Texas renews its historic rivalry with West Virginia on Saturday night as...no, that doesn't sound right. There's not much history to be found here, but the little there is should be enough to rile Longhorn players and fans alike as we seek vengeance on the Skulleted One for last season's painful 48-45 loss at DKR.
To break this one down, I'm leaning on some numerical nollidge from the great Huckleberry and his AdjustedStats.com site. Let's take a look at how Texas and West Virginia stack up statistically, what those numbers mean, and whether the couches will burn in joy or sorrow on Saturday night in Morgantown.
When Texas Has the Ball
Texas' Adjusted Yards per Carry: 4.93 (59th)
WVU's Adjusted Yards per Carry Allowed: 4.42 (37th)
Maybe the most galling memory of last year's West Virginia game was running Joe Bergeron for two yards a pop against the Mountaineer's largely capable front while eschewing an all-out assault on their dreadful secondary. In 2013 solid run defense, like Mountain Dew in a baby bottle, remains a foundational element for this bunch of hell-raising hillbillies. WVU tends towards a lot of 3-4 looks with block-eating down linemen. Sophomore linebacker Isaiah Bruce - who was all over the field against Texas last season - is their most active front seven defender, and the ability to get off combo blocks effectively and up to the second level to get him blocked will be a big key for Texas' ground game success. Fortunately, fluency in those combo blocks has improved as Texas' OL has finally logged enough quality snaps together to seem like a legitimate program.
The 'overhang' defenders that are prevalent in WVU's base 3-4 and other looks can present an alignment problem for the pop pass/jet sweep approach that Texas took to involving Daje Johnson against Kansas. His presence should continue to open things up for the interior run game even when he's not receiving the ball, though. I'd look for Inside Zone with Daje in motion and the 'Slice Zone' variant where Swaim arcs across the formation to kick out the edge defender to be Texas' run game staples in this one. Malcolm Brown probably logs 60+% of the backfield carries - the staff has gotten a few reminders in the last couple of games that Case isn't all upside, and Brown's ability to keep the offense ahead of the chains in a night game on the road should look pretty attractive to Mack and Major. If the Mountaineers aren't well versed in their ankle swipe techniques, however, Johnathan Gray could break a big one.
Texas' Adjusted Passer Rating: 148.7 (28th)
WVU's Adjusted Passer Rating Allowed: 133.0 (67th)
The 2012 version of the West Virginia pass defense surrendered some unholy passing numbers, but ended up 71st in the nation in Passer Rating Allowed on an adjusted basis because Big 12. They're in the same neighborhood this season - they got torched like an old couch by Lockett from KSU, Marquez and Jace Amaro from Tech and basically everyone from Baylor and TCU. TCU's passing offense is a drug-addled aerial disaster reminiscent of Denzel Washington in Flight, so the fact that WVU gave up almost 400 yards to Pachall and company has to be heartening. The safeties are generally in the right spot, but corners Brodrick Jenkins and Ishmael Banks can be had. The Mountaineer pass rush leaves a lot to be desired, so hopefully the prospects for rush-related derp from Case will be minimal as long as Hawkins and Estelle keep up their strong showing in pass pro.
The book may be out on Case's 30-40 yard go or wheel route along the boundary sideline - I'd expect WVU to have the boundary corner playing a Cover 3/deep third type responsibility to be in better position to defend that route. In general we may see more short/quick passing both Saturday and during the rest of the season - Texas' receivers are good enough to get past press coverage and burn defenses, but the receiver has to get open almost immediately for a deeper throw or he'll be out of range for a Case ball. We'll probably see more "catch man" technique from corners where they play 7-8 yards off and look to "catch" the receiver as he's going upfield since our guys have proven adept at winning past press coverage and Major has used some good rub route combinations to work guys like Marcus Johnson free quickly. We'll probably try to exploit that space in the short/intermediate area, and my money is on Jaxon Shipley to be our leading receiver Saturday night.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
WVU's Adjusted Yards per Carry: 5.21 (46th)
Texas' Adjusted Yards per Carry Allowed: 5.31 (94th)
Good news, Horn fans - we won't be facing Barry Sanders/Adrian Peterson/Gayle Sayers hybrid Andrew Buie in this one. After his dominating show against the Longhorns last season, the story this season was that he was thinking about taking a redshirt year in 2013 before electing to leave school in August. West Virginia insiders claim that he was actually recruited by N.A.S.A. to represent Earth in a Space Jam-style football game against alien invaders based on his otherworldly highlights against Texas.
That's at least as plausible a story as Texas allowing 273 combined yards to a guy who only cracked the 100 yard mark one other time that season before planning on redshirting prior to his senior year, right?
Thank God for Gerg.
On Saturday, Gerg's charges will contend with a backfield combo of Charles Sims and Pregamer favorite Dreamius Smith. While WVU's season run game stats aren't exactly intimidating, they are coming off of their best rushing performance of the season as Sims put up the most yardage by a TCU opponent in years. Sims is a thickly built dude with decent straight line speed and the ability to bounce off tackles - he'll be a test for the secondary in run support, but if Texas plays the kind of strong gap control game they've managed for the last few weeks they should be able to keep Sims more or less in check. Don't sleep on Dreamius - he's played second fiddle to Sims this year, but he's got plenty of long speed and turned in WVU's highlight run of the year with a 75-yard TD against OU that featured at least three broken tackles.
There's some more good news that neither of the West Virginia quarterbacks is anything of a run threat, so our defensive ends should be able to follow the ball with impunity. I'd imagine that Holgorsen will prefer to attack the edges in the run game where possible and see if they can consistently get the kind of soft corners that Kansas was able to enjoy in the early going - Smith may be the more dangerous threat here. Hopefully Santos and Edmond can build on the strong foundation they've laid down to this point, flow quickly and not get outrun to the edge.
WVU's Adjusted Passer Rating: 122.82 (78th)
Texas' Adjusted Passer Rating Allowed: 112.3 (25th)
QB Clint Trickett's name is made for NASCAR and his game calls to mind NASCAR fans - with him at the helm the West Virginia passing game has been high volume, but largely toothless and unsophisticated. Outside of some bombs to sophomore wideout Ronald Carswell, Trickett has been largely a dink and dunk guy who sports an anemic 6.3 yards per pass attempt. His moment in the sun came in WVU's shocking home upset of Oklahoma State, but even in that contest he needed 50 attempts to get to 300 yards and tossed two interceptions to his lone TD. Accuracy is a problem for Trickett, and the Texas secondary shouldn't have too much trouble stopping things downfield as long as Duke Thomas doesn't have any more Chykie Brown-style narcoleptic episodes.
West Virginia is likely to test Texas' linebackers with screens and swing throws - Sims has been heavily involved in the passing game, and Holgo probably liked what he saw in some of Texas' poor reactions to screen passes against KU. Trickett is a sackable dude, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Jeffcoat and Reed each bag him at least once if he's trying to work deeper throws.
The Bottom Line
Nobody in Burnt Orange should be looking past this one, as a Big XII road night game is never a gimme and WVU is easily capable of putting forth an aggregate effort that's at least equal to Iowa State's. Texas' strength along the DL and ability to handle West Virginia's receivers in man coverage should be the difference, though, and we'll call this a 27-20 win for the good guys.
If you want to hear me a couple of Macallans in talking Texas-WVU and a few other things with the gents from The Smoking Musket, here's the podcast link.