Two 4-0 teams. Two ranked powerhouses duking it out to come out on top of the Big 12. Only one of them will survive.
This is the type of game we live to see in the college football world.
When No. 8 West Virginia travels to Austin to take on No. 11 Texas, it's difficult to know what to expect. These two are ranked so closely together, and at times this season, they've both produced stellar offensive numbers, but defense has seemed like an afterthought.
Both have been tested once this season by Big 12 opponents, and both had to rely on explosive offensive performances in high-scoring games.
We could expect a slugfest this weekend, and we could expect that whichever team makes one more big play than the other will be the one that wins. Or we could expect one of these defenses to show up.
Where: Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas
When: Saturday, October 6 at 7 p.m. ET
According to OddsShark, Texas is the slim 6.5-point favorite over West Virginia, which seems just about right. The Mountaineers may be ranked higher, but they're not ranked that much higher—and Texas is playing at home.
No matter how high your ranking is, it's never easy to march into a hostile Big 12 environment against one of the best offenses in the nation and expect a win.
The Mountaineers do boast the nation's top passing offense, but it's worth noting that last week's 70-63 win over Baylor—a pretty massive outlier—helped to beef up those numbers substantially. Senior quarterback Geno Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns, and while that was obviously impressive, to say the very least, it's unlikely that we'll see those kinds of numbers again.
Especially against a team that only allows 21 points per game.
OddsShark has the over/under at 75, which makes sense given how prolific these two teams have been on offense this season—and also given West Virginia's ridiculous offensive performance last week against Baylor.
If there's one thing we can expect this weekend, it's a lot of points.
Texas ranks ninth in the nation in points scored per game with 47.3. A couple of weeks ago, it scored 66 against Ole Miss. West Virginia ranks third in points scored per game with 53—but again, without that 70-point performance against Baylor, that average drops to 47.3. The exact same as Texas.
It will be interesting to see how these defenses perform against a higher level of competition this week. As good as the Mountaineers were on offense last week, they were equally terrible on defense; it's not every day that you can allow 63 points in a football game and still win.
The Longhorns defense, meanwhile, hasn't been terrific—it allowed 36 to Oklahoma State in its Big 12 opener last week—but it does have one shutout on its record to even things out.
Clearly, these two offenses will be the stars of the show on Saturday, but whichever team can get something done on the defensive side bodes to be the one that comes out on top.
West Virginia Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- RB Ryan Clarke (leg) is questionable for Saturday.
- RB Donovan Miles has been out for two games with an undisclosed injury and is questionable for Saturday.
- RB Shawne Alston (thigh) missed the last game and is questionable for Saturday.
Texas Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- CB Adrian Phillips (shoulder) is questionable for Saturday.
- DT Desmond Jackson went down with an undisclosed injury last week and is questionable for Saturday.
- DT Brandon Moore (virus) is questionable for Saturday.
- LB Jordan Hicks (hip) is questionable for Saturday.
- PK Anthony Fera (groin) is questionable for Saturday.
They're as big as they've been for any game we've seen since Week 1, when Alabama took on Michigan in the season opener. This weekend, one of these teams is going to stay alive in the chase for the BCS championship, and the other could be out of it.
One loss doesn't necessarily mean peril. If the team that loses wins out, it could very well find itself back in the hunt a few weeks from now. But other teams in the Top 10 will have to lose, too—and relying on other teams to lose in order to get back to the top isn't the most reliable of methods.
If Texas manages to win at home, it should find itself in the Top 10 by the time the polls come out on Sunday. The hard work won't be over—next week, the Longhorns face No. 17 Oklahoma—but if they win that one, too, they'll be in very good shape.
If the Mountaineers get a road win over a highly ranked Big 12 opponent, they're going to get even closer to the Top Five in the nation. But they are facing a brutal stretch over the next few weeks when they face Texas Tech, then back-to-back games against No. 7 Kansas State and No. 15 TCU.
A win this weekend is essential if they want to stick around in the Top 10.
Keys for West Virginia
The Mountaineers defense appeared to be absent against Baylor last weekend. Fortunately, the offense was as present as it's ever been, which was West Virginia's saving grace.
But if the Mountaineers give Texas that many opportunities, Texas will take advantage—and its defense will hold up much better than Baylor's did.
If West Virginia wants to beat Texas on the road, it's going to have to make some pretty big defensive adjustments before it shows up in Austin. It certainly can't allow 35 first-half points and 581 total passing yards.
This is going to be much more of a challenge than beating Baylor. For one, the Mountaineers are going on the road, and secondly, they're facing a team that is every bit as good offensively as they are. If this game becomes a Texas shootout, like the last one did, chances are the Mountaineers aren't going to be the ones coming out on top.
It needs to be defense first this week.
Keys for Texas
The Longhorns' formula for winning has been very similar to that of West Virginia: Score early and do just enough defensively to win. They did it against Oklahoma State, when they scored 21 points in the first quarter; they did it against Ole Miss, when they scored 31 in the first half.
If the Longhorns can put West Virginia into a hole early, this game will go exactly the way they want it to. The Mountaineers are used to being the team that does that. They're used to coming out of the gates hot and scoring early and often.
Last week, Baylor managed to keep up with the Mountaineers through the first half, but Texas needs to take it a step further: It needs to score big and refuse to let the Mountaineers do the same.
Also, take a look at the Mountaineers' injury report. It's entirely populated by running backs. Texas, therefore, needs to force the Mountaineers to run the ball. We know what WVU's passing offense can do: It racked up 656 yards last week, and three different Mountaineers receivers finished with at least 100 yards.
But this game was disgustingly unbalanced—West Virginia got just 151 yards on the ground, and heading into Saturday, it's running low on healthy running backs. Forcing West Virginia to rely on the backfield anyway could be a recipe for success.
Texas' offense can do everything that the Mountaineers' can do, but its defense has proven that it can hold up just a little bit better as well.
The Mountaineers, meanwhile, were lucky that Baylor's pass defense was worse than the one they put out on the field last week. There is no way that the Longhorns are going to let Geno Smith do what he did last week.
It's not going to be a blowout, and it will be nowhere near as high-scoring an affair as last week's games, but Texas will come out on top at home.