West Virginia pits top defense against sluggish Texas Tech
Texas Tech might be able to pick up a few pointers from West Virginia's game films on slowing down offenses in the Big 12.
The Red Raiders (0-3, 0-2 Big 12) will need more than a few stops as they try to exit the league basement on Saturday when they host the Mountaineers (3-1, 2-1).
West Virginia's defense ranks first for the fewest yards allowed among the 77 Bowl Subdivision teams that have played games. The Red Raiders? They're fifth from the bottom at 499 yards per contest.
Texas Tech is coming off a bye week , at No. 17 Iowa State. The Red Raiders have allowed at least 30 points in every game.
Coach Matt Wells said improvement starts with nailing the basics first.
“Get lined up, get in a stance, get set and let's go play football. Run to the football,” Wells said. “There were times that we struggled at Iowa State getting lined up and that can't be who we are. We need to put a better product on the field.”
Turning to West Virginia's defense, Wells rattled off more than a half-dozen players.
“So everything I just talked about right there, about every one of those guys, is their effort, their intensity,” Wells said. “Kind of what I was saying about our defense. That’s what we’re trying to get back to.”
The Mountaineers have surrendered nine total TDs and a national-best 240 yards per contest. It starts up front with a unit that is averaging four sacks and 9.3 tackles for loss. West Virginia has six interceptions, tied with No. 20 Kansas State for the most in the Big 12.
The standouts among a group of solid players on defense have included lineman Darius Stills, linebacker Tony Fields and Tykee Smith, a sophomore who plays a hybrid outside linebacker-defensive back position.
"That's one guy at each level of your defense that is playing at a really high level right now," West Virginia coach Neal Brown said.
A few other things to know about Texas Tech and West Virginia:
In 2012, Jarret Doege was among the thousands of Texas Tech fans who stormed the field in Lubbock, Texas, after the Red Raiders , behind his brother, quarterback Seth Doege. Neal Brown was Texas Tech’s offensive coordinator then.
Now Jarret Doege will return home to west Texas to lead the Mountaineers as their starting quarterback. He’s 5-2 as a starter since transferring to West Virginia from Bowling Green.
“I’m excited to go home and play in front of my friends and family,” Doege said.
Fields and Texas Tech linebacker Colin Schooler were teammates at Arizona before becoming graduate transfers. Fields leads the Big 12 in tackles with 35. Schooler, who paced Arizona with 98 tackles in 2019, is averaging almost six per game.
Schooler is the FBS active leader in career tackles with 329. Fields is next with 322.
Wells announced last week that quarterback Henry Colombi would get his first career start. The Utah State transfer replaced Alan Bowman midway through the Iowa State loss. Colombi completed 74% of his passes as a backup this season with three touchdowns and an interception.
West Virginia has made junior Leddie Brown a focus of its offense. He , 195 yards last week against Kansas despite sitting out the fourth quarter. His 515 rushing yards this season is second in the league to Iowa State’s Breece Hall (531). A year ago, West Virginia as a team rushed for 879 yards the entire season.
A SMILE FOR MOM
It's been two months since West Virginia starting cornerback Nicktroy Fortune lost his mother. The sophomore left the team for two weeks at the start of fall camp.
Most noticeable during media interviews this week was Fortune's confidence and ever-present smile.
“My mom, she's the reason,” Fortune said. “One thing my mom always is, no matter how her life was, she just kept living. She was living life. Me growing up, she was always telling me, ‘always smile.'
“I'm just filled with joy every day. Dealing with that actually helps me, even on the field. I've found more strength after the whole thing. My mom's there with me. She's pushing me and I think about her every day. It just keeps me going. It keeps me smiling. It keeps me spreading positive energy.”
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