By Cam Huffman
I’ve heard it all week. “West Virginia’s in trouble. If they can’t stop Baylor, how will they stop Texas?”
It’s a legitimate question, but it’s also very flawed. It’s not as simple as WVU beat Baylor by 7 points, Texas is a better team than Baylor, so the Mountaineers don’t have a chance.
Baylor and Texas are two very different football teams with plans of attack that are almost opposites. Comparing A to B and B to C won’t give you the inside track on forecasting the outcome of Saturday’s game.
But here are a few areas that will matter.
Style: While Texas may be a better overall football team than Baylor, its offense isn’t nearly as potent. The fact that the Bears scored 63 on the Mountaineers doesn’t forecast a 70-point performance from the Longhorns. In fact, I’d be shocked if they score much above 50.
Baylor has averaged 54.25 points through its first four games, so 63 wasn’t too far above its average. Texas, meanwhile, is at 47.25 points per game. That’s not a huge difference, but after watching last week’s film, the Longhorns aren’t likely to try to win in a shootout. They’re more apt to try to slow down the pace a little, attempting to control the football — limiting WVU’s offensive possessions and, therefore, its points.
It’s also important to remember that much of Texas’ offensive production has come on the ground. The Longhorns are 19th in the country at 228 yards rushing per game. Their passing, which ranks 41st, hasn’t been nearly as effective. Head coach Mack Brown isn’t going to put the pressure on David Ash’s shoulders to throw 50 or 60 passes per game, even with starting running back Malcolm Brown out with an ankle injury. He’s been better than expected this year, but I’d still be surprised if the coaching staff trusts him enough to put the game on his arm.
That’s good news for a WVU team that isn’t bad up front and much more capable of stopping the run than it is the pass.
Coaching: Although this is the second all-time meeting between the two schools, Dana Holgorsen and Brown know each other well. The two went up against each other three times when Holgorsen was the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech and Brown was the head coach of the Longhorns from 2005 through 2007. Brown won all three.
Holgorsen got some revenge in 2010 when he was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State and the Cowboys beat the Longhorns 33-16.
There are a number of assistants on both teams who are familiar with each other, as well, which could make the chess match an interesting one.
Don’t forget, either, that Texas is coming off a 41-36 win over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell short, but they produced plenty of offense. With a number of connections at his former school and a similar offensive philosophy, Holgorsen is sure to get some advice from his former co-workers about how to move the ball against the Longhorns.
On the other hand, this will be the second week that Texas has prepared for such an attack, and it surely learned a few things facing Oklahoma State last week.
Atmosphere: West Virginia has played 19 games in its football history in front of a crowd of more than 75,000 fans. The Mountaineers are 1-18 in those games.
The only win came on Sept. 11, 1982, when WVU went to Oklahoma and shocked a crowd of 75,008 Sooner fans.
Many of the players on this year’s team visited LSU in 2010, where WVU lost 20-14 in front of 92,575 fans, and some were on the 2009 team that lost to Auburn 41-30 in front of a crowd of 87,451.
Saturday will be the first time any Mountaineer team has played in front of a crowd of more than 100,000, and that has to be a concern, especially considering the fact that this will be the first hostile crowd WVU has seen all year.
Matchups: Although it’s fun to discuss other aspects of a game, it usually comes down to one unit matching up against another. The one to watch Saturday might be the WVU offensive line against Texas’ talented defensive front, particularly its defensive ends.
Geno Smith was definitely impressive last week, and he deserves the hype he’s received, but the “big uglies” in front of him had a lot to do with the head-turning numbers.
Take a look at the highlights. Smith had plenty of time to sit back, go through his reads, allow his receivers time to get open and then throw the perfect pass. No, you or I — unless Payton Manning is reading this, and if so, please send an autograph, or perhaps a little cash — couldn’t do what Smith did even with that time. But even Manning couldn’t do it with defenders hanging on his jersey.
That was the case against Maryland two weeks ago. Smith still threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-21 win, but most agreed that he was “just a little off.”
That’s because Maryland had the size and speed on defense to put some pressure on Smith with constant blitzes. That will likely be Texas’ plan, especially with a pair of all-Big 12 defensive ends in Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor, who might be able to get to Smith on their own.
Of course, the danger comes if the blitz is picked up and Smith has time to get the ball away. With fewer defenders on the second level, it will take just one move for Tavon Austin or Stedman Bailey to be off to the races.
Turnovers are always big, but sacks and quarterback hurries could determine the outcome of this one.
How will this one turn out? It’s really hard to tell. But I’ll promise you this. It will be a much different game than the one played last week in Morgantown.