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TCU vs. West Virginia Preview: Are the Mountaineers for real?

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West Virginia is ranked No. 12 in the country with a few quality wins. But are they for real?

NCAA Football: Kansas State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

TCU and West Virginia have been bonded since joining the Big 12 together five years ago. Both (technically) coming to the Big 12 from the Big East, the Frogs and Mountaineers entered into the conference with major question marks. Could they stand up to the heightened level of competition? Would they be serviceable replacements for Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado? Would they ever be able to be competitive enough to sit at or near the top of the conference?

Well, in five seasons both the Frogs and Mountaineers have stood tall against those questions. TCU was Big 12 co-champ in 2014, and has a Big 12-best 17-4 conference record since the start of that season. The Frogs also have one of the Big 12’s two New Year’s Six/BCS bowl wins since 2011 (the other being Oklahoma’s famous Sugar Bowl win over Alabama).

West Virginia’s success has been a little more tempered, but they still have a .500 record against Baylor, Oklahoma State, and Texas since joining the conference. They’re now 3-2 against Tech after thumping the Red Raiders in Lubbock last weekend 48-17. Last year they beat Kansas State for the first time, and they famously interrupted Baylor’s phenomenal 2014 season.

Meanwhile, they’re 14-2 in non-conference games over the past five seasons, with wins over BYU, Missouri, and Maryland (three times), and losses to No. 2 Alabama and Maryland.

Now, they’re 5-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country. But here come the Frogs, 3-1 against the Mountaineers since they became Big 12 bunkmates.

A quick history of TCU-WVU

Every TCU-West Virginia game to this point has been awesome. In 2012, a 2-point conversion from Trevone Boykin to Josh Boyce in double overtime gave TCU a 39-38 win.

In 2013, a field goal in overtime gave West Virginia a 30-27 win. In 2014, West Virginia almost did to TCU what they did to Baylor, holding a 30-21 lead in the fourth quarter before TCU miraculously came back to win 31-30 on a Jaden Oberkrom field goal as time expired.

Last season Trevone Boykin earned a high-five from Dana Holgorsen as the Frogs routed WVU 40-10.

This year, though, is the inverse of 2015. West Virginia is the highly-ranked, undefeated power while TCU is the struggling visitor.

West Virginia to this point

The Mountaineers host the Frogs for their third conference matchup of the season, having already disposed of Kansas State in a low-scoring battle and Texas Tech in a one-sided obliteration. Seriously, West Virginia beat Tech so bad coach bro said after the game it was the worst performance he’s seen from Tech since he’s been associated with the school. A large part of that was West Virginia’s ability to move the ball, while simultaneously stiffling a less-than-100% Pat Mahomes.

Wins over BYU and Missouri show that West Virginia is for real, and the rightful favorite in the Saturday matchup.

Run it, Run it, Run it

West Virginia’s offense relies heavily on the running game, where they have logged 1,000+ rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns already this season. That’s about 200 yards and 2.2 rushing touchdowns per game. The three-headed attack of running backs Justin Crawford, Rushel Shell, and quarterback Skyler Howard, has been a force, averaging five yards per carry and responsible for all 11 touchdowns on the ground.

On the flip side, TCU’s run defense hasn’t exactly been stellar so far in 2016, as they’ve allowed a whopping 904 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns to opposing teams this year. They’ve only held one team (SMU) below 128 rushing yards, and in four games (North Dakota State, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Kansas) they’ve allowed more than one rushing touchdown.

The emergence of Skyler Howard

Skyler Howard is the straw that stirs this drink, though, as he’s thrown for almost 1,600 yards and eight touchdowns on the season. The most important passing stat for Howard in 2016 is completion percentage, as he’s completing passes at a 66.1% clip. That’s quite a bit higher than his 2015 completion percentage of 54.8%. Howard has minimized his mistakes too, throwing just 4 interceptions so far this season. He threw 14 in 2015, including at least one in nine consecutive games.

Combine that with his threat to run, and you have a versatile quarterback who has the ability to work defenses through the air and on the ground.

Stout (for a Big 12 pass defense)

The Mountaineers defense, headlined by JUCO transfers Kyzir White and Rasul Douglas, is allowing just 250.8 passing yards per game, second best in the Big 12 behind Baylor. That’s not a great number, but when you consider the style of play in the Big 12, it becomes quite impressive. In total, West Virginia is allowing 410.6 yards and 19.4 points per game through five games this season.

TCU’s offense should be the biggest test they’ve faced this season though, for no other reason than Pat Mahomes was obviously limited by a shoulder injury in their game last weekend. If TCU can move the ball like they have (when they’re clicking) we’ll really get to see how strong West Virginia’s defense is.

Meanwhile, this will arguably be the best defense TCU has seen to this point, and how well they perform will be indicative of what the Frogs are capable of in the second half of the season.

Their run defense is a different story

<clears throat>

GIVE. KYLE. HICKS. THE. BALL.

West Virginia’s defense is as bad as TCU’s when it comes to stopping the run. They’re allowing almost 160 yards per game on the ground, which means that, if he gets the ball, Kyle Hicks could feast.

Hicks has 479 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns to go with 308 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns this season, but he’s still only touching the ball an average of 18.7 touches per game.

Turpin Time?

Gary Patterson mentioned Tuesday that KaVontae Turpin will be a game-time decision on Saturday. Players have admitted that seeing Turpin go down with a knee injury against Iowa State drained them of some energy. Getting him back could spark this TCU offense, currently 9th in the country in yards/game, to new heights.

Bye Week Success

TCU is 6-1 coming off a bye week since joining the Big 12. Their one loss is a 41-38 loss to Baylor that appropriately finished the 2013 season. The six wins have been by an average of 30.8 points, and include two wins over Texas and SMU, along with wins over Minnesota and (last year) West Virginia.

Big Prediction

The question West Virginia has to answer this weekend is this: can they stop a high-powered offense that has most (if not all) of its weapons healthy and ready to roll?

The question for TCU is this: Can the Frogs come off a bye week and hit the ground running (literally) in an attempt to right the ship?

I think this game reverts back to the type of TCU-WVU matchup we saw from 2012-14, with the defenses making some good plays, the offenses flashing some strength, and things coming down to the final few minutes in the fourth quarter.

I’m going to play the part of optimist and say that TCU can come away with a big, upset win on the road in Morgantown, to the tune of 38-35.