Texas Tech football: What we will see today as Red Raiders face WVU

Texas Tech football: What we will see today as Red Raiders face WVU
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Oct 22, 2022; Lubbock, Texas, USA; The Texas Tech Red Raiders cheerleaders celebrate scoring a touchdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium and Cody Campbell Field. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Tech football team has an opportunity to rewrite the 2023 narrative today.  After a disappointing 1-2 start to the season, the dawn of Big 12 play gives Joe McGuire’s bunch a fresh start of sorts.

However, getting off to a good start in league action won’t be easy thanks to a tricky road game at West Virginia.  What makes this game so difficult to predict is that we really aren’t sure what we are going to get out of either team.

It is fair to wonder if West Virginia is better than their last-place preseason Big 12 poll ranking.  After all, they sit at 2-1 and they own a win over their arch-rival, Pitt.

However, Pitt is a dreadful team with an offense that seems to be allergic to the endzone. In two games against Power 5 opponents (WVU and Cincy) the Panthers have managed only 27 total points.  That includes last week’s six-point outburst against the Mountaineers in Morgantown.

So are the Mountaineers actually better than expected or is Pitt just one of the worst teams in a Power 5 conference?  I might skew toward the latter of those options given what we saw from the Mountaineers in their opener against one of the best teams in the country.

Falling behind 31-7 in the 4th quarter, the Mountaineers only momentarily threatened to make their opener against No. 7 Penn State intriguing when they tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter.  After that, the Nittany Lions dominated as expected in Happy Valley.

Meanwhile, Tech is a bit of an enigma as well through three weeks.  The loss to Wyoming in the opener was surprising and disappointing for a team with so much offseason hype.

However, unlike WVU, when Tech squared off with one of the best teams in the country, the game went down to the wire.  In fact, the Red Raiders had every opportunity to upset No. 13 Oregon but four turnovers prevented McGuire from picking up a potentially season-changing win in Lubbock.

That’s why Tech is a road favorite today despite having a worse record this year and despite the fact that the Red Raiders’ only victory thus far is last week’s ho-hum 41-3 win over FCS afterthought Tarleton State.

The ESPN.com matchup predictor gives Tech a 60% chance of prevailing and most believe that the Red Raiders are the better team. One might expect that number to increase if the Mountaineers are without starting QB Garrett Greene as expected today.

This matchup is also intriguing because of the similarities between the two programs when it comes to the coaching situation.  At first glance, McGuire and WVU’s Neal Brown couldn’t be in much different places with McGuire being one of the most popular people in Raiderland and Brown sitting on the hottest of seats in Morgantown (though the win over Pitt did help cool that situation for at least one week).

However, WVU might just be two years slower in correcting a mistake they made in 2018 just like Texas Tech did in the middle of the 2021 season.  Don’t forget that the same year that Tech hired Matt Wells, WVU brought Brown in from Troy to run their program.

That was an offseason when four current Big 12 programs made head coaching changes after the season and while Kansas State seemed to get it right with Chris Kleiman, the other three appear to have made mistakes.  Tech was the first to right its wrongs as Wells was fired in the middle of the 2021 season.

However, WVU is still holding onto Brown despite a 24-26 overall record which includes a mark of 14-21 in Big 12 games.  Also still holding onto their apparent mistake from that offseason is Houston (which was not in the Big 12 at the time) who still employs Dana Holgorsen despite just a 28-22 record and the fact that his program is trending south in a hurry.

A Red Raider win today would potentially be the beginning of the end for Brown in Morgantown and a follow-up win over Holgorsen’s Cougars next weekend in Lubbock could put the U of H head coach on notice as well (though Holgorsen’s massive buyout will likely be his saving grace for at least this season).

People in Morgantown view Wells in the same light as people in Lubbock viewed Wells two years ago.  Now, the Red Raiders have a chance to be the catalyst that brings about a regime change in Appalachia but to do that, Tech will have to pick up their best win of the season thus far.  So let’s take a look at what could happen today at Mylan Puskar Stadium.

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Tech has 16 plays of 20 or more yards this year, good for 51st nationally.  WVU has only 8.  That’s 113th nationally.  In other words, Tech should have a greater margin for error in this game and that’s always a huge advantage.

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Another advantage is at the QB spot.  If Shough plays up to his ability and protects the football, he is in a different class than either WVU QB that we might see today.  Having a decided edge at the most important position on the field is a great way to win on the road.

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Now, Shough will have to go out and actually make that perceived advantage become a reality.  He was supposed to be better than Wyoming’s Andrew Peasley but the gritty Cowboy QB outplayed Shough in week one and that spelled doom for the Red Raiders.  Shough can’t let that happen again today.

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Tech’s defense is also better than WVU’s.  The secondary is perhaps the strength of Tech’s defense and today, it will welcome back starting safety Tyler Owens who missed the Tarleton game.

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Meanwhile, WVU has a secondary that was torched by Penn State and which has remained a puzzle that the coaching staff has yet to solve.  That’s not a great place to be in when trying to stop the Red Raiders, even in a year when the Tech passing offense has been merely adequate at best.

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The only place where WVU should have a perceived advantage is along the offensive line.  The veteran Mountaineer line is good while the rebuilt Tech O-line is a liability at times.

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However, Tech’s defensive line is also solid, especially in the middle where Jaylon Hutchings and Tony Bradford form one of the best defensive tackle duos in the Big 12.  Therefore, WVU’s biggest strength could be neutralized this afternoon.

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Ultimately, I don’t expect WVU to have enough playmakers to keep pace with Tech, especially if backup QB Nicco Marchiol is the man who has to lead the Mountaineer attack.  This won’t be a game that Tech wins in a blowout but it will wind up being a 10-point win giving Red Raider fans something to feel good about for the first time in 2023.

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