It won’t be the first time that West Virginia has returned home after a loss to play a red-hot Big 12 opponent.
The Mountaineers hope it will go just like it did the last time they were in this position.
A Sept. 26 loss to Oklahoma State was followed by a a home win over Baylor. An Oct. 24 loss at Texas Tech was followed by a home win over Kansas State.
This time around it’s TCU (3-3 overall, 3-3 Big 12), winner of two in a row, that will come calling at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown for a noon kickoff on Saturday. The game will air on Fox.
On one hand, the Horned Frogs have registered those two wins over Baylor and Texas Tech, which are a combined 2-9 in the league. But TCU won both of those games by double figures and have seemed to play much better in all three phases.
That’s a point that the Mountaineer coaching staff certainly agrees on.
“We’ve got a TCU team coming that’s playing their best football,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I thought they really had a dominant performance over Texas Tech last Saturday. They look like a typical Gary Patterson football team to me — they’re physical, disciplined and really playing well right now in all three phases.”
Whether or not it is truly a typical Patterson-coached team or not is up for debate. After all, TCU enters Saturday with the fifth-best total defense in the Big 12 (364.5 yards per game) after finishing no lower than fourth since joining the conference along with the Mountaineers in 2012. But the Horned Frogs have put together two of their best defensive efforts in recent weeks, and TCU is excelling in several other areas.
It starts with yet another dual-threat quarterback for the Mountaineers to contend with in TCU’s Max Duggan, who turned in a workhorse performance against the Red Raiders with 19 carries for 154 yards and three touchdowns. That includes minus-30 yards worth of sacks.
Duggan will enter Saturday’s game as the league’s seventh-leading rusher, averaging 54.83 yards per contest.
“Their quarterback in my mind is very similar to [Texas’ Sam] Ehlinger,” Brown said. “He’s a tough runner. He had 180 yards last week and had an 81-yard run, so he’s fast. He’s improved his accuracy. He’s a tough kid and he’s playing really well right now.”
WVU (4-3, 3-3) can bank on getting a steady diet of the run game from the Horned Frogs on Saturday. So far, TCU has run the football 250 times and attempted 189 passes. Behind Duggan is an assortment of freshman running backs sharing the load, with Darwin Barlow (48.5 yards per game), Kendre Miller (27.4) and Zach Evans (26.8) among the stable seeing the most work. In terms of individual rushing, TCU has five of the top 30 in the conference. No other team has more than three.
“If you look at the stats over the last two games, they’ve really ran the ball well,” Brown said. “They’ve got a running back by committee, some heavily recruited kids in that room and they get a bunch of guys carries.”
Patterson has earned the reputation as a defensive guru, largely in an offensive-dominated league, and is by far the longest-tenured coach among league teams in his 21st season at the helm. His defenses have led the Big 12 in total defense five times in the last eight years.
“If you look at longevity, Gary has done it an extremely high level for a long time and I’m not sure anybody for the last 20 years has played better defense than TCU,” Brown said. “That’s a credit to him and it’s always a challenge going against him.”
Senior linebacker Garret Wallow leads the team with 46 tackles while sophomore Ochaun Mathis has registered a team-best four sacks.
As for the Mountaineers, last week’s 17-13 loss at Texas was another narrowly missed opportunity to pick up a big win on the road in close fashion. For the third time in as many tries, WVU came up just short.
WVU boasts several numbers that point to it as being one of the league’s best. The Mountaineers have the second-best total offense in the Big 12 at 449.9 yards per game, the best total defense (271 yards allowed per game), a quarterback in Jarret Doege who has cleared 300 yards in four straight games and the second-leading rusher in the conference in junior Leddie Brown (105.86 yards per game).
Negatively, Leddie Brown’s status for Saturday is unknown after he was injured on the first play of the game at Texas last week.
Still, the Mountaineers must win on Saturday to keep from falling under .500 in league play. In addition to the margins of defeat being slim, so too is the difference between wins and losses right now for WVU.
Neal Brown said that, more than anything, his team has to focus on the little things.
“Three areas that are key for us coming out of that game — I think we’ve got to make calls and plays in critical situations,” he said. “That’s on myself, staff, players, everybody. We’ve got to improve our situational awareness, we didn’t have great situational awareness in the game. And then we lost fundamentals at key points, and when you get into really pressure situations, I think you’ve got to fall back into your training and we didn’t do that. We kind of went rogue and lost footwork, little detail things on some of the pressure plays.”