Fri, 27 Nov 2020

Struggling Texas Tech faces huge challenge against WVU

Field Level Media
21 Oct 2020, 15:19 GMT+10

There is something naturally tantalizing when two teams that take different approaches to success collide. Mingle in a dose of unknown, and that anticipation is a little sharper.

West Virginia and Texas Tech square off Saturday in Lubbock, Texas, and the differences are distinct. The visiting Mountaineers have been a surprise this season because of their defense while the Red Raiders have wobbled in large part because of an inconsistent offense that was expected to be a strength.

Those struggles for Texas Tech (1-3, 0-3 Big 12) culminated with a miserable performance in a 31-15 road loss at Iowa State on Oct. 10, and the aftermath created a shakeup.

The Mountaineers (3-1, 2-1) will be the first opponent to get a look at Henry Colombi, the Red Raiders junior quarterback who will make his first start since his senior year of high school.

Colombi began his career at Utah State under the current Texas Tech coaching staff and backed up current Green Bay Packers rookie Jordan Love for two seasons. He transferred to the Red Raiders in the offseason and came on in relief of starter Alan Bowman the past two games.

In those two stints, Colombi threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns, and more important, he seemed to help Texas Tech operate more smoothly. The Red Raiders scored their first touchdown in the two games after Colombi took the reins.

"We had just played good or OK at quarterback," Red Raiders coach Matt Wells said Monday. "I felt that the change to Henry gives us a better opportunity to, at this time, play better on offense.

"The key now for Henry, as he becomes the starter, is consistency. Drive after drive, the ability to sustain success."

Sounds good on the surface, but sustaining success against the West Virginia defense has been a chore for the four teams that have taken on the task.

The Mountaineers enter the game as the national leader in total defense (240.3 yards allowed per game) and yards per play (4.05). In the offensive-minded Big 12 Conference, West Virginia has taken a different path so far this season and has thrived by slowing down and shortening games.

West Virginia is allowing only 2.7 yards per rushing attempt and leads the league with six interceptions and 16 sacks. In a 38-17 victory against Kansas last Saturday, the Mountaineers logged 11 tackle for loss, five sacks and a pair of picks while allowing only 157 total yards and seven first downs.

"Defensively we're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Mountaineers coach Neal Brown said. "It's really about effort and about physicality. We're flying, we're getting multiple hats to the ball.

"We're mixing it up as far as how we get to some of our pressure stuff. We're not necessarily wholesale pressuring, but we're getting to some well-designed, four- and five-man pressures. They're playing with a lot of confidence and they're playing extremely hard, when you do that and you bring that physical element, too, you're going to have success."

Now West Virginia will be tested by a fast-paced offense guided by a quarterback who brings an air of mystery to the table.

"They'll be the fastest tempo team we'll play all year," Brown said. "A dual-threat quarterback making his first start, but he played a bunch of games."

Last season, Texas Tech routed West Virginia 38-17 in Morgantown with another relatively untested signal-caller turning in a huge performance. Jett Duffey passed for 354 yards and helped the Red Raiders build a 35-10 lead by halftime, and that proved to be plenty of cushion.

It's the current team that has Brown's attention, though. Texas Tech's three losses are against Texas in overtime in a game the Raiders led by two scores in the fourth quarter, then on the road at Big 12 co-leaders Kansas State and Iowa State.

"They've played a very difficult schedule," Brown said. "I think their record doesn't tell the story necessarily."

--Field Level Media

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