Texas Tech's Kenny Williams fights for yardage against SMU.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - No one is ever going to confuse Texas Tech's rushing attack with that of the service academies.The Red Raiders rank just seventh out of 10 Big 12 teams in running the football. They rank first in throwing it. The emphasis is certainly on the latter rather than the former, and the numbers bear that out.It would not, however, be wise for West Virginia to ignore Tech's running game when the teams meet Saturday at Mountaineer Field. That's been tried. And it's failed."Like I've said all along, we're going to do what we think we can do best each and every Saturday,'' Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said this week. "And whether that's throw it or run it, we'll see what's working.''
For most of the season, that's been the passing game. Despite playing two true freshman quarterbacks - Baker Mayfield and Davis Webb - Tech leads the Big 12 with an average of 370.7 passing yards. That's just a whisker better than high-powered Baylor, but almost 100 yards or more ahead of the pace of anyone else in the league.But in a 42-35 win over Iowa State last weekend, the Red Raiders rushed for 251 yards. They gained 237 in a game against Stephen F. Austin early in the season. Yes, there were sub-50-yard games against SMU and TCU, but given that Tech is 6-0, it appears that it is able to run the ball when it needs to run it.That's not a contradiction - a passing offense running the ball. Kingsbury's offensive philosophies were formed working with Dana Holgorsen, and the now-West Virginia coach has always had a place for the run in his pass-happy schemes.
"When we were at Houston we ran the ball a good bit,'' Holgorsen said of his and Kingsbury's time there. "It's always been something that's been in the offense. And he's got two quality backs in Williams and Washington. I'd give them the ball a good bit, as well.''DeAndre Washington and Kenny Williams don't have big rushing numbers, both averaging less than 35 yards per game. But both ran for 80-plus yards against Iowa State."I've said all along that we have talented running backs,'' Kingsbury said. "We just have to get running lanes for them and get them going.''
In many ways, Tech is in the same position as West Virginia with its running game. The Mountaineers also have a solid stable of backs, but have had hot and cold days running the football, in part because of an inconsistent offensive line.Where the teams differ is that if Tech's run game isn't working, it's no big deal. The Red Raiders can throw the ball. West Virginia has seldom been able to do that.All of which is why Tech's offense is so much more productive and dangerous."It's kind of our goal every week - as it probably is for everybody in the country - to try to take away the run game and try to get them to throw it,'' Holgorsen said. "Unfortunately for us, Texas Tech's as good at throwing the football as anybody out there."When you take away one, it obviously makes it easier. But the problem is they're good at both.''
Iowa State made a concerted effort to limit Texas Tech's passing game and wound up doing neither. Not only did the Cyclones give up 251 rushing yards, Tech passed for 415."It was more about taking what was there,'' Kingsbury said. "Our quarterbacks did a good job checking us into some runs and our O-line was getting some good movement, so we went with it.''West Virginia's defense had been pretty good against the run - and the pass, for that matter - up until the Baylor game. Now the Mountaineers must face another balanced team."And that obviously poses problems for us,'' Holgorsen said.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.