By Cam Huffman
No. 5 West Virginia (5-0) continues its tour through the Big 12 conference today with a second straight trip to the Lone Star State, where it will meet up with Texas Tech (4-1) in Lubbock, Texas, at 3:30 p.m.
WANT TO WATCH?
Today’s game will be broadcast live on ABC.
MINUS ONE HORSE
Midnight Matador, the horse that usually leads the Texas Tech team onto the field, carrying a masked rider, will be sidelined for today’s game. The school said the horse will be out “for precautionary reasons after undergoing medical testing this week.”
Midnight Matador and his rider, Ashley Wenzel, will be part of the homecoming parade and be on the sidelines for today’s game but will not lead the team onto the field.
Midnight Matador has served the role of leading the team onto the field since 2002, the longest serving horse in the program’s history. The tradition of the masked rider began at the 1954 Gator Bowl, when Texas Tech defeated Auburn 35-13.
Texas Tech and WVU have met only once before. WVU and head coach Marshall “Little Sleepy” Glenn secured a 7-6 victory over the Red Raiders in the 1938 Sun Bowl.
WHAT THIS MEANS
Today’s game has major implications on both the conference and national stage.
WVU is playing to stay perfect and hold down its spot among the country’s elite teams. The Mountaineers and Kansas State are the only two teams without a conference loss, so that race will figure into today’s game, as well.
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen is doing his best to keep his team from looking ahead, but the Mountaineers are also playing to set up what could be an epic matchup next week in Morgantown when Kansas State visits.
The Wildcats are ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press Poll this week, and with a victory over Iowa State this weekend, and a WVU win against Texas Tech, next week’s game could be a top 5 showdown.
Texas Tech, though, would like nothing better than to throw a wrench into those plans.
The Red Raiders (4-1) were cruising right along before a 41-20 loss at home against Oklahoma last week. Head coach Tommy Tuberville’s club could get back in the conference race with a win today.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Geno Smith, QB — It may seem a little obvious to put the Mountaineer quarterback in this spot, but Texas Tech’s style could lead to a huge game for the Big 12’s leader in passing yards (1,996) and passing touchdowns (24). The Red Raiders don’t blitz much, so Smith could have time to pick apart the secondary.
Josh Francis, LB — The Mountaineers’ senior linebacker leads the Big 12 with 9.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks.
Seth Doege, QB — Originally recruited by Holgorsen to come to Texas Tech, the senior has played a lot of football and is finally reaching his full potential. He’s third in the Big 12 in passing yards per game, behind only Smith and Baylor’s Nick Florence. He’s averaging 278.4 yards per game through the air and has tossed 15 touchdowns.
Cody Davis, S — The most experienced Red Raider on defense, Davis is the team’s top tackler with 32 stops on the year.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The big question for the Mountaineers is can they run the football. Last week at Texas, Andrew Buie’s 200-plus yard rushing performance helped take some pressure off Smith and opened up some room in the passing game.
Running the ball against the Red Raiders could be a little more difficult. Texas Tech leads the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing just 92.6 yards per game. If the Red Raiders can shut down the run and make WVU one-dimensional, they’ll give themselves more of a chance — although forcing Smith to throw is certainly a dangerous proposition.
On the other side of the ball, Texas Tech’s task is very similar. Like Smith, Doege has the ability to throw the football. But when WVU was able to shut down the run and make Texas one-dimensional last week, its secondary performed much better.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen — “I don’t understand what a trap game means. You play the same every week. If you don’t have the ability to understand that every week is the same, you get beat.”
Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville — “You can pick your poison. They do a great job with screens. They throw a lot of short passes. They’ve got two receivers, and they get the ball in the open field. You better have more than one person around them trying to tackle them. I know that.”