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Ask the Expert: West Virginia journalist predicts Mountaineer victory

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We connected with our friends at The Smoking Musket to chat about the game this Saturday.

NCAA Football: Kansas State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

That game in Stillwater was simply amazing, and I’m still smiling about it. But, the Big 12 never gives you any breaks, and we’re squaring off with West Virginia this week. The Mountaineers are plenty tough, and they’ve given the Red Raiders fits for several years. I’m worried that the injury to T.J. Vasher will limit our offense some, but hopefully our depth proves to be the difference again.

Before we dive into the questions, I’d like to thank Bart Keeler for chatting with us this week, and everyone should drop him a follow on Twitter. Also, The Smoking Musket has fantastic content, and it’s a great spot to spy on the enemy a bit more. Check them out here, and let’s dive into the questions!

From what I’ve read, this is a very balanced attack yet again for the Mountaineers, and you’ll trot out as many as four running backs. How has that group looked against real competition, and would you say the running game is better, or worse, than last year with Justin Crawford?

This all depends on how you evaluate Tennessee and Kansas State’s defenses against Texas Tech’s defense. I think Leddie Brown has impressed the most, but Martell Pettaway has been the consistent back to lead the stable. These two will feature the most as pure running backs, with Alec Sinkfield and Kennedy McKoy as rotational players. The great thing about each of these guys is that they can run between the tackles, but also split out in the passing game.

Overall, I think this group gives us more than Justin Crawford gave us last year, but Crawford was the feature back in a rotation with McKoy and Pettaway. I don’t think there is one main guy this year, as Brown, McKoy and Pettaway have each ran the ball about 30 times. Personally, I don’t think we’ve utilized the run game enough this year. This is probably due to our two FBS opponents not having the skill in the defensive backfield to match our pass game; however, I’d be very surprised if Holgorsen and Spavital don’t make it a goal to break 100 yards against Tech.

Tony Gibson is an elite defensive coordinator by Big 12 terms, and plays spread offenses extremely well. Can you speak to his group this year? It sounds like you guys might have your best defense of the Holgorsen era.

The defense has been a shocking surprise this season. The talk going into the season among outsiders was that our defense couldn’t stop anybody and that it was an unproven group. By-Godders knew that we had playmakers at linebacker and defensive back, but we weren’t sure how this D-line would perform.

Those guys up front have been the biggest surprise and the difference makers this season. Kenny Bigelow, the Stills kids and Reese Donahue have all been able to effectively pressure quarterbacks and disrupt the run game, compiling 31 tackles for loss.

Now, there are still some weaknesses at corner back, and the three-down front has shown some vulnerability in the run game, but overall, it’s been a really solid defense that has been able to play a lot of guys while maintaining focus and consistent performance.

Will Grier is really good, and a legitimate Heisman hopeful. Statistically, he’s completing close to 75% of his passes, he’s on pace to throw for 50+ touchdowns, and he’s averaging close to 11 yards/pass. How in the world do you stop this guy, and has anyone done it effectively?

The thing that I’ve loved most about watching this offense this season is that it’s methodical. Unlike Tech, which is slightly controlled chaos, this WVU offense wants to make sure they’re in control of itself, which has led to both explosive plays and efficient plays. This approach has proven quite successful, as WVU has scored on more than 58 percent of our possessions.

WVU’s success on offense is largely due to three great minds working together (Holgorsen, Spavital and Grier), talent at every possession and a focus on efficiency. In fact, WVU only has three three-and-out drives this year, which is a huge reason why the team averages 3.74 points per possession.

So, to answer how do you stop this? It’s incredibly important to not allow WVU to even gain a yard on first down, let alone three or more. Once Grier is in an “option” down, he just reads the defense to decide if he’s going deep to Simms, mid-range to Sills and Jennings, or to run with one of our backs. However, the answer is not to “keep everything in front of you” like a lot of defenses try against high-powered offenses. This doesn’t work because WVU is perfectly fine with 12-play drives.

Ideally, you force a negative play on first down and aggressively pursue the rest of the downs to force a punt.

What are the best matchups for WVU heading into this game?

Well, the Grier kid is pretty good and though I’m sure everyone is buying that improved Texas Tech defense now, I’d like to think Grier is a bit more knowledgeable and experienced quarterback than that Corn Dog at OK State. I think the matchup will be Grier’s ability to read and adjust against a Texas Tech defense that plays hungry and tries to confuse quarterbacks.

The next matchup I am looking at is the WVU D-line against the Tech O-line. WVU’s defense, especially the D-line, has created a ton of havoc in opponents’ backfields while Tech’s O-line has kept their QBs upright for most of the season. Obviously, this has a lot to do with Tech’s desire to release the ball quickly, but QB pressure is key to stopping any passing offense. If the Mountaineers can get into the Red Raider backfield, the defense will win this game.

Any key injuries/suspensions to track?

Luckily, the Mountaineers are relatively healthy. We lost a couple of guys before the season, and lost linebacker Charlie Benton in the first game, but *knocks on wood* we have been fortunate with injuries so far.

Score Prediction?

35-32 WVU