West Virginia looks for first victory over Red Raiders since 2018

At no point under head coach Neal Brown has West Virginia won four times in a five-game stretch.

The Mountaineers hope to change that at 3 p.m. Saturday by giving Brown his first victory against Texas Tech, where West Virginia’s fourth-year head coach once spent three years as an offensive coordinator.

The two teams clash at Jones AT&T Stadium in a contest that will air on FS1.

“It’s a tough environment and it’ll be a great environment for college football on Saturday afternoon,” Brown said. “We’re starting our stretch run here, so looking forward to it.”

For West Virginia (3-3, 1-2), offensive execution continues to be a strong point and was on display in a 43-40 victory against Baylor on October 13.

As has been the case for much of the season, the Mountaineers established a strong ground game against the Bears. 

This came despite playing without 240-pound true freshman tailback CJ Donaldson, who was out with a concussion suffered October 1 in a loss at Texas. Donaldson, West Virginia’s leading rusher before the Baylor game, is expected to return to action against the Red Raiders.

He’ll join fellow running backs Tony Mathis and Justin Johnson as the team’s primary ball carriers. Mathis is the team’s leading rusher with 459 yards following a career-high 163 yard effort against the Bears. Johnson has scored a rushing touchdown in three straight games.

West Virginia is averaging better than 191 yards rushing to go with 271 passing as quarterback JT Daniels enjoyed a strong first half of his first season with the Mountaineers.

“Always more left on the table, but doing a lot of what we want, especially last week,” Daniels said. “There’s been noticeable improvement weeks after week with the exception of Texas. A lot of guys are really coming along and stepping up and you’re seeing less of us shooting ourselves in the foot. It was really good last week that second half. We did everything we needed to do.”

The offense, which has benefited from strong run blocking and quality pass protection, looks to build on its average of 39 points against a Red Raiders’ defense surrendering 29.8 points on average.

“They have to be the strength and consistency,” Brown said of the offensive line. “We have to know what we’re getting out of them each week.”

With how much man coverage the Red Raiders like to play, opportunities should be prevalent for WVU wideouts Bryce Ford-Wheaton, Kaden Prather and Sam James in single coverage.

“They’re confident and aggressive. Two things I really like in a defense,” Daniels said. “Not scared to play you in match coverage and make you win 1-on-1s.“

Wide receiver Kaden Prather. Photo by Teran Malone

First-year Red Raiders’ head coach Joey McGuire believes it’s imperative his defense win at the point of attack to slow down WVU’s offense.

“[Prather] and [Ford-Wheaton] can really go get the ball. They’re dudes. They play at a really high level,” McGuire said. “They’re big. [Prather] had a huge game and caught some really good balls against Baylor. We have to know where those guys are and do a good job, but we have to have some pressure on him, move him off his spot and hopefully hurry some throws.”

Though Texas Tech was off last week, the Red Raiders (3-3, 1-2) have allowed 78 points over two straight losses at Kansas State and Oklahoma State.

Still, Brown believes several players are capable of changing the landscape of a game on Tech’s defense, which is allowing opponents to convert third downs at a rate of only 33 percent. He singled out defensive linemen Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford and linebackers Tyree Wilson and Krishon Merriweather as players WVU must account for on a group guided by veteran defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter.

“He’s been around for a long time. His past and currently is to send a lot of pressure,” Brown said. “Multiple fronts and for us it starts with their d-line. A lot of respect for those guys. They’ve played well against us in the past.”

The Mountaineers will likely need a strong offensive showing to keep up with the fast-paced, high-scoring attack employed by the Red Raiders.

Texas Tech is averaging 87 plays to lead all FBS teams and easily surpassed that by running 104 in an October 8 loss to the Cowboys.

While Tyler Shough began the season as the starting quarterback, he left with a shoulder injury and hasn’t played since. Shough could return to action today, and if so, it likely means Tech will utilize three quarterbacks.

Donovan Smith is the team’s leading passer, but his action was limited against OSU due to an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder. Instead, redshirt freshman Behren Morton passed for 379 yards on 62 attempts in that game despite finishing it with a noticeable injury.

“All three of those kids are good players,” Brown said.

McGuire indicated Smith and Morton will both play against the Mountaineers.

“You’re definitely going to see both of them more in this game than what you’ve seen of late,” McGuire said.

They benefit from throwing to a group of wideouts that has six players with better than 200 receiving yards, led by Jerand Bradley’s 317 and Myles Price’s 309. Price caught 13 passes in Tech’s win over Texas earlier this season, but did not record a reception against the Cowboys while limited with an ankle injury.

The Red Raiders gain 365 yards on average through the air and 483 total. They’ll  look to get more from a ground game keyed by tailbacks SaRodorick Thompson and Tahj Brooks, who have combined for 525 rushing yards and six TDs on nearly 4.5 yards per carry.

“Not a bunch of carry over as I watch them,” Brown said. “It makes it tough to prepare for. You try to prepare for the tempo. That’s the hardest piece, so you do that and try to get your guys in position in the run game and pass game to keep the ball in front of them and get them down.”

Tech has struggled in pass protection and its 23 sacks allowed lead all Big 12 teams.

That could present opportunities for a West Virginia defense that has struggled to stop opposing Big 12 teams in three tries to this point while surrendering 133 total points.

“There are times out there when you’re going to be really tired, but it’s next play,” WVU defensive lineman Dante Stills said. “It’s very fast and there’s not a lot of time for thinking. You have to get lined up and do your job.”

WVU’s most pressing issue defensively is limiting opposing teams through the air. The Mountaineers are allowing opponents to pass for better than 262 yards on average and breakdowns on the back end have often led to long gains.

“We’re not going to pitch a shutout in this game,” Brown said. “They’re going to get passing yards. We have to do a better job of keeping the ball in front and getting them down when they catch it, and we have to do a better job on pursuit angles and then make plays on the ball.”

Against Baylor, the Mountaineers came up with three critical takeaways, one of which they brought back for the second defensive touchdown this season. 

That gave West Virginia six turnovers forced in six games, but considering the Red Raiders are minus-7 in turnover margin and have 13 of their own to this point, more chances could be in store for WVU to force turnovers.

“It was important for our kids to be able to do that and it be the difference in the game,” WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “I was extremely pleased with how we finished and competed. It wasn’t perfect and I don’t know if it’s ever going to be.”

Brown is 0-3 in his career against Texas Tech.

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