowly unraveling. Even though the Horned Frogs (4-5, 2-4) stopped the bleeding in a win last week over Kansas State, a loss to the lowly Kansas Jayhawks the week before sums up the state of affairs for head coach Gary Patterson’s team.
At this point, a win over the Mountaineers would be considered a season-saver for TCU.
TCU at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 10 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: West Virginia -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. TCU’s health
Earlier this week, head coach Gary Patterson detailed his squad’s injury issues this season, noting that the coaching staff had to press a kicker into playing defensive end for his scout team. The problems are particularly acute on defense, with safety Niko Small and linebacker Ty Summers among the walking wounded on the injury report.
The Horned Frogs need all hands on deck if they want to slow down West Virginia’s high-octane offense. Right now, it appears they will be playing shorthanded instead.
2. A WVU letdown?
The Mountaineers scored an emotional win last week in Austin that cemented them as a legitimate challenger for the Big 12 crown. That introduces the possibility of a letdown on Saturday, especially with an early kickoff.
Since joining the Big 12, Dana Holgorsen’s teams haven’t fared very well when this late in the season when chasing a conference title. A sharp performance against the Horned Frogs would suggest the team is primed to end the year on a high note.
3. Jumpstarting TCU’s running game
Even with dual-threat quarterback Shawn Robinson out for the year, TCU should have a formidable backfield combo in junior running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua. Their production has been mediocre, however, with the Horned Frogs averaging 4.2 yards per rush. That ranks sixth overall in the Big 12. What's worse, last week TCU ran for a piddling 57 yards on 26 attempts in the one-point win over Kansas State, which is ranked second to last in the conference against the run.
The Horned Frogs have to make West Virginia respect their running game, if for no other reason than to open up throwing lanes for sophomore QB Michael Collins. That may be easier said than done, however, as the Mountaineers are second in the Big 12 in rushing defense at 137 yards per game. TCU has hit that total on the ground just once in its last five games.
Before the season started, this matchup looked like a potential bellwether game for the Big 12. A few months later, TCU is just hoping to play spoiler to West Virginia’s conference title hopes.
With the Mountaineers starting to hit their stride on offense, Patterson needs to keep the ball in his team’s hands. WVU doesn’t deal well with physical rushing attacks. For example, the Iowa State Cyclones ran for 5.2 yards per attempt when they drubbed the Mountaineers about a month ago.
It’s still hard to see a banged-up TCU defense mounting enough resistance to the WVU O to pull off an upset, especially in Morgantown. Maybe the Horned Frogs can do enough to keep the final margin inside the point spread. In the end, the Mountaineers will have too much firepower.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, TCU 24
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.