Look to the skies when WVU, Texas Tech clash
LUBBOCK, Texas - When all is said and done, West Virginia is likely to have faced more passes this season than in any other in school history.
Call that a product of two convergent circumstances - entry into the pass-centric Big 12 and ownership of a defense that fairly cries out to be passed upon. Through five games, opponents are averaging 37 attempts, a number that still is below the 43 the Mountaineers themselves are averaging, but a number that figures to steadily grow given WVU's success - or lack thereof - this season.
As far as Daron Roberts is concerned, the more passes the better.
"That's a good opportunity for a defensive back playing in the Big 12,'' said Roberts, West Virginia's cornerbacks coach. "By the end of the season you won't be able to say you didn't have enough opportunities to play the ball, because it's definitely going up in the air.''
Figure on the ball being in the air more than a few times this afternoon when No. 5 West Virginia (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) faces Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) in a 3:30 p.m. game at Jones AT&T Stadium that will be televised by ABC.
The Red Raiders throw it. In fact, of the teams in the nation who have played five games, only Houston has thrown the ball more than Texas Tech's 224 times. Quarterback Seth Doege already has 15 touchdown passes, which is among the best in the nation among quarterbacks not named Geno Smith.
The question facing West Virginia today is, of course, can it stop Tech's passing game? On very few occasions this season have the Mountaineers done that. But at the end of last week's 48-45 win at Texas they did. Pat Miller broke up two crucial passes down the stretch, none bigger than a fourth-down throw that stopped a Longhorns drive late in the game with WVU leading by three.
For a defense - and especially for Miller - might that be worth a boost of confidence that could carry over from one week to the next?
"We'll see,'' Roberts said. "I told Pat this is a very fickle business. People will boo you one minute and cheer you the next, so you have to put together a consecutive string of good performances, and I think he's taken it upon himself that responsibility.''
No one has been more under the glare of the lights than Miller, the senior cornerback. Opponents have picked on just about everyone in the West Virginia secondary at one time or another this season, but Miller has been a favorite target.
When he hasn't come through, the results have been ugly. In fact, during WVU's 70-63 win at home to Baylor two weeks ago, he was cheered when replaced in the lineup.
"It's a part of the game,'' Miller said. "You can't care about it too much.''
The game against Texas, though, has perhaps bolstered Miller's confidence. He was glowing afterward in postgame interviews, probably because for the first time all season he was being asked about plays he made instead of those he didn't.
While he and fellow cornerback Brodrick Jenkins are likely to need to make more today against Texas Tech, Roberts isn't so sure that last week's success will have much to do with this week.
"There are some benefits to making plays at the end of a game,'' Roberts said, referring to the confidence a player might be able to carry over from one game to the next. "But as soon as you put that Texas Tech tape on it all goes out the window. You see a very potent offense and a team with a wealth of skill players, and that's the best mind eraser you can have.
"Pat understands his contributions the last game helped us, but he also knows those contributions aren't going to help us this week.''
As is usually the case, there's the possibility that West Virginia's defense doesn't have to actually clamp down on Texas Tech, but rather just slow the Red Raiders. In the first two games of the Big 12 season, the Mountaineers have given up an average of 54 points to Baylor and Texas, but thanks to an offense that averages 59 it didn't matter.
This week, though, WVU is facing a defense ranked No. 2 nationally and giving up just 210 yards per game. While West Virginia will certainly exceed that, it might not be equipped to win a shootout unless its defense comes to play just a bit.
Miller and Jenkins and everyone else on the back end of the WVU defense have to be prepared not only to play, but to keep playing even when things go badly, which surely they will at some point.
"An offensive coordinator isn't feeling sorry for you because you gave up a couple of big passes,'' Roberts said. "They're coming right back at you. We saw that in the last game and we'll see it again this one.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or email@example.com or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.