Our 4-1, and ranked #24th nationally Red Raiders are set to face off with the Mountaineers up in Morgantown this week. In the last few years, this rivalry for the loyalties of John Denver has been quite one-sided due to West Virginia learning the secret to a running game and defense earlier than Kliff did. Despite the history, you have to like our odds entering this crucial Big 12 game. I’ll admit I’m likely too optimistic prior to this game, and that’s a bad omen...sigh...
I’d like to thank Matt Kirchner from The Smoking Musket again for answering a few of my questions below. The guys up there do a great blog, and I regularly check in on there content prior to any games against the Red Raiders. Also, if any of you haven’t been up to West Virginia for a game - I’d strongly recommend it. Fly into Pittsburg or Cleveland, drink I.C. (Iron City) Light, and try to catch a Steelers game on Sunday. Despite the result Saturday, that process will guarantee an excellent time.
Anyway, let’s dive in!
1. Justin Crawford is an outstanding running back, and is likely on his way to a great NFL career. What makes him so great, and can you shed some light on his style of play?
Matt: Crawford really is a complete package at running back. Speed, vision, and just enough strength to break some tackles. He's also great out of the backfield in the passing game, which gives him an extra weapon that Holgo loves to utilize in the passing game.
The biggest difference that we've seen in Crawford from year one to year two at WVU is his ability to finish his runs and get into the endzone. He showed a tendency to get caught from behind last season that has not been seen at all this season. We definitely go as Crawford (and to a lesser extent, McKoy and Petteway) go and you're going to see a very high volume of touches from 25.
2. Tony Gibson is an elite defensive coordinator by Big 12 terms, and it appears as if he's saved Dana Holgorsen's career at West Virginia. How does he do such a great job limiting spread offenses, and do you see him looking to get a head coaching gig anytime soon?
Matt: Tony Gibson's rise to prominence at DC in this league has been nothing short of astounding. For years, he was a great recruiter with a reputation for less than stellar secondary coaching at his prior stops--mostly as a Rich Rodriguez staffer. He's completely changed his approach while keeping up the stellar recruiting and brought an attacking element to the 3-3-5 that it had been sorely missing.
Gibson deserves a head coaching job (and I thought he'd be a great fit for the open Cincy job last year) and will probably have his shot at some American Athletic Conference jobs this offseason. He loves it here, though, and there's a chance he could carve out a role as West Virginia's Bud Foster. We will see, but I'd wish him nothing but the best if he chose to take over a new program.
3. The West Virginia passing game is top 10 nationally once again. Will Grier appears to be the best WVU QB since Geno Smith. Do you expect the Mountaineers to use more of a vertical passing game, or horizontal passing scheme against Tech?
Matt: We've definitely evolved into a more vertical scheme with Grier at the helm as opposed to previous offenses with quarterbacks who may not have had the arm strength to succeed. We're going to take at least 2-3 shots downfield to Marcus Simms on streak routes and David Sills and Gary Jennings have been lethal on deep posts.
The biggest issue we've had on offense this year, however, is a lack of depth at WR outside of our big three of Sills, Jennnings, and Simms. It's shown itself late in games with our WRs coming up short on routes or cramping up and someone really needs to emerge at WR4 and WR5 for this offense to really go to the next level.
4. What are the best matchups for WVU heading into this game?
Matt: I love the matchup of Crawford against Tech's D-Line and think that West Virginia will be able to run and set up some great playaction opportunities for big plays. Tech is very much improved defensively, but very much improved still isn't particularly great. WVU will be able to run.
5. Any key injuries/suspensions to track?
Matt: We're actually coming in relatively healthy and off the police scanner. David Long came back healthy last week after missing the first month of the season and his pass rushing ability completely changes the way that Tony Gibson is able to call the defense. He made a huge impact in TCU's backfield from the start and his ability to get to Shimonek is one of the big points of emphasis in how this game will turn out.
6. Score Prediction?
Matt: Tech's improved defense will make some plays, but eventually I think Gibson's D rattles Shimonek just enough to force a couple big turnovers and Grier has a huge day downfield off of playaction. West Virginia gets this one 42-31.