The West Virginia Mountaineers improved to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 play with a 38-17 victory over Kansas last week. The win kept West Virginia on pace for a quality bowl game in head coach Neal Brown's second season, and it also kept hopes alive that the Mountaineers could even make a run at the conference title game given the early season struggles of preseason favorites Oklahoma and Texas. But reaching that lofty goal only gets tougher from here as the Mountaineers travel to Lubbock for a date with the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
Texas Tech last played on Oct. 10, losing 31-15 to Iowa State. The loss dropped the Red Raiders to 1-3 overall and 0-3 in league play. However, Tech has been a tough out against quality competition, taking Texas to overtime before falling 63-56 in the conference opener, and losing by 10 to Kansas State on the road. Head coach Matt Wells has opted to make a change at quarterback to spark his offense, and with an extra week to prepare, the Red Raiders welcome a team forced to travel nearly 1,500 miles to play.
West Virginia at Texas Tech
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 24, at 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: West Virginia -3
When West Virginia Has the Ball
The Mountaineers turned its biggest weakness from 2019 into a strength this season. After ranking among the worst rushing offenses in the country last year, West Virginia ranks second in the Big 12 and No. 25 in FBS with 189.25 rushing yards per game. Running back Leddie Brown ranks second in the conference and fourth nationally with 128.8 rushing yards per contest and is tied for second in the league (and 13th overall) with five rushing touchdowns. His 6.36 yards per carry is third-best in the Big 12 and among the top 30 in FBS.
Brown's emergence has taken some of the pressure off quarterback Jarret Doege and the Mountaineers’ passing attack. Doege has completed 64.2 percent of his passes for 1,042 yards (7.0 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns with three interceptions. He threw for a season-high 318 yards last week against Kansas and tied his season-high with three touchdowns in the win.
West Virginia has rarely had its full complement of receivers this season, and veteran wideout T.J. Simmons was banged up last week and is questionable to play against Texas Tech. However, some unexpected names have emerged for Doege. Sam James, who led the team with 69 receptions last year, is still the team leader with 19 catches in 2020, but he ranks third on the team in receiving yards (178) and second in touchdowns (2). Bolstered by a 103-yard performance against Oklahoma State, Winston Wright Jr. leads the unit with 210 yards on 17 receptions, including a touchdown. Bryce Ford-Wheaton broke out with 89 yards against Kansas and caught his team-leading third touchdown of the season. Ford-Wheaton now has 197 yards on 13 receptions. Brown is also a very capable receiver out of the backfield, having caught 12 passes for 91 yards and two scores.
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Utah State transfer Henry Colombi is set to make his first career start Saturday after replacing Alan Bowman (a 14-game starter over three injury-riddled seasons) in the loss to Iowa State. Colombi was 10-for-12 passing for 115 yards and a touchdown in relief against the Cyclones. He also has played extensively against Kansas State after Bowman was sidelined with a leg injury, completing 30-of-42 pass attempts for 244 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Colombi has also gained 51 rushing yards on 14 carries.
Erik Ezukanma and KeSean Carter are tied for the team lead with 21 receptions this season, and, along with T.J. Vasher, give Colombi three receivers with at least 20 targets this season. Ezukanma leads the Red Raiders with 295 yards, followed by Carter's 215. Carter has scored four times, and Ezukanma has three touchdowns. Vasher, an imposing 6-foot-6 target, has hauled in 14 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. Thompson (13 receptions, 71 yards), Ja'Lynn Polk (12 receptions, 120 yards), and Dalton Rigdon (10 receptions, 109 yards), among others, give Colombi many options in the passing game.
SaRodorick Thompson, who has caught 13 passes out of the backfield for 71 yards, leads the team with 282 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 56 carries. Former receiver Xavier White has run for 134 yards and a score on 22 attempts. The pair has combined for three 100-yard performances with Thompson breaking the century mark against both Houston Baptist and Texas, and White accounting for 113 yards on the ground against Kansas State. However, the Red Raiders were held to just 58 rushing yards on 22 attempts against Iowa State last time out. Texas Tech was also 0-for-10 on third down against the Cyclones.
In terms of traditional statistics, West Virginia has the best defense in college football. The Mountaineers have allowed just 240.3 total yards per game and 4.05 yards per play, both of which are the best in FBS to date. Digging deeper, those numbers hold up pretty well. WVU ranks fifth nationally in Expected Points Added per play (-0.256) and second in success rate allowed (26.1 percent), in non-garbage plays versus FBS opponents, according to cfb-graphs.com. West Virginia has been phenomenal on early downs, holding opponents to 4.043 yards per play and a 24.1 percent success rate in that sample, both of which rank second nationally. On third down, opponents have averaged -0.555 EPA per pass attempt — best in the country.
By contrast, Texas Tech has allowed 499.0 total yards per game and 6.36 yards per play, both worst in the Big 12. The Red Raiders rank 60th in EPA per play defensively (0.091) and 69th in success rate allowed (46.4 percent), boosted by a 46.8 percent success rate allowed on early downs, which is the worst mark in the Big 12 and fifth-worst nationally. Essentially, the two defenses have been polar opposites so far this season, which gives WVU a big edge in the matchup despite Tech’s home-field advantage.
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