Undefeated No. 12 West Virginia now has blown out Tennessee, Youngstown State, Kansas State and has a win at No. 25 Texas Tech, and if you ask me the Mountaineers are underrated by about six spots.
As noted earlier this week, West Virginia quarterback Will Grier is playing quarterback at a revolutionary level, and the Mountaineers are scoring 42 points per game, which is how many they scored on Saturday in an eight-point win over Texas Tech.
Up 35-10 at halftime, the situation got hairy for a while there, after the Texas Tech defense stiffened and backup Red Raiders quarterback Jett Duffey led some big drives with his running. But on the drive where Texas Tech could have tied the game, West Virginia ran back a Duffey pass for a touchdown to put the game away. On the road against a hot team that mounted a big comeback in front of a home crowd, it was the biggest test West Virginia has faced so far.
Grier is going to win the Heisman if things keep going the way they are. West Virginia is not doing anything real inventive on offense, it’s just that Grier and the rest of them are executing it at a professional level. The Mountaineers routinely get giant chunks of yards on first down. Grier gets rid of the ball rapidly, but yet he also has endless time to throw, receivers who always seem to be open, and a strong, accurate arm. All to go with a running game that’s averaging 5.1 yards per attempt and 172 yards per game.
Until the second quarter of Saturday’s game, nobody had shown any signs of slowing it.
But the West Virginia defense is carrying more than its share of the load, too. It starts with a disruptive front seven that is second in the country in tackles for loss. Entering Saturday’s game, West Virginia had allowed just 12.3 points and 304 yards per game. Both of those numbers lead the Big 12 by a comfortable margin, and the Mountaineers have done that without many sacks (2.3 per game, 5th in Big 12) or turnovers (last in the league in turnover margin).
Against Texas Tech, the best team West Virginia has played so far, the Mountaineers took a 28-7 lead with a series of effortless first-quarter drives, then held the Big 12’s leading offense (52 ppg) to 10 points in the first half, and intercepted the Big 12’s leading passer, Alan Bowman, once and his backup another. It was a dominant performance over a Red Raiders team that has blowout wins over Houston and No. 15 Oklahoma State on its resume. Those guys put up 621 yards in Stillwater, and a week later, at home, they could barely put a drive together with the starting quarterback.
Bowman left with an injury in the first half, but if we’re going to mention that, we have to mention he was 9-for-20 when he left the game.
This was Texas Tech’s chance to really make something of this season, which began with a loss to Ole Miss, but was on a big turnaround until it ran into a team that puts up 42 on a bad day.
The Red Raiders tried to deal with West Virginia’s incredibly efficient passing game by playing man coverage with a deep cushion, and West Virginia’s third touchdown drive was a perfect illustration of how poorly that worked in the first half. On a second-and-1 play, Grier fired a quick pass to a receiver standing wide open in the flat, several yards in front of the cornerback. That went for a big gain, and on the next play the Mountaineers went after that same cornerback, only deep this time — for a touchdown.
That wasn’t a huge surprise, since Texas Tech is last in the Big 12 in both scoring and total defense. But that is partially a function of the Red Raiders’ fast, high-scoring offense, and besides, this is the most talented defense Kliff Kingsbury has had in Lubbock and it held Oklahoma State to 17.
As things stand right now, the Big 12’s best defenses, statistically, are West Virginia, Kansas and TCU. KU actually has the conference’s best pass defense in terms of yards and efficiency, but it’s safe to say the biggest tests of West Virginia’s offense are going to come against TCU and Oklahoma.
It doesn’t play either of those teams until November, though. West Virginia’s next three opponents are Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. A game at Texas Nov. 2 and at home against Oklahoma on the last day of the regular season are the only Top 25 matchups left on West Virginia’s schedule.
That’s going to make it difficult to compare West Virginia’s season to the top SEC teams, if it comes to that at the end of the year. From here it looks like it’s Oklahoma and West Virginia in the Big 12, but I’m not sure in what order.