It seems like, when this week’s college football schedule came out last week and slotted the West Virginia at Texas Tech game on Saturday at noon ET, the powers that be were counting on Oklahoma State winning at home against the Red Raiders a week ago.
But when Texas Tech (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) thumped the Cowboys, it made way for a matchup of Top 25 teams to kick off on ESPN2 in Lubbock, Texas.
West Virginia (3-0, 1-0) has been highly regarded since the season began. The Mountaineers opened with the No. 17 national ranking and their work since then — victories over Tennessee, Youngstown State and Kansas State — has moved the Mountaineers up to No. 12.
Meanwhile, the 25th-ranked Red Raiders have opened pollsters’ eyes in the last two weeks with resounding wins over Houston and Oklahoma State.
The matchup will no doubt be hyped all week as an offensive clash. Texas Tech tops the nation with 623.5 yards per game while West Virginia is eighth at 545.3.
Texas Tech quarterback Alan Bowman is second in the nation in passing yards with 1,557 in four games, while West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is 12th with 1,117 in three games.
Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen and Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury have long been regarded as offensive masterminds. They both got their starts playing or coaching for Mike Leach at Texas Tech in the early 2000s. But both have surpassed Leach, whose Washington State team ranks way down the list at No. 30 in total offense.
This season, Holgorsen has been impressed by Kingsbury’s work with the freshman Bowman.
“(Bowman is) being coached by one of the best that’s ever done it,” Holgorsen said. “It’s not the first young kid that (Kingsbury has) had to deal with. It’s not surprising at all. If you get coached up by Kliff, you’ll be ready to go.”
On the flip side, Kingsbury likes West Virginia’s veteran quarterback.
“(Grier will) be one of the top guys taken this year (in the NFL Draft) and should be,” Kingsbury said. “He’s got a family, he’s married and he’s mature, kind of like an NFL player already. I was hoping he would’ve left last year, but he stuck around and is playing through the roof.”
Kingsbury saw what Grier could do a year ago when he threw three fourth-quarter touchdowns that led the Mountaineers from an 11-point deficit to an 11-point victory. He finished with 352 passing yards and five touchdowns.
The Red Raiders controlled the first three quarters at West Virginia a year ago. But then the Mountaineers got hot and Texas Tech faded.
Kingsbury said he was most concerned about the sloppiness his team showed in the road loss.
“We don’t talk too much about last year,” Kingsbury said. “The biggest thing we’ve talked about were, I think we had 16 penalties for 160 yards. You’re not going to beat anybody doing that. That’s really the only thing we’ve touched on. We’ve got to play a much cleaner game against this team to have a chance.”
With so much attention on the offense, clearly the team that does a better job on the defensive side will give its team a big advantage.
Texas Tech is attempting to climb out of the cellar of the national defensive rankings. The Red Raiders gave a good indication of how far they’ve come by shutting out Oklahoma State in the second half on the road last week.
Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers held Kansas State to a pair of field goals last week, said he knows how difficult it is to rebuild a defense and sees Texas Tech doing it.
“Those guys have worked their tails off, recruited better and have a philosophy and a scheme that they believe in, and their players have bought into it and their players are playing hard,” Holgorsen said. “Their talent appears to be better. Their schemes are really good, and their guys are in positions to be able to make plays.”