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Keys to Victory: TCU vs. West Virginia

Both WVU and TCU picked up wins in their conference openers. How can the Frogs move to 2-0 in Big 12 play?

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

West Virginia is coming off a huge victory over Texas Tech in their Big 12 opener. The Mountaineers somehow held on to beat the Red Raiders 20-13 in a game where they only had 256 yards of offense. This West Virginia team looks slightly different from the squads we became accustomed to. There’s been a distinct shift from high-flying offense to hard-nosed, smashmouth football. The Mountaineers run the ball and play defense. Let’s look at what TCU needs to do to come away with a win on Saturday.

West Virginia Offense

As stated above, this West Virginia offense is run-heavy, to say the least. The Mountaineers have run the ball on 182 of their 274 offensive snaps this season, giving the run game a 66% share of their total snaps. Only 10 teams have attempted fewer passes than West Virginia this year, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. The Mountaineers are almost exclusively in 11 personnel despite their heavy rushing attack. Against Power Five competition, West Virginia is averaging just 258 yards of offense per game.

The Mountaineers lost their starting quarterback, Garrett Greene, to injury in their first drive of the Backyard Brawl 2 weeks ago. Greene missed the Texas Tech game, and he is listed as day-to-day heading into the TCU game. Neal Brown has said he doesn’t want to play Greene unless he’s completely healthy, so it’s unclear if TCU will see him on Saturday.

Redshirt freshman Nicco Marchiol played in the last 2 games for the Mountaineers. Against Pitt he was 6/9 for 60 yards with a touchdown. Most of his completions came off of RPOs. Last week against Texas Tech, the passing game opened up more and Marchiol was 12/21 for just 78 yards and a touchdown. He also threw 2 interceptions. Marchiol also carried the ball 15 times for 72 yards. Nothing about the West Virginia passing attack scares me, so we won’t spend much time on that.

The Mountaineers have 4 different players with at least 100 yards rushing so far this season, including the injured quarterback Garrett Greene. TCU will have to be prepared to face a potent rushing attack that looks to involve multiple players. The Mountaineers had 7 linemen who played at least 400 snaps last year, and all of them came back, so they have plenty of experience up front to block for these guys. From what I’ve watched, West Virginia does some really interesting things in the run game. Let’s take a look.

West Virginia features a lot of motions and shifts offensively. They don’t seem to like just lining up and running their play. The schemes themselves aren’t anything new or unique, but they dress up their plays in ways that I haven’t seen too often. You have to appreciate it. The first thing we’ll look at is the stretch concept. It’s a simple outside handoff, but WVU makes it look different with the quick motion by the sniffer.

So why can’t you just assume they’re running stretch any time they motion the sniffer like that? Because then they’ll hit you with same side counter going back the other way.

And the last clip here is another way to dress up the run game. Here, WVU schemes up counter solid with a tight end coming in motion across the formation. He also puts on a clinic as far as blocking is concerned.

The Mountaineers will also feature your typical zone and counter schemes, but they add in so many wrinkles to the same plays that it can be tough to defend. It’s honestly similar to playing a triple-option team. Defenders must be disciplined, read their keys, and do their job! I’m sure they’ll have some new things schemed up for the Frogs this week as well.

West Virginia Defense

This team has improved significantly on defense so far this season. In their 3 Power Five games, the Mountaineers have given up 336 yards per game and just 19 points per game. They base out of an odd front, but this defense throws a lot of different looks at you throughout a game. They’ll bring pressure from all over the field, and they rarely line up the same way two plays in a row. However, they haven’t done a great job of getting home with the pressure as the Mountaineers have just 4 sacks against Power Five competition.

There aren’t really any names that jump off the screen at you on this defense. Linebackers Trey Lathan and Lee Kpogba lead the team in tackles. The defensive line does a good job of eating blocks to allow them to make plays. This defense is committed to stopping the run, allowing just 3.2 yards per carry on the season. They’ve created 5 turnovers in their 4 contests so far. Cornerback Beanie Bishop Jr. has 2 interceptions on the year and is the biggest threat to the passing game.

This team really excels on third down, currently allowing conversions on just 25% of third down attempts. That puts them tied for 6th in the nation. Combine that with being a pretty disciplined team, averaging just 4 penalties a game, and you have a perfect combination for an ugly, low-scoring game.

This is a game that is going to require patience from the TCU offense. Chandler Morris will need to avoid mistakes in the passing game, and the offense cannot afford to go 3 and out. From a pure talent perspective, there isn’t much of a reason that TCU can’t score in this game.

In order to come away with a victory on Saturday there are a few really important things TCU must do.

  1. Avoid going 3 and out on offense. West Virginia will run the ball for 10 plays in a row. They don’t care. They’ve eaten up entire quarters on offense, and the last thing we want to see is the TCU offense standing on the sideline all game.
  2. Chandler Morris must avoid mistakes. TCU will likely have fewer possessions in this game than they have all year, it’s important that they move the ball and score when they have it.
  3. The defense needs to be patient and disciplined. With all the moving pieces WVU brings it’s important that each player does their job.
  4. Convert third downs, and get off the field on third down. West Virginia has been great on defensive third downs this year. If TCU can convert just 40% of their third down attempts they’ll be in a solid spot.