WVU defense set for Texas Tech

MORGANTOWN – It will be out of the frying pan and into the fire for a West Virginia defense which is coming off its poorest performance of the season-maybe all-time-when the Mountaineers take on No. 16 Texas Tech at noon on Saturday at Milan Puskar Stadium.

“We started talking about that back in January,” defensive coordinator Keith Patterson said. “It’s the Big 12. You beat Oklahoma State, then you have an undefeated team waiting for you.

“It’s no different now. We have another undefeated team. Texas Tech is a top-15 team in the country. People forget that these games are now five hours long. There is a lot of mental stress that goes into each and every game.

“You have to be able to handle it. The mental part of it is probably just as taxing as the physical part of it.”

That ‘mental’ part has already begun to takes it toll as Patterson, his staff and players must find a way to slow down a Red Raiders attack led by junior tight end Jace Amaro.

For those with short memories, it was Amaro, and his 156 yards of receiving, that was one of the keys to TTU’s 49-14 victory a year ago.

“First of all, it’s his size and his ability to run,” continued Patterson. “He bodies up on you, so even though you have good position, he can go over the top of you and catch the football.

“He’s obviously a different type of challenge that someone who has great speed. He’s very physical. He’s a great blocker. He poses so many challenges. From not only catching the football, but also blocking in the run game.”

But, Amaro isn’t the only problem facing third-year head coach Dana Holgorsen as he prepares to take on a Texas Tech program led by one of his former quarterbacks Kliff Kingsbury.

“We didn’t play very well in the last Big 12 game that we played,” Holgorsen said during Tuesday’s press conference. “Good news is we get a chance to redeem ourselves against another top-20 opponent that is undefeated.

“This is the fourth time we have played an undefeated and ranked team in the Big 12. The challenge is large, but I can assure you we are up for the challenge and will put our best foot forward, not only in preparation but also on game day on Saturday.

“I would expect a very festive atmosphere in Morgantown on Saturday. I do not know why that would not be the case. I would assume everyone is excited about getting to the game at noon. This is the fourth time we will have gone through the routine of a Friday and Saturday when we play at noon, so we will be prepared for that.”

But, will the offense be up to the task of facing a Red Raiders’ defense that leads the Big 12 in rushing yards allowed (113.2 ypg), is second in scoring (17.3 ppg) and is third in total defense (344.8 ypg).

“It is not secret that we are going to try to establish the run and be more physical up front than we have in the past,” Holgorsen said. “We have done a pretty good job in my opinion of getting the play started in the run game, but have not done a great job of getting the play started in the pass game.

“They have to go hand-in-hand in order to be a good offensive football team, you have to be able to do both. We have had a more difficult time in the pass game for a lot of different reasons. That is not an excuse to not being successful; we have to focus on that, and we have focused on it.

“We have inexperienced guys all around. When it comes to running routes, catching balls and timing with the quarterbacks because the quarterbacks are inexperienced or because we are playing three of them, whatever it is we have to get better at it and get the play started and be able to take advantage of plays down field when teams crowd the box and try to take the run away from us.”

It all begins up front with an offensive front that has witnessed constant turmoil as first-year assistant Ron Crook looks for the right combination that will give the Mountaineers the best chance to move the football consistently.

“We need to play together up front,” senior Pat Eger said. “There is no time that we can play with three or four people. All five people need to be on the same page every play and be moving people off the ball. That is the plan for this weekend, and we are excited for this weekend. Texas Tech has a great defensive line with physical guys that can move, so we are excited for the challenge.”

It also will be a unit whose members will be playing with a chip on their collective shoulders following a subpar performance against TTU’s prevent unit a year ago.

“We will definitely be playing with a chip on our shoulders after last season,” added Eger. “We need to worry about playing West Virginia football. At the end of the day, if we go out there and play for four quarters with great effort, great energy and Mountaineer football, we have a great opportunity to win.”

  • The noon contest is slated to be televised on Fox Sports 1 (Channel 65) with Justin Kutcher doing the play-by-play, James Bates providing the analysis and Brady Poppinga roaming the sidelines.
  • West Virginia is 14-11 all-time against current members of the Big 12 Conference. WVU is 1-1 versus Texas Tech.
  • WVU scored a season high 42 points against Baylor, the most points scored since scoring 59 points against Kansas on Dec. 1, 2012.
  • Charles Sims is ranked No. 4 in the Big 12 in rushing yards per game, No. 5 in all-purpose yardage and No. 15 in total offense.
  • West Virginia finished with a season-high three interceptions at Baylor, marking the fourth game with a pick in 2013. The Mountaineers are ranked No. 3 in the Big 12 and No. 21 nationally in interceptions.
  • Senior Darwin Cook leads the Big 12 with four interceptions; one going for a touchdown.
  • Nick O’Toole ranks No. 17 nationally in punting and No. 4 in the Big 12 (44.6 ypp). WVU is No. 7 nationally in next punting and No. 2 in the Big 12 (42.1).
  • Parkersburg South graduate Michael Molinari is averaging 63.6 yards on 23 kickoffs with eight touchbacks.