WVU football looks to rebound with Texas Tech after heartbreaking loss last week
Last Saturday in Norman, Oklahoma kicker Gabe Brkic hit a 30-yard field goal as time expired to lift the Sooners to a 16-13 victory over West Virginia. Oklahoma had never held a lead in the contest, not until that final play. With that kick, what might have been the most successful two-week span in Mountaineer football history didn’t transpire.
Think about what might have been. On back-to-back Saturdays, West Virginia would have beat number 15 ranked Virginia Tech, an old rival, and number four ranked Oklahoma on the road. That’s having your cake and eating it too. That’s instant national recognition, a climb in the polls, and reassurance that the trust in the climb has been warranted.
Well, while some will debate how West Virginia let the Oklahoma game slip away in the final few minutes, and most assuredly Mountaineer fans are disappointed with the loss, it’s hard not to have a favorable impression of Neal Brown’s Mountaineers after their last few weeks of play.
Make no mistake about it, defense has been the key. Goal line stands against Virginia Tech solidified the win. And when is the last time Oklahoma was held to 16 points, at home no less?
The question mark remains the offense, which has seen mixed results this season.
An offensive analysis shows that the Mountaineers have run 271 offensive plays, 138 on the ground and 133 through the air. The rushing game has produced 466 yards, an average of 3.4 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns, Through the air, the passing attack has totaled 993 yards, six touchdowns, and an average of 12.1 yards per carry.
Still, the offense has fallen short at crunch time in the Mountaineers’ two losses.
In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Neal Brown pointed to those offensive struggles, particularly to the issue of consistently having to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
“I’ve got to do a better job of getting us into successful shot plays,” Brown said. “We called them, we just didn’t have them open and that’s all on me at the end of the day.”
Brown was also quick to jump to the defense of center Zach Frazier, who was involved in two costly plays near the end of the game.
“Zach Frazier played his ass off,” Brown said. “He’s the most prepared, he’s one of our best practice players. He does everything that gives you an opportunity to perform on Saturday night. And if you look, we had 63 accountable snaps, probably 59 of those were pretty good.”
Frazier, a Mountain State native from Fairmont, excelled both on the football field and as a state championship wrestler for the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears.
Nonetheless, West Virginia has no choice but to bounce back strong, building on the positives from last week, not dwelling on the negatives.
The Mountaineers will face Texas Tech this Saturday in Morgantown with kickoff slated for 3:30 p.m. West Virginia enters the contest with a record of 2-2. Texas Tech, by contrast, comes into the game with a record of 3-1.
The Red Raiders opened the season with three straight victories, scoring wins over Houston (38-21), Stephen F. Austin (28-22), and Florida International University (54-21). Texas Tech then began Big 12 play last week with a 70-35 loss to Texas.
In that game, the Longhorns built a 42-14 lead by halftime and never looked back, outscoring the Red Raiders 28-21 in the second half to amass the 35-point victory.
All-time, West Virginia holds a slim, 6-4 advantage in the series. The Mountaineers are 2-2 at home, and 3-2 on the road against the Red Raiders. Texas Tech, however, has won the last two matchups in the rivalry, most recently beating West Virginia 34-27 a season ago in Lubbock.
The two teams first played all the way back in 1937, with West Virginia earning a 7-6 victory against Texas Tech in the Sun Bowl, held in El Paso. They didn’t play again for 75 years, not until West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012, but have played every year since.
Texas Tech will be coming into the contest without the services of starting quarterback Tyler Shough, who suffered a broken collarbone against Texas. Taking over for Shough, however, is backup quarterback Henry Columbi. Columbi is familiar to Mountaineer fans as he led the Red Raiders to that 34-27 victory over West Virginia last season, getting his first start as a result of the starter being out.
Columbi completed 22 of 28 passes for 169 yards in that game, also rushing for 40 yards and a touchdown in the game.
“I think it helps that we played him last year,” Brown stated.
Against Texas last week, despite the loss, Columbi connected on 17 of 23 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns.
“He threw three go balls in the second half against Texas and they were right on the money.” Brown said. “He hit three explosive plays. He’s athletic and he can extend plays, and that’s what hurt us last year.”
West Virginia will have their hands full with Texas Tech’s explosive offense, but the Mountaineer defense has shown that they can rise to the occasion when needed. Again, the question mark is the offense.
With a record of 2-2 and now with the Big 12 part of the schedule getting into full swing, the Texas Tech game is an important swing game for the Mountaineers.