West Virginia’s Geno Smith holds a commanding lead in the Heisman Trophy race as we near the season’s halfway mark, but the Mountaineers’ 2012 move to the Big 12 means that the second half of WVU’s schedule is littered with potential torpedoes that could sink his candidacy.
And while West Virginia fans probably aren’t shedding any tears over the loss of Backyard Brawl foe Pittsburgh from the schedule, the overall strength of the opposition has caused the price of poker to go up for Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers.
Now, we will take a look at four of the teams remaining on the WVU slate that could slow the Heisman momentum for the mercurial Mountaineer quarterback.
The Kansas State Wildcats likely pose the most daunting threat from a team standpoint as nothing can slow the Heisman momentum like a midseason loss (see: 1997—Manning, Peyton).
But the Wildcats are not the top team on this list just because they have the ability to beat West Virginia. The men from Manhattan have a deep and experienced defense who have spent most of the last four years chasing elusive signal caller Collin Klein around their own practice field.
The defense is laden with seniors who get the job done by knowing their roles and schemes and how to play in space. The have limited offenses to 3.2 yards per carry in 2012, have 13 sacks, nine forced fumbles and 36 tackles for loss.
The defense has intercepted at least one pass in each of its five games so far, and the bend-but-don’t-break defense is giving up less than 16 points per game despite allowing a completion percentage of over 65 percent.
As we saw last week in a 37-23 loss to Iowa State, the Horned Frogs are a different team without quarterback Casey Pachall, but if he is back for the November 3 visit to Morgantown, TCU can pose a threat.
The defense has been stout on the ground, yielding just 3.18 yards per carry, but is a much bigger threat to shut down Geno Smith’s aerial assault. The defensive line is paced by freshman Devonte Fields, who has 5.5 of TCU’s 12 sacks through five games. The team leads the Big 12 with 10 interceptions and has used 25-pass breakups to hold the opposition to a scant 45.2 completion percentage.
Pachall’s return would be a key in the game as it would revive a moribund Horned Frog offense, which had been holding nearly a seven-minute edge in time of possession over its opponents. TCU also has the benefit of possibly catching a battered WVU team that will have to deal with Texas Tech and Kansas State immediately before their date.
Always a threat every time you tee it up, the Sooners have the ability to score with the Mountaineers as quarterback Landry Jones has ridden shotgun on more than his share of shootouts.
Oklahoma is yielding just 16 points per game and has allowed its only touchdown pass of the year in a 55-point blowout of Florida A&M, but its rushing defense is no better than midpack in the FBS standings.
The Sooners have eight sacks, 11 hurries and have broken up 13 passes this year, but they failed to lay a glove on Kansas State Collin Klein two weeks ago in the Wildcats’ 24-19 win.
The key could be to get West Virginia in third down situations, as this is where Oklahoma has shone all year. Opponents have earned just 29 rushing yards on 19 third-down carries and the Sooners have allowed a completion percentage of 47 percent on third downs as opposed to 54 percent during the whole game.
The Red Raiders have put up outstanding defensive numbers in the first five games of the season, but have yet to see anyone nearly as talented as the blue-and-gold clad Mountaineers.
Texas Tech have the nation’s top-ranked passing defense, giving up just 117 yards per game and just 4.7 yards per attempt. They are also 13th against the run, allowing less than three yards per ground effort.
The Red Raiders have limited opponents to 16.8 points per game through the first five weeks, but gave up 41 to Oklahoma last weekend.
Junior Kerry Hyder is the key to the pass rush as the defensive end leads the squad with three sacks and five tackles for loss.