By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University hopes it isn’t riding into an ambush today in the West Texas town of Lubbock as it goes for its 10th consecutive victory against an angry, hungry team of Red Raiders from Texas Tech.
Game time is 3:30 p.m., and the game is being carried on ABC-TV.
The No. 4/5 Mountaineers are 5-0 (2-0) in their first season in the Big 12 and come as the top passing and fifth-highest scoring team in the NCAA, while Texas Tech (4-1, 1-1) will display the nation’s second-ranked defense, giving up just 210 yards a game, to a sold out homecoming crowd expected to surpass 60,000.
Emotionally, it is challenging game for West Virginia, which is coming off a huge victory at Texas and is a week from a home showdown with unbeaten Kansas State, a game that could mean the conference championship.
Coach Dana Holgorsen has denied that he views it as a trap game.
“I don’t understand what a trap game means,” he said. “You play the same every week. If you don’t have the ability to understand that every week is the same, you get beat. Whether it’s a trap game or a big game, it’s a game.”
His players feel the same way.
“I didn’t even know what it was at first,” said linebacker Isaiah Bruce. “I don’t think any of us think about the game like that at all. In order for us to reach our goal, we have to win every single one, so we will prepare the same every single week no matter whom we are playing.”
“It’s all about staying the grind, and if these guys want to win a national championship, then they need to learn how to do that,” Holgorsen said, referring to the national championship for the first time since the season began. “The next game has to be every bit important as the previous one.”
It is Geno Smith, who leads the nation in passing efficiency and has completely rewritten the WVU passing records under Holgorsen, who must take on the challenge of the nation’s No. 1 pass defense at Texas Tech.
It is a difficult task, but Smith isn’t impressed by anything.
“It’s the same thing, no matter who we play, no matter what logo is on their jersey, what their ranking is. In this game the stats mean nothing; what’s been done in the past means nothing. We have to go out there and execute whether they are the first-ranked defense or the last-ranked defense,” he said.
Tech isn’t much of a blitzing team, sending extra pass rushers only 8 percent of the time, according to Holgorsen’s film study, and seldom sending more than five players.
That means they have seven or eight players in coverage, trying to limit the room slot receiver Tavon Austin and wideouts Stedman Bailey and J.D. Woods have in which to operate.
Again Smith says it matters not.
“It really doesn’t matter. We prepare for anything,” the quarterback said.
And prepared he has been, throwing 259 consecutive passes without an interception while owning 24 TDs this season.
The way he sees it, the burden lies on the defensive coordinators to come up with an answer for the Mountaineer offense and not the other way around.
“I’m pretty sure defensive coordinators are looking at our tape and saying, ‘Wow, these guys can do pretty much everything. They run the ball, pass the ball.’ We have a balanced attack. That’s a result of us taking what the defense gives us and don’t try to force the issue.”
Because of that, he expects Texas Tech to mix things up and disguise its coverage.
A week ago, the Mountaineers unleashed a new offensive weapon in sophomore running back Andrew Buie, who shredded Texas’ defense for 207 rushing yards.
Buie certainly caught Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville’s eye.
“He’s got good speed, and he runs like a 230-pounder,” Tuberville said. “He breaks a lot of tackles.”
WVU’s defense is charged with a difficult task as it continues to try and climb toward respectability. Texas Tech offers an experienced, solid quarterback in Seth Doege, who is the third-ranked passer in the conference between Smith and Baylor’s Nick Florence and who last week spread the ball around to 10 different receivers.
“The good news is they can only play five eligible receivers at once,” Holgorsen quipped. “We just have to figure out what their personnel groups are and cover the guys that are eligible. It doesn’t matter which ones they are; they have a bunch of good ones.”
Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail or follow him on Twitter@bhertzel.