CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- IF YOU'RE a West Virginia football fan seeking light in the midst of Hurricane Sandy remnants, you've come to the right place.And when we break down the Mountaineers' Saturday home game against TCU, you shall see that light.You probably know the Horned Frogs are hampered by injuries. Starting tailback Waymon James and defensive end Ross Forrest were lost to season-ending injuries. QB Casey Pachall is out after being suspended. His replacement, Trevone Boykin, is expected to play, but hurt his left knee in TCU's loss to Oklahoma State.The list goes on. Offensive guard Blaize Foltz is hobbled with a bad ankle. Receiver Brandon Carter missed the last game. Standout defensive end Stansly Maponga has a bad foot. Cornerback Jason Verrell has been hurt.On top of that, the Horned Frogs have just 11 seniors on scholarship and have played 28 freshmen - 16 of the true variety. (WVU has used 20 freshmen, 12 true.)But the light really shines when you check out the game's matchups. Kansas State entered its game against WVU clearly superior. Texas Tech had the edge.That's not necessarily the case when you compare WVU and TCU.Even if you throw WVU's horrid pass defense on the board and examine it, you have to think the Mountaineers have a chance.
Here's the deal. Yes, TCU's passing offense has an edge on WVU's passing defense. Every team in the nation would have an edge on West Virginia's pass D, now ranked dead last among FBS teams. It's allowing an average of 360.1 passing yards and is No. 119 of 120 in pass efficiency defense.Boykin, though, is a redshirt freshman who is only averaging 160.3 passing yards and has thrown six interceptions. If the Mountaineer defense is ever going to improve its rating, this is the game to do so.TCU's pass defense, meanwhile, is ranked No. 63 nationally, allowing an average of 234.4 yards. That should provide WVU quarterback Geno Smith a chance to rebound from two sub-par games.Look for the Horned Frogs to try and establish the run early against the Mountaineers. That would make sense since Boykin is dinged and still shaky passing the ball. (He's ranked eighth of 10 Big 12 quarterbacks in passing efficiency.)Yet not only is TCU's James out at tailback, Matthew Tucker is hurt and might not play against the Mountaineers. That wouldn't be a big blow, however, since Tucker is only averaging 45 yards per game and his sidekick, freshman B.J. Catalon, is as well.
What will be interesting to watch, though, is WVU's run game. It seems Dana Holgorsen has been trying to set up the pass by establishing the run, rather than vice versa.It seems odd considering Holgorsen's "Air Raid" offense. But one man believes it's the right way to go. His name: former Mountaineer coach Don Nehlen.
"You'd better be able to run the football and play defense," Nehlen said this week. "When you're in this kind of weather, you have to. Look at the New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens [of the NFL]. They're all similar."If you have a great quarterback, naturally you're going to throw the ball. But all of those teams try to run. If all you can do is throw the ball in this weather, that's a problem."Nehlen pointed to the philosophies of Michigan's Bo Schembechler and Ohio State's Woody Hayes. He pointed to that of San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, whose father Jack coached under Schembechler. In the 49ers' last game, against Arizona, Harbaugh said his team needed to do three things: run, play stout defense and win the turnover battle."If you can do that," Nehlen said, "you're going to win. If you can run the football, you'll be able to pass."That's where the breakdown takes a turn toward TCU. In sum, the Horned Frogs have been the Big 12's best against the run, allowing but 98.9 yards per game.The crack of light for WVU? Oklahoma State had 147 rushing yards in last week's victory.
If the Mountaineers can get anywhere near the production of the Texas game from Andrew Buie, they'll be in fine shape. Perhaps Shawne Alston will return and provide a lift.Whatever the case, the Vegas oddsmakers seem more correct heading into this game than WVU's prior two.The Mountaineers were a 4-point favorite at Texas Tech and a 3-point favorite against Kansas State. But both were blowouts in favor of WVU's opponent.West Virginia's 6 1/2-point spot over TCU seems just about right.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.