Last year Texas Tech pretty much gave the game to West Virginia. The Red Raiders were outscored 17-7 in the 4th quarter and the Mountaineers booted a 55-yard field goal to win the game as time expired. West Virginia handed Tech its 4th straight loss and the Red Raiders dropped to 0-3 in the Big 12. At this point last season, the loss to WVU foreshadowed the season to come. This year when the Red Raiders and Mountaineers meet up it very well could hold bowl-game implications for both teams.
Result: Texas Tech 34 vs West Virginia 37
WVU 2014 Record: 7-6
Where: Morgantown, WV
West Virginia Key Returners: #7 RB Rushel Shell (176 carries, 788 yards, 7 TDs), #86 K Josh Lambert (30 FGM, 45 PAT), #35 MLB Nick Kwiatkoski (103 tackles, 11.5 TFL), #8 S Karl Joseph (93 tackles, 4.5 TFL)
Key Matchup: Can Texas Tech strike early and keep WVU at bay?
Texas Tech and West Virginia have had some competitive games here as of late. The Red Raiders and Mountaineers are pretty similar teams on the offensive side of the ball with the style of play they run. While WVU doesn't have a stonewall defense I would have to give them the edge over our D over the past few years. This year they return their top two leading tacklers from last season in Mike Kwiatkoski and Karl Joseph. Kwiatkoski is a force at MLB but DeAndre Washington and Justin Stockton were able to rack up 212 yards on the ground last year. I see our offense going with the same tactic this year if we can start out solid with our run game. Karl Joseph finished the year with All-Big 12 honors and wrapped up the season with 93 total tackles. Joseph is the heart and soul of the Mountaineers defense and was the captain in 2014 and should be a captain this season as well. While Joseph plays safety he can play downhill and make tackles which is highlighted in his 93 total tackles. The Red Raider offense will be looking to keep Joseph at bay and I'm assuming they will do that with a balanced attack.
Skyler Howard will take the reins at quarterback for West Virginia this season. Howard saw action in 4 games last year and made 2 starts in place of banged up Clint Trickett. Howard ended the season throwing for 346 yards and 3 TDs against Texas A&M in the Liberty Bowl. I'm sure many WVU fans are looking at him in the way we did for Davis Webb after his amazing game against Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. The Mountaineers return their leading rusher, Rushel Shell, who ran for 110 yards and 2 TDs against the Red Raiders last year. While Howard and Shell look to be bright spots for WVU heading into this season they will be in search of a standout wide receiver. WVU lost NFL top-10 pick Kevin White and speedster Mario Alford graduated. The Mountaineers leading returning receiver is Jordan Thompson who had 49 catches for 598 yards and 2 TDs. Thompson will be looking to step in and be the go-to guy this year. WVU also returns an outstanding special teams guy in Josh Lambert. Lambert delivered the dagger last year to Texas Tech with the 55-yard game winning field goal but that wasn't all he was known for last year. Lambert received All-Big 12 honors along with All-American considerations, broke the NCAA record for most 40+ yard field goals in a season with 16 and lead the nation with 30 total field goals made. Hopefully we can keep WVU out of field goal range this go around because we saw what he can do last year.
Why I worry
West Virginia's offense is usually pretty good no matter who is running the show. If Skyler Howard can keep up his momentum from the end of last year he should be able to put in a nice season. WVU returns some of its key players on defense and they will have the team in line. Unlike most years, I'm fearful of West Virginia's defensive leaders heading into this year's matchup.
Why I don't worry
Texas Tech should have won last year. The 2014 West Virginia team will be hands down better than their 2015 squad. The Mountaineers will have some uncertainty at wide receiver next year and Skyler Howard could end up being a dud. While WVU returns some of their stud defensive players, they still gave up 34 points to the Red Raiders last year. This year, I believe both teams defenses will be pretty similar but I believe our offense will outshine their's.