West Virginia Football: 5 Keys for the Mountaineers vs. Texas
We have all heard that everything is bigger in Texas, but the biggest thing in Texas this weekend may be the numbers on the scoreboard at Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium when West Virginia and UT square off on Saturday.
Two of the nation's top 10 offenses will take the field on Saturday night in a game that promises all of the excitement of a bull-riding event in a Texas rodeo.
WVU is coming off a shootout for the ages in its first-ever Big 12 Conference game against Baylor last Saturday. Led by quarterback Geno Smith, the Mountaineers exploded for 70 points and 807 yards of total offense.
Later that day, the Longhorns were in a shootout of their own against Oklahoma State. UT put up 41 points and used a touchdown from running back Joe Bergeron in the last minute to top the Cowboys.
Still, OSU was able to draw up a basic blueprint of how Texas can be beat.
Here are the keys for West Virginia to avoid being bucked to the dirt by the Longhorns on Saturday.
Protect Geno Smith
Before the Mountaineers can worry about what Texas is doing, they have meet a few personal objectives.
The most important goal WVU will have in this one is to protect quarterback Geno Smith.
As the outright favorite to win the Heisman Trophy at this point in the season, Smith is undoubtedly the most important part of this West Virginia football team.
He has been the best quarterback in the country over the first month of the season, establishing an astronomical QB rating at 208.4 and completion rating at 83.4 percent, both of which lead the nation.
He has also averaged an NCAA-best 432 yards per game while throwing 20 touchdowns without a single interception.
Last week against Baylor, he put forth the best performance by any player in the history of West Virginia football by nearly doubling his performance from the previous week against Maryland.
One of the biggest differences in the two weeks was his protection.
Against Baylor, Smith had all afternoon to find open receivers and was sacked just one time. Against Maryland however, he was sacked twice and hit countless other times.
Not only did this effect him physically, as he was seen limping on numerous occasions, but it also disrupted the WVU offensive tempo.
Texas will be looking to put some heavy pressure on Smith with two of the nation's best defensive ends, Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat, who have combined for seven sacks and 12 tackles for a loss on the year.
West Virginia must keep them as far away from Smith as possible.
Establish a Ground Game
Texas has three of the most talented defensive backs in the Big 12 in safety Kenny Vaccaro and cornerbacks Carrington Byndom and Quandre Diggs.
Needless to say, passing yards will not come as easily as they did last week against Baylor.
Oklahoma State's running game was very effective against Texas, going at a rate of 6.9 yards per carry for a total of 275 yards.
Of course, OSU has the best running back in the conference in Joseph Randle, while the picture is much more murky for WVU at running back.
Regular starter Shawne Alston tweeted Thursday night that he would not be making the trip to Texas, as he is still out with a thigh bruise.
Me not making the trip is due strictly to medical reasons.. My coaches would never withhold me from being there to support my team... #relax— Shawne Alston (@Alston_20) October 5, 2012
So, it looks like Andrew Buie will be the feature back yet again, with some expected help from Dustin Garrison, who is also slowly making a return from injury.
As a result, West Virginia will have to continue to be creative with its ground game, leaning on its bread and butter package of sticks, draws and screen plays. Also, the WVU staff will likely continue to include receivers in the running game on jet sweep plays.
Some good news for the WVU run game is that one of the most talented Texas linebackers, Jordan Hicks, will be out for Saturday, as reported by Mike Singer of CBSSports.com. His absence was glaring last week as OSU racked up yardage on the ground.
This should make life a bit easier for the Mountaineer runners who will be without Alston.
Keep the Chains Moving
West Virginia has been the best team in the country at converting third downs so far this year.
The Mountaineers have converted more than 60 percent of their third-down tries, a higher rate than any other team in the country.
This has allowed WVU to establish its warp-speed tempo and score 53 points per game.
Against Baylor, the Mountaineers were 12-for-15 on third down, sparking their 70-point explosion.
A bulk of this chain-moving initiative will have to be taken by the running game. West Virginia will try to do it primarily through the air, as it has done on two-thirds of its first downs this year.
However, Texas has been tough against the pass on third down, as just 35 percent of its first downs allowed have come through the air.
Ultimately, the Mountaineers will be best off on third-and-short situations.
This way, they can still rely on short passes to move the sticks, which won't allow Texas to just step on the gas and rush Geno Smith full throttle.
Stop Texas on the Ground
Oklahoma State did a very good job of limiting Texas on the ground.
In the game, UT averaged just 3.2 yards per carry for a total of 136 yards.
In the week prior, Ole Miss did not succeed at slowing the Longhorns on the ground, as they pounded the ball 54 times for 350 yards at an average of 6.5 per carry.
Looking at his statistics, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that it will be more important to stop quarterback David Ash, rather than the Longhorn running game.
Ash is definitely much improved from last season, particularly with his decision making. He has thrown just one interception on the year and has accumulated a 78 percent completion percentage.
However, a lot of this is due to the strength of the Texas running game.
While Ash has shown that he has the ability to make some plays, West Virginia is certainly better of trying to make him win the game, rather than dropping back and creating room for the UT runners.
Another piece of Texas injury news that will help WVU: No. 2 rusher Malcolm Brown will not play this weekend (via Chuck Carlton, Dallas Morning News).
Establish Early Lead
West Virginia must establish an early lead for a couple of reasons.
The first, is to take the crowd at DKR out of the game. The atmosphere in Austin is sure to be electric, so if the Mountaineers are able to score early and often, that should take the edge off a little bit.
The second reason is to force the ball out of the hands of the running game.
If the Longhorns are playing from behind, they will be forced to take to the air more often and generally become more predictable on offense.
Also, the UT running game has been most effective in the fourth quarter.
On the season Texas has 912 and 13 touchdowns on the ground. 312 of those yards and five of the touchdowns have come in the fourth quarter.
The more Texas is able to run the ball throughout the game, the more it will wear on the West Virginia defense, which will really pay dividends in the final 15 minutes.
Oklahoma State learned this last week, as Texas ran the ball nine times for 70 yards on its final two drives—both of which ended in rushing touchdowns by Joe Bergeron.
If WVU takes the lead early and continues to tack on points, Texas won't be able to stick to its ground and pound philosophy.