West Virginia football: Offense will face some heat
Share with others:
LUBBOCK, Texas -- It's an 88-degree afternoon on the edge of the Texas Tech campus, as the sound of whistles from football practice carry well across University Avenue, the main drag running through this flat, flat town where Mexican food is trumped only by fried chicken or steak smothered in gravy.
Coach Tommy Tuberville and his team, gashed for 41 points at home by Oklahoma a few days earlier, are readying for the prolific offense of quarterback Geno Smith and No. 5 West Virginia.
After years of offense running the show on this West Texas campus, it's the defense that has demanded the attention of the Big 12 Conference.
Texas Tech is ranked No. 2 in Division I-A in total defense, No. 1 against the pass, and No. 12 in rushing defense. They lead the Big 12 in all three categories.
The Red Raiders' goal for the 3:30 p.m. game Saturday, explains safety D. J. Johnson, is to try to make Smith uncomfortable -- a task no team has done yet with any regularity.
"Right. But there's a first time for everything," said Johnson, a senior from Austin, who runs the 40 in 4.4 seconds.
The pride of this defense has been a long time coming, said players.
Tuberville brought in veteran defensive coordinator Art Kaufman from North Carolina in January, the first occupant of the position in about 12 years with more than three years experience.
"I don't know if we were ranked last a year ago, but we've made a big turnaround," said cornerback Cornelius Douglas. "Coach Kaufman is a great defensive coach, a great defensive coordinator. He really changed it around. We've just got to keep going."
Recall, this is where Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen spent seven years under Mike Leach, one of the original masterminds of the air raid.
The Red Raiders don't blitz a ton, but get pressure from the front four and play very tight coverage.
Kaufman said what makes the Mountaineers so difficult to defend is twofold: "They do it with scheme and they do it with talent. This is why you coach."
He noted the success West Virginia had running the ball Saturday against Texas. Sophomore Andrew Buie ran for 207 yards and two touchdowns while the Longhorns left five players in the box, nearly daring the Mountaineers to run.
Kaufman said his team will not take that approach.
"I think anytime you play a passing team, you don't dare let 'em run the ball," said Kaufman. "You're really asking for trouble. That's what happened to Texas and that's what we have to prepare for."
Johnson said figuring out how to slow the Mountaineers is all about studying their tendencies.
"What routes do their go-to receivers take? What does Geno Smith like to look for? How does he play? Does he stare down his receivers? Does he look you off? It's how he plays the game," said Johnson. "We got playmakers on our side of the ball, too. Whoever makes the most plays, that's who will win."
Stopping the Mountaineers, said Tuberville, won't be easy.
"You can pick your poison," he said. "They do a great job with screens. They throw a lot of short passes.
"They've got two receivers, and, when they get the ball in the open field, you better have more than one person around them trying to tackle them. I know that."
The oddsmakers have the Mountaineers favored by 31/2 points, but there is a lot on the line for the Red Raiders.
"This defense can play, too. We want people to respect us," said Johnson. "We know we're a good defense. We know we could be a great defense."
• Game: No. 5 West Virginia (5-0) at Texas Tech (4-1), Lubbock, Texas.
• When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
• TV: WTAE.
First Published October 12, 2012 12:00 am