Before the season kicked off, Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury’s seat was arguably as hot as any coach in the country. But the Red Raiders are off to a 4-1 start and back in the AP Top 25 for the first time in four years, which was Kingsbury’s first season in Lubbock. This weekend Texas Tech hits the road for Morgantown to play West Virginia, who just fell out of the top 25 after a tough road loss to TCU.
Since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 in 2012, the Red Raiders won the first two matchups, but West Virginia has won the last three. Additionally, three of their five meetings since 2012 have been decided by no more than 10 points.
The two head coaches, Kingsbury and Dana Holgorsen have a lengthy history. Kingsbury played under Holgorsen who was on Texas Tech’s staff when Kingsbury was the quarterback in the early 2000s. Then, Holgorsen helped hire Kingsbury for his first coaching position in 2008 after Holgorsen left Texas Tech to take the offensive coordinator position at Houston. Kingsbury joined Holgorsen as an offensive quality control assistant and then was promoted to quarterbacks coach two years later when Holgorsen left for the same position at Oklahoma State.
Texas Tech at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: West Virginia -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas Tech winning the turnover margin
The Red Raiders are tops in the Big 12 conference and in the top five in the country in turnover margin (+9). The Red Raiders have 14 takeaways on the season with seven interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
Meantime, the Mountaineers have not been as opportunistic, with only eight takeaways on the season, tied for sixth in the Big 12. It won’t be any easier for WVU against Tech which ranks 12th nationally with only five turnovers lost.
2. West Virginia rushing defense
Suddenly, Texas Tech has gone from an Air Raid team to a ground-and-pound offense. Well, not quite, but against Kansas last week the Red Raiders piled up 313 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground, their most since totaling 325 against New Mexico in 2012. In fact, last week was only the second time since 2000 that Texas Tech ended a game with more rushing yards than passing yards. The Mountaineers have been very vulnerable against the run, giving up more than 200 yards per game on the ground, second worst in the Big 12 to only the Baylor Bears.
3. Will Grier vs. Texas Tech pass defense
While they have been able to force teams into interceptions, the Red Raiders have had trouble stopping teams through the air, allowing 299 passing yards per game, which is second worst in the Big 12. Now it’s up to Grier, who is averaging nearly 350 passing yards per game, to put this WVU offense in a position to keep pace and light up the Tech secondary, while avoiding the game-changing interception and turnovers that have helped the Red Raiders get off to their 4-1 start.
Grier has generally kept the damage to a minimum, as his 16:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio looks good, but he has thrown one pick in four of five games this season, rather than making multiple mistakes over a one or two-game span.
Both teams can light up a scoreboard, as they’re each averaging more than 43 points per game. A difference in this game could be the red zone, where Texas Tech’s offense has surprisingly struggled, scoring on only 76 percent of their trips inside the 20, which is second worst in the Big 12 conference. And while this Tech team has done a good job limiting turnovers, it leads the Big 12 with three turnovers in the red zone. Can West Virginia capitalize on a big mistake like this? It’s hard enough to win in Morgantown, so the Red Raiders need to play their cleanest game of the season to come out with a victory.
But ultimately, the Mountaineers’ balanced offensive attack is going to be too much for the Red Raiders defense, which hasn’t seen an offense close to WVU’s. The Mountaineers actually rank higher than Texas Tech in total offense (577 ypg), and will use a combination of Will Grier and his weapons of Ka’Raun White, David Sills and Gary Jennings, while Justin Crawford puts together another 100-yard rushing game.
Prediction: West Virginia 41, Texas Tech 35
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.