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Game Preview: WVU vs. TCU

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West Virginia will look to beat TCU for the second straight season.

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Series: Tied 3-3

Last meeting: WVU 34 TCU 10

Television: 3:30 p.m. FS1, Aaron Goldsmith (play-by-play), Brady Quinn (analyst), Bruce Feldman (sideline)


No. 23 West Virginia (3-1, 1-0) will look for its first win against a ranked team since 2014 when the Mountaineers hit the road to take on No. 8/10 TCU (4-0, 1-0) Saturday afternoon in Fort Worth.

It will be the seventh all-time meeting between the two programs that are linked after joining the Big 12 Conference together in 2012, with the series deadlocked at three apiece. The Horned Frogs lead the series in league play 3-2 over the past five seasons, but the Mountaineers are coming off the most recent win, a 34-10 triumph in Morgantown a season ago.

This will be the second time that the two teams will meet as ranked opponents with the first coming in a 31-30 win by TCU during the 2014 season. The matchup was selected by ESPN as the location for College Game Day this week with both teams coming off a bye.

TCU jumped into the top ten after taking care of Arkansas and then following that up with a 44-31 win on the road in Stillwater over Oklahoma State. Meanwhile, West Virginia fell in the opener against Virginia Tech and has taken care of business in the three games since to set up the matchup.

The Mountaineers boast the nation’s No. 2 rated offense piling up 594.8 yards and 48.8 points per contest through the first four games of the season. Head coach Dana Holgorsen, who is 49-32 in his seventh year with the program, has turned the reins of the offense over to offensive coordinator Jake Spavital and West Virginia’s offensive unit has been one of the most balanced attacks in the nation.

The offense has had 16 scoring drives of 70-yards or more and nine that has surpassed 80-yards. Redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier has triggered the Mountaineers offense tossing for 1,374 yards and 13 touchdowns through the first four games, and over 300-yards each game.

The signal caller will spread the football to a number of wide receivers with junior David Sills (26 catches, 396 yards, 7 touchdowns), junior Gary Jennings (29 catches, 438 yards, 1 touchdown), redshirt senior Ka’Raun White (17 catches, 209 yards, 2 touchdowns) and sophomore Marcus Simms (9 catches, 211 yards and 3 touchdowns) catching the bulk of his attempts.

In the backfield, senior Justin Crawford has rushed for at least 100-yards each game and has 451 on the season to go along with 6 scores. The former junior college transfer is averaging 7.4 yards per carry on the season and is leading the Big 12 Conference in rushing at the trimester mark.

Behind Crawford, the Mountaineers have a number of other backs that can tote the rock including sophomores Kennedy McKoy (204 yards, 3 scores) and Martell Pettaway (77 yards and a score).

On the defensive side, West Virginia will be looking to bounce back after allowing the most points and yards on the season to Kansas prior to the bye week. However, that unit was dealing with injuries and the Mountaineers are expected to get back several players this coming week. To date the unit is allowing 25 points and 451 yards per contest and will be tested by a balanced TCU attack.

The Horned Frogs are led by Gary Patterson who is in his 17th season atop the program amassing a career 153-54 record during his tenure in Fort Worth. Patterson is the winningest coach in the history of the school leading TCU to ten wins in 10 of the last 16 years as well as a total of eight conference titles and 14 bowl games during his time atop the program.

The second-longest tenured coach in the FBS, Patterson has won 20 national coach of the year awards in the past eight seasons and has a 46-18 mark in the month of October. Overall, the Horned Frogs are 78-19 at homes under Patterson, with West Virginia taking one of those wins in 2013.

Known for his trademark 4-2-5 defense, the Horned Frogs once again sport one of the nation’s best units on the side of the ball ranking 29th nationally allowing only 323 yards per game and 26th in scoring defense allowing only 18.5 points per contest. Overall, TCU Trails only Alabama for the most-times leading the nation in total defense with five and all have come under Patterson.

This unit is an elder group with eight of the 11 players either juniors or seniors, and the Horned Frogs have been especially impressive on the ground allowing only 94.5 yards per game, good for best in the Big 12 Conference and 13th best nationally. The group also is allowing teams to convert on only 32.1 percent of its attempts on third down meaning the Frogs are getting off the field and rank first in the league when it comes to sacking the quarterback at just under three a game.

An experienced unit that excels in a number of areas, the Horned Frogs are led by senior linebacker Travin Howard who comes into the game leading the team with 26 tackles and an interception.

Although co-offensive coordinator Doug Meacham left in the off-season to head to Kansas, the TCU offense has still been very impressive under Sonny Cumbie. The Horned Frogs are averaging 47.8 points per contest and feature one of the most balanced attacks in college football rushing for 232 yards per game while throwing for another 264 per contest.

In his final year of eligibility, former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill looks much different than he did a year ago buying into his role as a game manager as opposed to trying to do too much or force the football into tight coverage. After being mistake prone a season ago, Hill has thrown for nine touchdowns with only three interceptions while completing almost 73-percent of his passes.

Hill has a number of weapons to get the football to as 17 different players have caught a pass for the Horned Frogs this year and only three of those have over 10 receptions. TCU will use as many as 10 wide receivers at different times rotating in the game and Desmon White leads the team in receiving with 151 yards and 2 scores, while the always dangerous KaVontae Turpin who is a threat to score at all times.

Always a threat to run as well, Hill has been content letting his stable of backs do the work in that department. Senior running back Kyle Hicks is expected to return after missing the past two games and rushed for 103 yards against the Mountaineers last year, while Darius Anderson has proved he can handle that role in his absence rushing for 422 yards and six scores.

West Virginia will look to start 2-0 in the Big 12 Conference for the second consecutive season and record its first win over a ranked team since beating Baylor in October 2014. The Mountaineers have lost 15 of their last 17 in that department and the current eight game stretch actually began against the Horned Frogs when they won in Morgantown during the 2014 season.

Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. and the game will be televised by FS1.

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West Virginia Depth Chart:

OFFENSE:

QB: 7 Will Grier, (r-Jr.), 11 Chris Chugunov, (r-So.)

RB: 25 Justin Crawford, (Sr.), 4 Kennedy McKoy, (So.), 32 Martell Pettaway, (So.)

HB: 28 Elijah Wellman, (r-Sr.), 81 Trevon Wesco, (r-Jr.)

X WR: 13 David Sills, (Jr.), 8 Marcus Simms (So.)

Y/H WR: 12 Gary Jennings, (Jr.), 85 Ricky Rogers, (r-Jr.)

Z WR: 2 Ka'Raun White, (r-Sr.), 10 Reggie Roberson, (Fr.)

LT: 55 Yodny Cajuste, (r-Jr.), 72 Kelby Wickline, (r-So.)

LG: 62 Kyle Bosch, (r-Sr.), 56 Grant Lingafelter (r-Sr.)

C: 79 Matt Jones, (r-So.), 58 Ray Raulerson, (r-Jr.)

RG: 73 Josh Sills, (r-Fr.), 65 Isaiah Hardy (Jr.)

RT: 53 Colton McKivitz, (r-So.), 72 Kelby Wickline, (r-So.)

DEFENSE:

DE: 88 Adam Shuler, (r-So.), 92 Jon Lewis, (r-Sr.)

NT: 99 Xavier Pegues, (r-Sr.), 96 Jaleel Fields, (r-Jr.)

DE: 46 Reese Donahue, (So.), 93 Ezekiel Rose, (Jr.)

SAM LB: 5 Xavier Preston, (Sr.), 33 Hodari Christian (Jr.)

MIKE LB: 3 Al-Rasheed Benton, (r-Sr.), 44 Hodari Christian, (r-Sr.)

WILL LB: 10 Dylan Tonkery, (r-Fr.), 45 Adam Hensley, (So.)

SPUR: 8 Kyzir White, (Sr.), 18 Marvin Gross, (r-Sr.)

BS: 18 Marvin Gross, (r-Sr.), 1 Derrek Pitts, (Fr.)

FS: 6 Dravon Askew-Henry, (r-Jr.), 9 Jovanni Stewart, (So.)

LCB: 2 Kenny Robinson, (Fr.), 19 Elijah Battle, (Sr.)

RCB: 4 Mike Daniels, (Sr.), 24 Hakeem Bailey, (r-So.)

SPECIAL TEAMS:

K: 48 Mike Molina, (r-Sr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

P: 15 Billy Kinney, (r-Jr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

LS: 52 Nick Meadows, (r-Sr.), 64 Rex Sunahara, (r-So.)

H: 15 Billy Kinney, (r-Jr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

KO: 30 Evan Staley, (r-Fr.), 43 Luke Hogan, (r-Fr.)

PR: 8 Marcus Simms (So.), 13 David Sills, (Jr.)

KOR: 8 Marcus Simms (So.) 12 Gary Jennings, (Jr.)

NOTES:

--This year marks the 126th year of West Virginia football with the Mountaineers currently sitting in 14th place all-time in wins in college football.

--WVU is 23-23 in Big 12 Conference Games, with a 11-12 mark on the road under head coach Dana Holgorsen. He is 2-3 all-time against TCU.

--Since 2000, West Virginia is 110-14 when scoring more than 30 points and 56-4 when scoring more than 40 points in a game. West Virginia has won 14 straight games when scoring 30 points or more.

--The Mountaineers are 83-11 since 2002 when winning the turnover battle.

--West Virginia is ranked second nationally in total offense with 594.8 yards per game.

--In the Holgorsen era, WVU has produced 77 games with 300 or more yards, 59 games with 400 or more yards, 32 games with more than 500 yards and 17 with more than 600 yards.

--The 2017 roster consists of 121 players from 20 different states.

--Coaching staff assignments: AHC/DC/LB Tony Gibson (field), OC/QB Jake Spavital (field), CB Doug Belk (press box), WR Tyron Carrier (field), S Matt Caponi (field), RB Tony Dews (field), LB/ST Mark Scott (press box), DL Bruce Tall (press box), OL Joe Wickline (field)

--There are 31 Mountaineers who have seen their first WVU action during the 2017 season: Hakeem Bailey (CB), Chase Behrndt (OL), Dante Bonamico (S), Druw Bowen (WR), Tevin Bush (RB), Mitch Chugunov (WR), Elijah Drummond (FB), Brendan Ferns (LB), Will Grier (QB), Isaiah Hardy (OL), Jalen Harvey (DL), Osman Kamara (S), Jake Long (CB), Sean Mahone (CB), Dominique Maiden (WR), Alejando Marenco III (WR), Lamonte McDougle (DL), Quondarius Qualls (LB), Xavier Pegues (DL) Derrek Pitts Jr. (S), Jeffery Pooler (DL), Ray Raulerson (OL), Reggie Roberson Jr (WR), Kenny Robinson (S), Ezekiel Rose (DL), Josh Sills (OL), Evan Staley (K), Rex Sunahara (LS), Dylan Tonkery (LB), Kelby Wickline (OL) and Corey Winfield (CB)

--West Virginia has run a total of 321 plays with 160 coming on the ground and 161 through the air. The rushing game has totaled 924 yards for an average of 5.8 per carry and 12 touchdowns. The passing attack has totaled 1,455 yards, 14 touchdowns and an average of 14.0 per completion.

--The Mountaineers have gained 49 first downs via the run and 57 with the pass. West Virginia has averaged 231 yards per game on the ground and 363.8 in the air for a total of 594.8 yards per game.

Injuries/Suspensions: West Virginia is expected to get some of the players that have been injured in recent weeks back but there has been no clear answer on which ones. Redshirt sophomore linebacker David Long and redshirt junior safety Toyous Avery both could return, but redshirt freshman linebacker Brendan Ferns will miss the remainder of the 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Redshirts: Five true freshmen played in the season opener against Virginia Tech in Tevin Bush (RB), Lamonte McDougle (DL), Derrek Pitts Jr. (S), Reggie Roberson Jr. (WR) and Kenny Robinson (S).

A total of thirteen redshirt freshmen have seen action for the Mountaineers in 2017: Chase Behrndt (OL), Dante Bonamico (S), Druw Bowen (WR), Mitch Chugunov (WR), Elijah Drummond (HB), Brendan Ferns (LB), Osman Kamara (S), Jake Long (CB), Sean Mahone (CB), Jefferey Pooler (DL), Josh Sills (OL), Evan Staley (K) and Dylan Tonkery (LB).

Others that have played and will not redshirt: Junior offensive lineman Isaiah Hardy, Junior wide receiver Dominique Maiden

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West Virginia must win match ups on the outside.

POINTS TO CLICK:

--Start fast. Under Gary Patterson, TCU is 107-23 when scoring first. That mark is 124-14 when leading at halftime. No, if West Virginia doesn’t achieve those goals it’s obviously not a death sentence by any means but to go on the road and beat a top ten team you have to start with your foot on the gas. For example, on the flip side when the opponent scores first the Frogs are only 46-31, while they are 18-37 when trailing at halftime. Those are some big differences. The Mountaineers will be challenged unlike anything they’ve seen before this season on both sides of the ball and getting out win a win won’t be easy by any means. If West Virginia wants to snap an eight game losing streak to ranked teams, the Mountaineers are going to have to come out ready to play.

--Force Hill into mistakes. This isn’t the old Kenny Trill days. The senior signal caller has developed in his role as the TCU leader and has been highly efficient through four games. A year after being mistaken prone with 13 interceptions, Hill has only three to his credit this season and has completed almost 73-percent of his passes to go along with nine touchdowns. The Horned Frogs are asking Hill to manage games and get the football to his playmakers without trying to take too much onto himself. The key for West Virginia will to be able to stop the run and then hold up on the outside in order to make Hill uncomfortable and try to force him into some of those tendencies that haunted him earlier in his career. That isn’t going to be easy because this Horned Frogs offense is as balanced as they come, but it also isn’t an impossible task either. If West Virginia makes Hill uncomfortable, odds increase that the Mountaineers can walk out with a win.

--Win first down. On both sides of the ball first down is going to be a money down for the Mountaineers. While it goes without saying third down will always be the most important, West Virginia is going to be tasked with generating offense against one of the nation’s best defensive units, while also holding the Horned Frogs attack in check on the other side. Two things that TCU does well is run the ball and stop the run and typically that is enough to make a good team great. West Virginia will have to confuse and mix up its calls in order to generate yards on the ground against a Horned Frogs unit that ranks first in the conference at stuffing the run. There could be some mixing and matching of calls in order to keep the Frogs off balance, but staying ahead of the chains will be key to prevent the TCU pass rush, which also ranks atop the league, from hitting home. On the other side, the Mountaineers struggled a week ago on first down defense but will have to do much better against TCU. In order to put the Horned Frogs out of their comfort zone they must be behind the sticks.

--Win outside, beat matching coverage. TCU is one of the premier defensive units in the nation when it comes to reading the tendencies of wide receivers and diagnosing routes early into plays. That often leads to turnovers and mistakes for opposing offenses. The challenge this week will be for the wide receivers to use great technique in order to get open and then for Grier to be able to fit the football into tight space where contested catches must be made. Expect West Virginia to mix up the play calling some in order to throw the Horned Frogs off from what they would expect but this will be a key element especially with how well TCU has stopped the run through four games.

--No busts. Oh, they don’t want no busts in this one. TCU has the type of offense that can score quickly and the Mountaineers are going to have to prevent anything from going over their head down the field for easy points. West Virginia should get back some quality players on defense and that should help. But even in the run game, West Virginia has to do a better job of filling gaps and tackling. Easy points is going to lead to a long day in Fort Worth for the Mountaineers.

--Special teams. This one really doesn’t need any further explanation. The Horned Frogs boast one of the best units in the entire Big 12 Conference with some impressive depth and return options. The Mountaineers can’t afford to give away yards or points in the third phase of the game.

--Turnovers. West Virginia is 83-11 since 2002 when winning the turnover battle which is a very telling sign. The Mountaineers will need to take care of the football if they want a chance at a road upset.

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