After a 4-0 start the West Virginia Mountaineers are one of the remaining bright spots in the Big 12 nearing the midpoint of the season. With wins over Missouri, BYU and Kansas State the Mountaineers have found their way back into the top 25 in both national polls.
Texas Tech is coming off a tough loss to Kansas State in which Patrick Mahomes still did not look 100 percent. The Red Raiders come into this contest 3-2. However, there still is yet to be a quality win on their resume. Wins over Louisiana Tech, FCS member Stephen F. Austin, and Kansas with losses to Arizona State and Kansas State leave many wondering if they really can compete in the Big 12 this season.
Many questions will be answered this weekend in Lubbock. Can Texas Tech compete against a quality Big 12 opponent? Is West Virginia really a contender in the Big 12? Let’s take a look at three big storylines in this game.
West Virginia at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 15 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS1
Spread: West Virginia -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Is Patrick Mahomes healthy?
Mahomes enters Saturday leading almost every offensive category in the nation. However, the injury he sustained against Kansas did seem to affect has ability to throw against Kansas State last week. Mahomes is averaging more than 454 passing yards per game, which is 78 yards more than any other QB in the nation.
Yes it is odd to claim a quarterback still may not be 100 percent after throwing for more than 500 yards the previous week. However, there were times Mahomes did not seem to have the same zip on the ball as he did early in the season. Regardless, the Mountaineers will have to prepare for an all-out air attack. Texas Tech’s running game is all but non-existent and even if not at full strength Mahomes can tear apart a defense.
2. Can West Virginia’s secondary stop the Texas Tech pass attack?
The Mountaineers have yet to face an offense like that of Texas Tech. And while West Virginia is off to a 4-0 start, the defense hasn’t exactly been shutting the opposition down. The Mountaineers have five interceptions in four games, but three of those came against BYU, as the Cougars were playing from behind and forced to throw the ball.
Do not expect the WVU defense to hold Mahomes completely in check. Mountaineers defensive coordinator Tony Gibson will undoubtedly draw up blitz packages in an attempt to force Mahomes to throw earlier than he wants or get him out of the pocket, which doesn’t always spell success either, as the junior quarterback has 162 rushing yards this season.
Texas Tech has six wide receivers with at least 10 or more catches and average at least 12 yards per reception. There is no keying on one receiver; Mahomes will spread the ball around, as evidenced by the 17 different Red Raiders that have caught at least one pass this season.
3. Will Texas Tech stop the Mountaineers’ rushing attack?
One of the most underrated aspects of West Virginia’s offense is its running attack. Averaging 187.3 rushing yards per game, the Mountaineers have taken advantage of running behind one of the best offensive lines in the country.
Texas Tech has not fared well against the run this season, giving up about 180 yards per game. If West Virginia can continue to run the ball effectively, expect head coach Dana Holgorsen to keep his offense stay grounded in an effort to keep Mahomes and the Red Raiders’ offense on the sideline.
There is no doubt there will be plenty of scoring in this game. Patrick Mahomes should be able to take advantage of a West Virginia secondary that is still finding its way. The Mountaineers have the ability to make plays in the passing game too with senior QB Skyler Howard off to his best start. However, don’t be surprised if the offense is more run-oriented in an effort to limit Texas Tech’s offensive possessions.
The Red Raiders were held to fewer than 50 points for the first time this season last week against Kansas State. While West Virginia’s defense may not be as stout as the Wildcats’, the Mountaineers have held their own on that side of the ball.
Even if West Virginia can mount a clock-killing, ground-heavy offensive attack, look for Texas Tech to have its chances and make the most the of them. Mahomes is one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and he’s always looking for the big play.
This pairing has produced its fair share of close games, so the small spread is no surprise. However, I would take the “over,” which currently stands at 83, as points for either team shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Prediction: West Virginia 44, Texas Tech 40
— 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.