The West Virginia University football team finds itself in the unenviable position of needing to win three of its last four games to become bowl eligible this season. The same can also be said for Texas Tech — this week’s opponent.
The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) and Red Raiders (3-5, 1-4) will enter Saturday’s game — broadcast nationally on ESPN2 with a noon kickoff — aiming to put poor performances during October out of their minds and get their respective ships righted in the season’s final month.
The similarities don’t end there. Like WVU with first-year coach Neal Brown, Texas Tech has a new coach this season in Matt Wells.
The Red Raiders snagged Wells after a successful run at Utah State, but so far in 2019 the bright spots have been few and far between for the Big 12’s team from west Texas.
Texas Tech’s October nightmare started off with an upset win against Oklahoma State, but quickly went the other direction. The Red Raiders played Baylor tough the next week before losing in overtime, stayed close with a pretty good Iowa State team in a loss, then last week hit rock (chalk) bottom with a 37-34 loss at Kansas.
“It’s a game between two teams that are really hungry for a win,” Brown said. “I have a lot of respect for Matt Wells and his staff. They did a great job really developing that program at Utah State.”
When WVU and Texas Tech line up Saturday, the Red Raiders are likely to have Jett Duffey in at quarterback. Mountaineer fans should remember Duffey from when he nearly led TTU to a sizable second-half comeback against WVU last season in Lubbock after West Virginia knocked starter Alan Bowman out of the game. Bowman has missed five games this season with a shoulder injury, and although he has started throwing again remains a longshot to play this week.
In Bowman’s absence, Duffey has completed 132 of 193 pass attempt’s for 1,420 yards with nine touchdowns and just two interceptions — the same number of interceptions he threw last year against WVU. In that game, West Virginia led 35-10 at the half before the Red Raiders rallied to make it close late in the fourth quarter. That’s when Duffey attempted to throw a short out pass to the sideline, but WVU’s Keith Washington jumped to make a play and returned the interception for a touchdown to seal the win for the Mountaineers.
That 2018 game was early in the season and finding film on Duffey was difficult. That’s not the case for WVU this season.
“He has improved from last year,” Washington said of Duffey. “Last year he was still a dynamic quarterback and this year he is the same guy. He can hurt you with arm and his legs and we’re going to try to find a way to minimize that.
“There is film on him this year. I watched a couple of games and I feel like he’s been doing a good job for Texas Tech.”
In addition to what he has done in the passing game, Duffey has run the ball 39 times for a total of 93 yards and one touchdown. He doesn’t pull it down often, but the ability is there. Brown said as much, but added that he and his team are preparing for the possibility that Duffey is not the only TTU quarterback they see on Saturday.
“I think he’s a capable runner but he gets the ball out extremely fast,” Brown said. “He gets the ball to their playmakers. We’ve got to prepare for Bowman too. It’s my understanding that he’s making some progress and I won’t be surprised if we see him.”
Brown singled out three Red Raiders on the defensive side of the ball during his Tuesday press conference — senior cornerback Douglas Coleman (who leads the nation with seven interceptions), senior linebacker Jordyn Brooks and senior defensive lineman Broderick Washington.
TTU defensive coordinator Keith Patterson should also be familiar to Mountaineer fans. Patterson held the same position at WVU early in the decade under former head coach Dana Holgorsen before leaving Morgantown in 2014 to take the same job at Arizona State.
“Defensively, they’re a multiple-front coverage team,” Brown said. “They bounce back and forth between three and four down [linemen]. Their coordinator was here at one point. I think I read a stat where right now their scoring defense is as low as it has been since I think maybe 2009 there.
“They’ve played very well early in games, especially in the first quarter. They have three guys that really stick out — the Coleman kid leads the country in interceptions. He’s around the ball a lot. The linebacker, Brooks, is as good as anybody in our league at that position. Their D-lineman, Washington Jr., I think plays the run exceptionally well and does a good job of getting off defenders.”
Brown said the Mountaineers will need to do much better on offense this week compared to last week’s loss at Baylor to have a shot for a win Saturday against the Red Raiders.
“We physically got whipped up front,” Brown said. “We didn’t play well enough to win at any position offensively. Our margin for error is really small offensively and we just continue to beat ourselves. Whether it’s procedure penalties, drops, we had two bad snaps — critical errors at inopportune times.”