The West Virginia University football team did not win the last time it played a game, but following the 17-14 loss at Baylor first-year coach Neal Brown did say that it was without question his defense’s best performance of the season.
Now the Mountaineers want to do it again.
WVU hosts Big 12 rival Texas Tech on Saturday (noon on ESPN2), and it’s not the usual Red Raiders coming to Morgantown this season. TTU, like West Virginia, has a first-year coach in Matt Wells and there have been some growing pains. The Red Raiders have lost five of their last six games, including last week at Kansas. TTU has long been known for an explosive offense, but has fallen back to the pack somewhat this season.
That could play into West Virginia’s favor on Saturday. Last week at Baylor, the Mountaineers registered eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for a loss. Because of in-game injuries, however, WVU was forced to switch up its alignment on the defensive side of the ball.
For most of this season, West Virginia has primarily used four down linemen with three linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties. Against Baylor, however, the Mountaineers switched at times to a look with three linemen and three safeties. It is a strategy not entirely unfamiliar to WVU defensive coordinator Vic Koenning, and it worked pretty well last week against the Bears.
“When I was at a school called Memphis State — I get harassed for calling it that [the school dropped ‘State’ from its name in 1994], but I have a master’s degree from Memphis State,” Koenning said during his Tuesday press conference this week. “In the ‘90s, we played that three-safety look against Steve Logan and East Carolina, who was pretty good. I think we had eight picks.
“There have been times periodically when we pulled that out. I know there was a time at Wyoming when we used it against BYU when they were eighth in the country, and we got them. It’s not something I haven’t done. It is a fad in the Big 12 now, but it is something I’ve done before. I did it at Clemson, and I did it a bunch at Illinois. If it fits what you need — and candidly, we haven’t had enough safeties to do it where we had better linebackers than safeties. You want to put your best 11 out there, so you just go from there.”
One player who was called upon more often against Baylor than in previous games was safety Noah Guzman. Against the Bears, Guzman finished with a team-high 12 tackles but left the game after taking a hit to the head and twisting an ankle on the same play. Brown said on his radio show this week he expects Guzman to be in uniform against Texas Tech on Saturday, but how much he plays remains to be seen.
“[Guzman] is not scared, and he does what he’s asked to do,” Koenning said. “You’ve heard me talk until I’m blue in the face about if guys do what they’re supposed to do, they’ll have opportunities to make plays. He was in the right spot, and we need to have him continue to have the opportunity to play, whether it is backing up [“cat” safety] Sean Mahone or in a nickel situation. Ankles are one of those things that don’t heal fast, so we’ll see where he is this week.”
DOEGE UP DEPTH CHART
Jarret Doege, the Bowling Green transfer who was granted immediate eligibility prior to the start of this season, will be No. 2 quarterback on the WVU depth chart this week, Brown said Thursday during his weekly radio show. Earlier this week, previous Mountaineer backup quarterback Jack Allison announced he plans to transfer, which opened the door for a new name at the position.
Doege was a two-year starter at Bowling Green before transferring to WVU, throwing 39 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions while completing 63 percent of his passes during his tenure as the Falcons’ starting quarterback.
Brown has said several times throughout the season that the plan all along has been to redshirt Doege. That means the quarterback could appear in as many as four games for the Mountaineers and still maintain that status. Including Saturday’s game against visiting Texas Tech, the Mountaineers have four games remaining on the regular-season schedule with the possibility of a bowl game appearance technically still in play.
Like Doege, redshirting has also been the plan for freshman running back Tony Mathis. Brown said to expect Mathis to get in the game this week behind starter Kennedy McKoy — who is expected to return to action after leaving last week’s game at Baylor with an injury.
McKoy is expected back this week, as is Guzman.
Starting right guard Chase Behrndt will be a game-time decision, and the same goes for sophomore Josh Chandler. The starting linebacker suffered a strained knee in the loss at Oklahoma and has not played since, but is ahead of schedule for a return to game action. Brown said if Chandler looks good in warmups, he’ll play.
Placekicker Evan Staley will not play against Texas Tech, Brown said, while receiver T.J. Simmons is still considered doubtful.